Last month I sat down and read “Grit” by Angela Duckworth again – her findings on the relation between talent and performance, her conversation of deliberate performance and the journey of finding passion, is one that sparked reflection of my own journey.
My greatest passions took time to develop, they didn’t develop as a result of success, they have been fostered with time, fueled by interest. Prior to my paralysis I grew up a swimmer, I began to compete at the age of 7 and swam varsity all four years of high school, serving as captain my senior year. Although, I never made it to State – my passion was fueled off of my love for the sport, not success. After 23 years of identifying as a swimmer and over a decade of that spent in the Para Swimming world my passion is still fueled by love rather than success. Yes, I am a Paralympic Gold Medalist, a two-time Paralympian, dreaming for a third Games in Tokyo and a chance to sit atop the podium again – but this journey didn’t start because I jumped in a pool and started winning, this journey started because I jumped in a pool and started to love. Now, I find motivation in the challenge that comes with trying to become a better version of myself today then I was yesterday. I find motivation in identifying where my weaknesses lie and showing up tomorrow and trying to improve, I find motivation in my fascination of seeing the incredible power that comes in our bodies ability to adapt to its circumstance and redefine possibilities. I find motivation in the challenge of not just putting the hours in but being intentional, making sure I am deliberate in my training rather then just showing up and going through the motions. I find motivation in knowing that grit has nothing to do with the speed in which we reach our dreams, but rather that despite the setbacks, road blocks and detours, we still show up – in fact it is because of them that we show up and keep at it, knowing the gratification that comes in not giving in, staying persistent in the pursuit of our dreams. I find motivation in knowing that I have been a swimmer for 23 years and I haven’t even scratched the surface of my potential, because regardless of how high we climb we can always climb higher.
When I look at my own journey I realize that for each passion there is a story of growth – our interests take time to develop into a passion, they take intention, nurturing and after years, maybe, just maybe, we begin to find a flow – something that looks effortless because we have nurtured it with deliberate practice day in and day out.
In high school many of us have to take a speech class of some sort, for me speaking in front of others was never something that felt comfortable. I ended my high school speech class with a “C” – I often scored poorly in other classes where participation in the classroom was scored based on raising your hand and contributing to the conversation – nothing about speaking amongst my peers felt natural. Following my paralysis I learned that it was important to find my voice, as I was now living life with a circumstance that if I couldn’t find my own voice, no one would give it to me. Finding my voice lead to an interest in how to communicate my story and the impact my experiences could have on others. In the past 15 years I went from getting a “C” in high school speech class to becoming a motivational speaker for a living. My speaking career didn’t come naturally, it stemmed from my interest in learning to find my own voice after an incredibly traumatic experience and then was fueled by my purpose of wanting to make a difference in the world around me. Now today, my speaking is something that although I am incredibly deliberate with, making sure I am authentic, vulnerable and in tune with each audience, it also just flows – it feels natural. Each stage I take I feel a calmness, as each speech feels like a discussion – a conversation of the stories we each carry and our ability to find the power that our circumstance carries rather then feel succumbed by our circumstance.
So in the end, is it talent that leads to success? Or is it grit? I have been complimented on my talents, whether it be as an athlete or a speaker, but I like to think that my success is rather a result of nurturing my passion, being deliberate in my performance, staying persistent in the pursuit of my dreams – frankly, I think talent has very little to do with it. Even those who have mastered their respective crafts in a way that they look effortless, they are anything but – they have been executed hundreds of thousands of times when no one has been watching, they have been challenged by failure and after hundreds of thousands of hours of being intentional, of falling 7 times and choosing to get up 8, of showing up day in and day out despite the challenges before them, of choosing to be persistent in the pursuit of their dreams, realizing that grit is a test of time – it is then that we can look in from the outside and compliment their perceived “talent” when in reality what we are witnessing is the success that comes on the other side of unwavering grit.