The modern world is adrift upon a sea of personal heroes, all of us carried along by whichever currents of personality take hold. Some are led toward success by a visionary CEO. For others, it’s a brilliant writer or a rising pop star. Some people gravitate toward business and power while others tune their respective dials to politics or entertainment.
Regardless of who becomes the object of our admiration, one thing remains the same: even the smartest person in the room doesn’t know everything, and you’re better off figuring things out for yourself.
What Makes You So Smart, Anyway?
Personally, I tend to shy away from the concept of individual greatness. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before and are influenced as much by accidents of circumstance as we are any kind of exclusive internal brilliance. Some people come into the world with every advantage and squander their opportunities, while others must drag themselves out of the muck and grime that comes with being born at rock bottom. We may not have any say in the cards we’re dealt, but we do have control over how we play them — and that’s what matters.
What we tend to label as genius often just comes down to being the right person in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time. Would Albert Einstein be a household name if he’d been born a few hundred years earlier? What industry would Steve Jobs have revolutionized if he’d never met Steve Wozniack? What would the modern world think of a Gen Z Shakespeare, dropping sonnets on TikTok?
Perhaps a more important question would be how many Einsteins and Shakespeares has the world never known because their talents weren’t recognized or nourished? How many little girls never grew up to revolutionize space exploration or physics because society told them women shouldn’t be good at math? How many little boys never found their creative talents because they were too busy being forced onto the football field where real men play sports? And how many minorities were simply never given any chance at all?
There are multiple kinds of intelligence and countless ways to express one’s talents. A musical prodigy may be a mathematical simpleton, and a brilliant poet would likely make for a worthless engineer. Some of the world’s wealthiest people can’t open a PDF or use a hashtag, but that doesn’t make them any less intelligent than having an impressive bank account makes them automatic geniuses. Everyone is good at something, and no one is great at everything.
Finding one’s talent is an important ingredient for success, but it’s only part of the recipe. The real trick is what you do with it.
MORE FOR YOU
MORE FOR YOU
The Truth, Hiding In Plain Sight
People are always looking for the secret to success — some magic formula that will unlock their dreams — and often look to personal heroes for guidance and motivation. And while it’s important to learn from any wisdom a successful leader has to offer, the problem is what worked for one’s hero could have only worked for them. People’s lives are an infinite kaleidoscope of circumstance, and we should all find our own way rather than risk getting lost trying to follow in the footsteps of someone else.
There are no great mysteries of success, no arcane knowledge to be passed down from acolyte to neophyte. No one is born more talented than anyone else because talent isn’t a birthright. It’s something we earn.
My mentor was fond of repeating the same phrase whenever I’d pry for specific enlightenment. “What are you asking me for?” he’d bark in a voice equal parts sandpaper and gravel. “I don’t have anything to teach you, kid.”
“If you want to get ahead,” he’d say, “all you have to do is pay attention. Absorb everything, disregard nothing, and Do The Work. That’s what it all comes down to, in the end. Doing the damn work.”
He wasn’t wrong.
We Don’t Need Another Hero
Pay attention and do the work — whatever it is. If you want to be a writer, you don’t need a hero to show you the way. Just write. It’s that simple — it’s the work that’s hard. Read other writers, pay attention to the world around you, listen to your critics, improve a little every day, and keep writing. It’s the same for anything you want to do in this life. Want to be a painter? Then paint. Want to be president? Run for office. Want to launch the next silicon valley unicorn? Get to work. And keep working.
If you go looking for a secret, all you’ll find are shortcuts that lead nowhere — with no shortage of people selling them. Scan through the self-help stacks at your local bookshop, and you’ll find an endless supply of feel-good platitudes and meaningless motivational aphorisms. It’s all bunk. The only thing that will get you where you want to be is doing the work. Head down, nose to the grindstone, honest work. You can manifest your dreams and actualize your potential until you’re blue in the face, but it’s not going to get that novel written or that contract signed.
Pay attention and do the work. That’s all you need to find success. Then keep doing the work, every day. It’ll be difficult and you’ll often feel discouraged, but keep going. Because when the dust settles, the only difference between an average person and a genius is the one who never gave up.