How Faithfulness Makes a Genius

Ten thousand hours is a good benchmark—that’s one hour a day, five days a week, for forty years (with two weeks of vacation each year!). If every Christian decided to spend 10,000 hours developing their capacity in a single cultural domain (painting, stress fracture analysis, genomic sequencing, you name it) and also 10,000 hours on the spiritual disciplines that embody dependence on God (solitude, silence, fasting, study, prayer), in forty years we’d have a completely different world. How are you spending your 10,000 hours?”

How Faithfulness Makes a Genius

Dormant geniuses lie sleeping down the hall.

They eat across from us at the breakfast table, sit next to us in mini-vans taxiing to soccer fields, even look back at us from our bathroom mirrors. What if we realized that genius is simply an act of long faithfulness?  What if  genius is the normative intent of what God’ bestows and our own lack of faithful stewardship results in stunted, malnourished gifts?

László and Klara Polgár, parents of three daughters, understood exactly that. Homeschoolers in Hungary who were harrassed by armed police to enroll their daughters in public school, Klara and László believed that any child could be nurtured to flourish, and exceedingly. It was simply a matter of faithfulness. The Polgar’s were. Faithful hours of considered study and practice were invested.  By 2000, these home educated daughters were at least tri-lingual (one daughter could  speak seven languages), each had achieved top-10 ranking in the world of female chess players, and their youngest daughter, Judit, shattered the previous record for the youngest person, male or female, to earn the title of chess Grandmaster. She was 15 years old. While Susan would later be the number one female chess player in the world, Judit would be the first woman to be rank in the top ten chess players worldwide.  How did the Polgar’s raise three geniuses?

It wasn’t a function of I.Q. or genetics. (László concedes he was a mediocre chess player at best, being regularly beaten by his four-year-old daughter; Klara didn’t even know the rules when their daughters began playing).  It was simply the same way Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Tiger Woods found their way.

By  faithful stewardship. By diligent, attentively focused use of the gifts God hands out liberally to more than a select few.  It’s dangerously tempting to think that geniuses are exceptional products of blazing, divine intervention. Because then we don’t have to closely examine how we are stewarding the gifts He’s given us. Are geniuses really only better stewards? Recent research suggests that very possibility.

Geniuses are stewards who:

Faithfully Practice

Geniuses make it look effortless only because they’ve faithfully practiced. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, posits that  “extended deliberate practice” is the ultimate key to successful use of a gift. “Nothing shows that innate factors are a necessary prerequisite for expert-level mastery in most fields,” he says. Ericsson’s interviews with 78 German pianists and violinists discovered that by age 20, the best musicians had spent an estimated 10,000 hours practicing, twice the average 5,000 hours  the less accomplished group practiced.

Genius is a long faithfulness.

So fingers stretch across ivories here, shoulders hunch over Latin, brows knit in mathematical quandary. Just two hours a day of concentrated practice over a decade stacks up to 7,000 hours of faithful stewarding. Why not tenderly unfurl a gift?

Geniuses are stewards who

Faithfully Pioneer

The flesh tugs towards the path of least resistance: to keep practicing what we already know. But geniuses steward the gift by faithfully pioneering into unknown territory. Committed stewards continually forge ahead by asking: what weaknesses need strengthening? what skills need extending? Faithful stewards fight the flesh and mind’s dastardly inclination to sloppily automate our gifts by deliberate, ongoing practice and a careful analyzing of the parts of the whole, which forces the brain’s internalization of an improved pattern of execution. Like Benjamin Franklin who would rewrite his favorite articles from memory, then closely compare it with the actual,  we too stretch minds and skills with challenge of new ground.  How can this gift be gently stretched?

Geniuses are stewards who

Faithfully Pursue

Geniuses steward the gift by pursuing a mentor, a faithful nurturer. A coach, a tutor, a teacher are necessary to flourish a gift, to grow it into pioneer territory. Pursuing a supportive environment is paramount for the fostering of a gift and family can offer critical encouragement. When Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, praised children for “how” they did a task—for undergoing the process successfully — most children wanted to take on a increasingly challenging tasks. Generally, such encouraged children’s performances improved, and when it didn’t, they still enjoyed the experience.

The stewarding

It appears that God’s far more generous in placing great gifts into our hands than we’ve ever realized. And it’s our hands that need be faithful stewards of the talents.

I reach out and squeeze the young hand next to me.

That in every human being lies the latent potential of child lies latent genius. ecause if God’s in the business of generously handing out the gift of genius, then that leaves us how do we account for   gives gifts to all,  sparingly hands out gifts, then any lack in aptitude is is  of  and genius is an act of stewarding the gifts. It’s  easier to think that geniuses are the products of divineGenius is an act of long faithfulness.

Talent is overrated highlights a growing body of research which shows that the top achievers in many fields are neither high-IQ geniuses nor former child prodigies turned professionals. In fact, many of these top performers are just reasonably bright people who showed a slight knack for something and then spent decades engaged in “deliberate practice,” which involves spending hours figuring out your weak spots, honing specific skills through constant feedback, and learning as much as possible about your field. The bad news is that such practice is “highly demanding mentally” and “isn’t much fun.”

It is a provocative thesis, which Colvin first put forth in a 2006 Fortune article that ignited a furious debate in the blogosphere. Like Malcolm Gladwell, who has also written a new book on top talent (Outliers), Colvin is deft at finding studies and anecdotes to back up his assertions. For example, he highlights one study which found that top violinists put in more than twice as many hours of solo practice as their lesser peers. And he describes how comedian Chris Rock hones his act at small clubs, so that by the time he plays larger venues he knows exactly how the audience will react to each joke.

You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.

Bear in mind that even Winston Churchill, one of the most charismatic figures of the twentieth century, practiced his oratory style in front of a mirror.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.

©2009, Ann Voskamp

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