Talent Versus Persistence

Let me tell you about my one time mentor Dan, and no Dan isn’t a fictional character to make a point. Dan (Cousineau) is a multi time NASKA national champion, quite a few gold medals in world competition, not to mention an accomplished BJJ practitioner. I had the pleasure of being one of his students for many years and being able to compete for the Dragon Karate Team.

Now with that out of the way, I’ll attempt to get to a point.

For the most part, when I was competing (post 1996) the prototypical national champion for weapons (Or forms for that matter) was somewhere between 5-6 to 5-10 and 150 to a buck seventy. As forms became more “flashy”, it was very helpful to be light and compact. (Examples like Jon Valera or Mike Chatr.. Chatura… Chat and later on Steve Terada and the legendary Kim Do) Then there was Dan. Dan was 6’1″ and (sorry Dan ) 240ish. He was about as far from prototypical that one could get… and he still won constantly.

I think the word “talent” gets thrown around a lot without people really knowing what it means. In my ten or so years of competition, I saw a lot of “talent”. There were people that were just plain gifted. It came so easy to them that it was just like breathing, but they weren’t the best. They weren’t the ones taking home National Championships. Why? Because they weren’t persistent.

Dan wasn’t a champion because he was gifted. I’m not sure anyone ever said he was “talented”. Excellent? Yes. Elite? For sure. But “talented”? That’s just an insult. Wait… what? Insult?

You see, I think when people say “talented” what they actually mean is “lucky” or “just born with it”. I think it’s used almost as an excuse by people that don’t want to work for anything. There was nothing “talented” about Dan. He was a hard worker. He was the guy that ran a school, worked another job, and still managed to practice with any free time he had. (Even outside before work) He was the guy that would be training on Saturday and Sunday mornings. (In fact one thing he used to say when we trained on Sunday mornings was “Everyone else you’re competing against is sleeping right now.”) It wasn’t something he was given by some god or genetics. It was pure time, work, and persistence. He never stopped, he never gave up, and he never took it easy. He lived by the mantra of “Second place is first loser.” To call him “talented” is to ignore the countless hours he gave to his training. The weekends of traveling to anywhere from California to Germany. The overwhelming drive it took to keep competing. That is what made Dan elite. That is what made people like John Valera and Steve Terada champions. They were the ones that pushed on where most would fold. In the world of the elite, there are only the persistent. The gifted ones were left far behind.

Now the question you might have right now is: Is this going somewhere? And yes I say. Yes it is.

I think the “talented” frame of mind is too prevalent in world of programming. I think most programmers are too comfortable to just slap “talented” on anyone who excels at programming. Now it’s true, some people are just smarter than others. For every Dan Cousineau in the world, there are five others that fit the prototypical programming mold. However, I’m willing to bet most truly great programmers, “gifted” or not, live to program. They spend a lot of time outside of work programming. When other people are out getting drunk, they are perfecting their craft. They are the ones that push past the fear that most have when moving into new territory and just do it. They persist. They don’t give up. They don’t make excuses. They do.

If you want to be a truly great programmer, or hell even slightly better than average like me, you have to do. You can’t sit around in a pity party going on about how someone else has it better. You can’t make excuses for why other people are excelling. You can’t just blindly slap the “talented” word on someone and console yourself when you see that person getting out of your reach.

Or you can. But just remember that out there, somewhere, there’s a Dan Cousineau busting his a– while you sit around wading in your tears.

The choice is yours.

3 thoughts on “Talent Versus Persistence”

  1. I loved your article, and to be totally honest, NO Dan has not changed so it appears. I am lucky enough to have my 12 year old son train under him for the past 2 years, we are very happy with his teaching, honesty, and drive, not only for himself, but for his team. Together we are TEAM DRAGON

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