Turning a lack of talent into a competitive advantage

by jeffhilimire on June 16, 2014


Jim Courier and Andre Agassi were both at Bollettieri’s tennis academy when they were junior tennis players. In a recent article I was reading, Courier talked about how he resented the fact that he was up at 7am for the mandatory practices and Agassi was allowed to stroll into practice at 11am. Yet even with the four extra hours of practice a day that Courier was getting, he and Andre were always neck-and-neck in matches back then.

Andre had all the talent in the world, and Courier had to work his a$$ off just to keep up. But in the process, Courier learned about work ethic and dedication and was thus much more successful early in his professional career than Andre. It wasn’t until later in his career that Agassi learned how to put in the work and not just rely on his talent.*

In many ways I feel like I am lucky to have not had a tremendous amount of talent at anything that I tried to do. With tennis, I was a good player but not as talented as many of my friends. This was particularly evident at UNC-Charlotte where I was the 5th or 6th best player on the team and the guys ahead of me were far, far more talented. To put it in perspective, I had been ranked in the top 20 in Georgia before I went to college and the year I played #6 at UNC-Charlotte, the #5 guy had been ranked #4 in Canada as a junior. Like, all of Canada.

Same thing with building my first company, Spunlogic. When I started the company, I was a programmer, a fact I relayed to the Dragon Army team recently which elicited an immediate and uncontrollable laugh from our lead developer who was unaware that I ever had any technical ability. I was an adequate programmer but nothing like Danny Davis who I convinced to join Spunlogic (then called NBN Designs) about nine months in to run development for us. I then focused on running a business, learning how to manage our projects and sell to new clients. I had to grind every day to build up competencies at these things.

Nothing ever came super easy to me and I was always surrounded with people who had natural ability. Even my father, who was such a natural athlete in high school that a few years back was put into their Hall of Fame for the success he had in football, lacrosse and basketball.

I had to work harder than most to compete. I had to put in the work, study and focus, and prove to myself that I could compete with those more talented than I. Sometimes when things come easy to you it can be easy to slip into lazy habits or lack the proper amount of ambition.

If you find yourself with less talent than others, embrace it and use it to your advantage. Then come back and kick their a$$ ;)

* I realize this example doesn’t quite work because Agassi became one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But there were 1,000 Agassi’s that never put in the work and never realized their full potential because they felt like they could rest on their talent.

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