Going the distance

Success depends on commitment, not just genes

By Edward T. Creagan, M. D. September 24, 2016

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While visiting a wonderful couple who are professional musicians in Salzburg, Austria, an important insight was shared about that those who've achieved mastery in science or business or athletics or music.

The knee jerk reaction is to say these individuals have inherited a gift from the gods; they have a certain spin on their DNA and their genetics catapults them to the top.

It's comforting for us to believe this because it gets us off the hook. Since I can't throw a fastball, kick a field goal, or break the 4-minute mile, this means that I shouldn't even try because I don't have the right genetic allotment. But let me provide a different perspective.

Mozart has been acknowledged, especially in the Austrian community, as the ultimate genius, the ultimate prodigy. But consider his life. His father, Leopold, was a musician in Salzburg in the 1700s and wrote a book on how to play the violin.

He was no lightweight. One day, his little boy, Wolfgang, about four, was playing around with the piano. His father encouraged him, provided some rudimentary lessons, and realized that little Mozart and his sister could be a meal ticket. The children were mercilessly pushed by their father, practicing for hours at a time.

Between ages approximately seven and ten, they toured incessantly throughout Europe to adoring crowds. The family became wealthy. The children had some talent, and also practiced relentlessly.

There was fear of a poor performance. The early works of Wolfgang were really a mix and match, a copy and paste phenomenon. It was not until he was in his 20s that he produced anything of merit.

I asked my musical friends what the difference is between those who make the big time and those who become a lounge act laboring in obscurity. Their key points:

  • To get really good at something, one has to have a total immersion, and make the appropriate sacrifices of family and personal time.
  • Without question, there's an element of luck, but luck doesn't seal the deal over relentless practice.

So at the end of the day, to get really good at something, genes play a role less important than that tenacious drive to make it to the big time and stay there.


Edward T. Creagan, M. D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

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Sept. 24, 2016