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The Gap Between Have and Should

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” — Thomas Edison

It would be totally terrific if Edison’s aphorism was true; but unfortunately, it isn’t. Since most people have a modicum of inspiration and only one percent is necessary, a lot of people have that requirement covered. Unless one assumes that people are inherently lazy and unwilling to work hard, the perspiration requirement is covered too. If Edison is right, genius should be quite common, but it isn’t.

Louis Pasteur also tried to minimize the uncommon status of genius when he said, “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.” Napoleon joined the chorus of luminaries who perpetuate the myth that genius is little more than persistence and hard work. He said, “Victory belongs to the most persevering.” Even Vince Lambardi sang a line from that song, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” The message is that perspiration, tenacity, perseverance, and an abundance of will are the basis for extraordinary performance and achievement.

With a little more exploration it turns out that Edison didn’t actually believe his famous aphorism. He also said, “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.” This may be paraphrased to suggest that if one starts with exceptional intelligence, adding forethought, system, planning, honest purpose, and perspiration makes extraordinary outcomes possible and perhaps even likely.

The take home point here is not complicated. Exceptional intelligence is a gift that is easily squandered if, having received the gift, you fail to combine it with tenacity, perseverance, and continuous perspiration. Edison made the point himself when he said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” J.C. Penny agreed, “Unless you are willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man, you are just not cut out for positions at the top.” Perhaps John Wooden captured the principle’s essence when he said, “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” If the gap between “have” and “should” is more than you are comfortable with, you are likely coming up a tad short in meeting Edison’s ninety-nine percent perspiration requirement.

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