“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.” – Tony Robbins
The Winter Olympics in Sochi came and went with the usual stories of personal triumph and victory. My favorite story to come out of Sochi was that of the medals won by an underdog, the Netherlands. In the final medal count, the Netherlands came in 5th with 24 total medals, one shy of the winter sports powerhouse Canada. This is an amazing accomplishment because the Netherlands have no mountain ranges and get very little snow. The country is not very big and only sent 1/5 as many athletes to the Olympics as the United States or Canada. Yet, in the end, they were right up there with the big boys. How do we explain that?
How did they do it?
The amazing fact about the Dutch medals is that they won all of them in one event: speed skating! They didn’t just win some of the races in speed skating, they dominated all of them. In many races they swept the whole podium. It was common at the end of a race to see three Dutch racers out in the lead racing against each other for podium spots. They annihilated everyone else. How?
The Netherlands is located below sea level and held up through a system of dikes. A low water table means there are many lakes and rivers. Being one of the most urbanized nations in the world, cities like Amsterdam and Delft rely heavily on canals for transportation. In the wintertime, the Dutch skate long distances along those canals and frozen rivers to get around locally or even visit neighboring towns.
It would be very easy for the Dutch to claim any number of excuses for not doing well at the Olympics. They have a smaller team, they have no mountains for training, they don’t even have much snow. They could try to train athletes in every event and hope to get lucky. But they don’t. They don’t sit around and focus on their disadvantages. They don’t waste a lot of effort trying to be mediocre at the disciplines they aren’t naturally good at. They don’t try to be what they aren’t. They look at their natural abilities and say, “Let’s be the best in the world at the thing we love to do.”
And that is just what they are. The best. No country in history has ever dominated one sport the way they have. They won more medals than almost every other country by simply looking at their strengths and ignoring their weaknesses.
What Can We Learn?
We all have natural strengths and abilities. We are all completely unique. There are things that we can do with our specific combination of attributes that nobody else in the world can do. But most of us spend our time ignoring our own strengths and dwelling on our weaknesses. We look at the strengths of everyone else and wish we could be more like them. We see the best in others and the worst in ourselves.
On top of that, we have been trained from the time we were young to stop focusing on our strengths. Look at what we do to kids in traditional schooling. They could be a prodigy at math or science or music but if they fail at English, history, or wood shop we consider them a failure, we hold them back, and we don’t let them graduate. We applaud them for being good at many things and exceptional at none. It is no wonder that as we move forward in life we think that we have to spend time being average at many things and never have time or find it acceptable to really excel at our natural strengths.
The truth is that the great heroes of the world are those who play to their strengths. They find work doing what they love, not just what makes them a safe income. They take risks to create companies around their passions. They embrace being unique and don’t waste time comparing themselves with others. They focus on speed skating when everyone else tries to do everything.
You are unique. Your greatest happiness and success in life will come when you are working with and developing your own unique talents. Don’t waste time trying to be someone else. The world needs YOU!
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