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Talent is never enough.

I watched an interview Bob Costas did with Michael Phelps a few nights ago. Phelps had just completed his portion of the Olympics and had firmly established himself as the most decorated Olympian of modern times. When you sit back and look at the sheer dominance of his time in the swimming world it is truly amazing what he accomplished. Few athletes in history have dominated a sport the way he did (Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky come to mind). He became so synonymous with winning Gold medals that when he would win a Silver it was almost inconceivable that he didn’t win a Gold.

It is obvious that Phelps is an amazing talent. He was born with the natural gifts to become the greatest swimmer. But was that why he became the greatest swimmer? Nope. It was only a part of the equation.

The Lesson Came from what he didn’t do…

Most of us will never know the true measure of sacrifice and hard work that made Michael Phelps the best. Because most of that happened out of the public eye. As a teenager while most of his friends were out being kids, he was in the pool and in the gym. We didn’t see all the things he gave up, or all the hours he toiled…we only saw the end result. After his mind-blowing eight Gold medals in Beijing, he needed a break. He had been working like a maniac for over a decade. He was already one of the greatest swimmers to ever live.

In the interview he talked about how for the first two years after Beijing he was unmotivated. He skipped workouts and wasn’t as focused in the ones he did. And guess what? He started to lose races he never lost before. Other swimmers who also were born with a gift, and who were now outworking him, started to beat him. Finally a few years before the London games he began to re-focus. The result? He won some more Gold medals. He also won some Silver medals….and he didn’t medal in an event he had won in the previous games.  Despite his enormous talent, he got less of a result (granted it was still the best result of any male swimmer), because he had worked less.

And How He Handled It…

The lesson of sacrifice and input directly impacting output is a good one for all people…because we are all gifted and talented in our own unique ways. How he handled it is just as valuable. He owned it. He used these words, “I got what I deserved.” I know it seems strange to highlight this statement because it is still connected to a huge success scenario. He had a fantastic Olympics by any measure. However he knew he could have achieved more had he worked harder, and he admitted it. That was a gift for all of us who aspire to become more and use our gifts to accomplish the things God intended for us. Work hard and sacrifice what is necessary, and when you don’t, take responsibility.


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