A couple of Fridays ago my husband surprised me with tickets to Cirque du Soleil. Besides being incredibly entertaining, my thoughts kept returning to the kind of passion and determination it takes to master the feats they perform during the show. The acrobats and performers in this particular show, Luzia, were incredible and the stunts they performed clearly required years and years of constant practice. I mean how do you even perfect jumping from seesaw to seesaw while doing several flips in the air? Not only do you have to be in excellent shape but you have to be willing to do it over an over again.
The following weekend we traveled to Monterey to watch my niece play collegiate softball at Cal State Monterey Bay. I get so pumped watching these woman play softball. They have spent their entire lives perfecting their throws, swings, speed and knowledge of the game. All the while knowing that college softball will likely be the end of the line for their softball careers.
Passion, drive, determination… call it whatever you want, some people clearly have more of it then others. So what makes a person have the drive to spend thousands of hours learning, practicing and perfecting a skill? There are certainly lots of things I love to do, but there is nothing I’ve put that kind of effort towards. Unless you count my job, which I’ve been at for 21 years. But I don’t, because they pay me, so working is more of a necessity then a passion. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely people that do a job more out of passion then for pay. It’s just that my job is not one of those. There are things I’m interested in and I’d love to become an expert or really proficient: writing, painting and running to name a few. In the case of running, it doesn’t come naturally and I’ve had to put effort and push myself to run longer and faster. So there is no doubt I have some drive when it comes to running. But I haven’t spent thousands of hours trying to perfect my form and become the best. Quite frankly I’m lucky to get in two days of running a week. I’d hardly call that being driven.
Why do I keep saying thousands of hours? That’s because in order to become an expert at something it takes 10,000 hours of practice. Take the example of my niece, she started playing softball when she was 6. So for the last 16 years, she has without a doubt averaged at least 15 hours of practice per week. This is a very low estimate as her college career alone is WAY more then 15 hours a week of practice. I would factor at minimum she has spent 12,480 hours perfecting her throws, swings and knowledge of the game. Her expertise is very evident when you watch her play.
What gives people that kind of drive? Even when it comes to the things I love doing, I guarantee I’m going to wake up way more days then not and say, “Nah, not feeling it today”. Even after researching the internet to find out what drives people, I didn’t really come up with a concrete answer. The brain definitely plays a role in influencing our drive. Motivation comes from the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is were neurotransmitters send chemical messages to the brain in the form of Dopamine. Most of us think of Dopamine as the body’s chemical that relaxes us but the truth is that Dopamine causes us to act. Studies found that the “go-getters’ have Dopamine in the reward and motivation parts of the brain. But on the flip side “slackers” also have Dopamine, but in a different part of the brain associated with emotion and risk. Clearly even the way neurotransmitters send messages is still not going to guarantee we will have the same level of drive as the next person.
I find myself jealous of people with the tenacity to see a goal and do everything in their power to master it. I imagine it feels pretty amazing to have people “oh and ahh” as you perform an incredible stunt, or for a crowd to jump up and scream after you hit a home run or tagged a runner out on base. It’s fair to say the implicit motives of power, affiliation and achievement, push people to work harder then others to be the best. But for most of use those motivators are just not enough.
What drives you? Do you have that one thing you’ve spent a lifetime practicing and perfecting? What makes some people spend hours trying to be the best when others just roll through life happy with getting the basics done each day. Clearly I don’t have the answers to these questions, if I did I would definitely share them with you. Maybe my niece will read this and shed some light on what has driven her all these years. Is it purely love of the game or is it more? Whatever it is I wish I was given just a little bit more of that desire in my genetic makeup. I’ve turned out to be more a “jack of all trades, master of none” type. But deep down I wonder what it would have been like to be a master at something.