What happened to the people who were better than you?

There was always someone better than you, but where are they now?

Remember back when you were a kid and there was always someone better at sports, school, and had all the popularity. They always dated the best looking people and seemed to have everything going for them. What happened to all these people who seemed to be at the peak of their game very young in life? Why are they not running the world?

Something striking hit me when I learned that there were better athletes than Kobe and Michael, smarter people than Thomas Edison, and better investors than Warren Buffet, better business people than Jeff Bezos and smarter rocket builders than Elon Musk. Knowing this, it’s easy to see that the most popular icons of our time are not necessarily the best at what they do.

Like me, maybe this will inspire you to become the greatest at what you do!

Where I first discovered this was in Bo Eason’s Book, There’s No B Plan For Your A Game. Eason was a free safety in the NFL for the Huston Oilers and San Francisco 49’ers back in the 90s. Eason came from a small ranching town with a small high school not know for being an NFL factory. No one before or since has come out of that school and gone pro. Bo, His Brother Tony who played for the New England Patriots and two other of their friends were the only 4 who ever played pro football out of that school.

Their story of getting to the pros is so interesting but what is even more interesting is all four of these former pro players (3 of which have Super Bowl rings) all said there were players on their high school football team who were bigger, stronger, and better at football than they were!  Why didn’t the bigger and better players go pro?

Tim Grover released his new book Winning in April of 2021. Tim was the personal trainer for both Kobe and Michael Jordan. Grover did not work for the Lakers or the Bulls, he worked directly for his athletes as a special contractor trainer. Grover worked with many players in the NBA but Kobe and Michael were two of the most exceptional players he trained. In an interview after the release of his book, Grover was asked if Kobe and Michael were the best athletes he ever worked with. His answer will probably shock you. “Oh, hell no!” said Grover. “There were athletes you have never heard of that were far better than both Kobe, Michael as well as the vast resume of other star NBA players I have worked with” said Grover. Grover also said he has given back more money than he has made in refunds to players who had the talent and athleticism that surpassed any players he has ever worked with but didn’t have the discipline to do the work.

I think the most interesting part of this are his words, “There were athletes you have never heard of that were far better than both Kobe, Michael” Where are those guys right now?

It’s kind of like the 5th Beatle or the 3rd Apple founder. You just have to wonder what happened to the ones that had what it took to get to greatness but couldn’t stick it out.

Thomas Edison is considered the greatest inventor of the gilded age but many people may not know he was not a good inventor or a good student in school. Edison was kicked out of school because the teachers didn’t think he was smart enough. His mother got a note from school telling her that young Edison was too dumb to go to school. When he asked his mom to read the note to him, she improvised and told him the note said he was too smart for school and the school felt he should be home schooled because the other kids would be jealous of his brilliance. That sounds like good parenting to me!

As Edison developed his inventions and business, he hired people like Nickola Tesla, C.E. Barns, and many other very smart people and engineers to do his work. Edison had the ideas and his staff did the actual inventing. This is not all that different than entrepreneurialism is today. People who were much smarter than Edison but yet, Edison is the household name we all know. How interesting!

The same can be said of Buffet, Bezos, and Musk. All are not the best in their field yet, all standout alone as the icons in their field. What is the deal with this? People who are not the best at what they do but are considered the best! Do they just have good agents or have a way of getting all the press? I think you will see it’s much more than that.

There is a simple concept known as deliberate practice that just might be the key to this phenomenon. While deliberate practice is an easy concept to understand, it’s much harder to implement.

Here’s what most people do, they are good at a lot of things but are the master of none. We are taught from a young age to be “well-rounded” and are introduced to a whole host of variety and interests. Music, Art, academics, trades, culture, etc. We bounce around and try to be “good” at everything we do but all this being good leaves us no time to be great or the master at one thing.

Deliberate practice is the practice of practicing only what we do every single day. That one thing we are the very best at, day after day and not just practicing and making sure we end on a good note. No, deliberate practice is going until we fail, and then picking back up from the failure point the next day to do it all over again.

Take someone like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Arguably considered to be one of history’s greatest composers. Most people probably do not know Mozart was introduced to composing music before he was even born. While his mother was pregnant with Mozart, his father would play classical music close to her stomach so that the gestating Mozart could hear and feel the music in utero.

By the time he was two, Mozart’s father was teaching him music and as he grew up, the young adolescent Mozart was a source of income for the family with his talent as people would come from all over to see this very young composer.

While Mozart didn’t always love being a musician and composer and his life was somewhat tortured, he always practiced until he failed at it each day. Sorry if this destroys the concept of “talent” for you. Practice can beat talent any day!

The same could be said of baseball great Ted Williams, golf legend Ben Hogan, and Chess master Bobby Fisher. It was deliberate practice that made them great. Even Einstein claimed that he was not the smartest person in his work, he said:

“I just stuck with a problem a lot longer than anyone else”

Kobe shot baskets untill late at night to the point he was missing the shots. Ben hogan practiced his swing until it was hard to hold the club. Ted Williams hit old game balls after a game until the stitches would come out and have the neighborhood kids go retrieve them. Kobe and Ted also never spent time with their teammates. While the team partied after a game, Kobe would watch film, shot baskets, work out. Ted would hit balls and practice walking with one eye covered up to improve his vison while the rest of the team had beers.

Out of all of these household names in success, you can bet there was and is someone better than them. We just don’t know who they are because they have not been disciplined with their talent by practicing deliberately.

What is it that you do? Are you willing to become the best in the world at it even though there is always going to be someone better? I hope this article shed a little light on what successful people do to become so great. I also hope you were as taken as I was to know there is always someone better than you but you can still become an icon with a lot of deliberate practice.     

I would love to hear about your plans to become the best by deliberate practice. Email me at danbockman@bockmangroup.com to tell  me all about it!                        

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