Discover more from Overcoming Bias
It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I finally got to see some very successful people up close for long enough to notice a strong pattern: the most successful have a lot more energy and stamina than do others. Which was a disappointment, as I could clearly see that I didn’t have as much stamina as they.
The quotes above are about business management, but it also seems true in many other achievement areas. And while those above quotes focus on what you can do to increase stamina, I’m not sure you can change your stamina that much. You can do a few things, but stamina seems to me pretty resistant to conscious efforts to change it.
Of course stamina isn’t the only thing you need. It also helps to have motive, drive, intelligence, beauty, connections, charm, and many other things. But without stamina, you won’t be able to use those other things as many hours a day, which in close contests can make all the difference.
I think this helps explain many cases of “why didn’t this brilliant young prodigy succeed?” Often they didn’t have the stamina, or the will to apply it. I’ve known many such people. It helps explain why women have often suffered so much career-wise when they had more family demands, or when they were expected to have such soon. And why ambitious women often seem so sensitive on the topic of fertility.
I also think this explains why so many career paths have early periods with that place huge time and energy demands on competitors. With crazy unproductive work hours, as in medicine, law, and academia. These demands often seem counter productive from the point of view of learning, production, or flourishing. But they may do well at distinguishing those with the most energy and stamina, and this may be their point.
If this all is true, why don’t we hear more about it when people talk about success? And why, when people do talk about stamina, do they focus so much on attitudes or practice that might improve something that is in fact hard to change? Why not suggest that people gauge their stamina, or potential for it, early on, and then calibrate their hopes for success accordingly?
The obvious answer: honestly about the stamina-success connection conflicts with our (forager-sourced) egalitarian norms, which promise that anyone can succeed if only they try in the right way. We’d rather give everyone hope than help the hopeful to better calibrate their success potential.