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How can people excel in so many fields??

I have just read the biography of one of my favorite actors: Bud Spencer.

He had:

- a law PhD

- several swimming medals from competitions (even participated in the Helsinki olimpics as a member of the Italian national team)

- acted in several excellent (in my opinion) movies

What I don't understand, is how some people achieve so many high performances.

A few years ago I was still a programmer. I was excellent at it - however, I was striving very hard, and felt that all my energy is not enough for what I wanted to accomplish. I didn't have time for anything else.

Now I am a manager. I feel the same way - my energy and time are simply not enough.

What happens is that I get to be excellent in a field, but only with enormous sacrifices - I sacrifice my personal life, etc. I focus like a laser on what I want to do, and yet feel this is not enough. :-(

And, it objectively is not enough.

And yet I read about guys like Bud, who can have a PhD, be a swimming champion, AND play in movies.

Boy, am I frustrated.

I feel this guy probably has 10 times my energy.

But.. where is the difference? Where does it come from?

What does he have, and we ordinary fellows don't have?

Thursday, October 9, 2003

well, if you say to yourself when you are 18 "i am going to get a phD in law, be an olympic swimmer, and star in a few movies" it is easier. most people, myself included, don't really set any goals for themselves and just sort of coast through life. One of the guys I work with has a degree from MIT, plays violin in the boston pops, and is a nationally ranked skeet shooter. This is on top of being one of the best hackers I know. 

Thursday, October 9, 2003

>What does he have, and we ordinary fellows don't have?<

Uh, superior genetics?!

Gubmint Worker
Thursday, October 9, 2003

Not really a PHD, given that Bud Spencer is Italian (Massimo Girotti aka Bud spencer) and we don't really have PHDs. Our University system is very different. He is a Doctor in Law, meaning he got a Laurea with (at least) four years of Law studies and a dissertation after high school (which in Italy is 5 yrs not 4).

The substance of the matter does not change though =)

Thursday, October 9, 2003

>>What does he have, and we ordinary fellows don't have?

> Uh, superior genetics?!

While that may play a role, I'd be willing to bet (although I've no evidence to support it) that the single most important factor with a person like this is: superior time-management skills.

Most people (myself included <grin>) are really piss-poor at managing their time and being able to squeak out the most productivity with their available hours.

Sgt. Sausage
Thursday, October 9, 2003

People like your friend are always balanced out by schmucks like me, who really aren't good at much of anything.

The yin and yang remain balanced, as they must.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

why do we have einsteins and mentally retarded at the same time. what a world.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

I've seen even more impresive feats than Bud.  Bud Spencer was gifted with two careers and favorable physical attributes  He probably was only a championship-grade swimmer for a period of time, which leaves plenty of time for two more things.

The impressive one is somebody I once met online who started out as a nuclear engineer and then has done stuff ranging from glassworking to programming to sports car tuning to running a resteraunt.

You don't stop learning when you leave school.  You have the capability to learn stuff untill you kick the bucket.  Most people figure that they are done learning after they have one or more slips of paper on the wall.  You just need to make time to learn stuff.

Flamebait Sr.
Thursday, October 9, 2003

How can make time to learn stuff when i have so
much tv to watch?

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Yes, he's impressive, but I doubt he did it all at the same time.

Chi Lambda
Thursday, October 9, 2003

I was friends with a person who studied piano at Julliard, math at Harvard, was a concert pianist on cruise ships, a systems analyst at NASA, and today a professor of music at NYU. He's probably the most gifted individual I ever met.

Sometimes you got it, sometimes you don't.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

That answer is unsatisfactory. I mean, she is probably extremely gifted, but there must also be some things we, normal individuals, can apply to increase our productivity!

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Don't get too discouraged.  As green as the grass may seem, they too have their own problems and demons to deal with. 

If your definition of success is to become like Bud et al, then strive for it.  But in your own way.  Not everyone is good at everything, but everyone is good at something.

I wonder if these people had also managed to have full families with kids.  That alone is a *huge* undertaking and sacrifice.  Possibly more so then collecting selfish goals.

And while they are probably very interesting people, it is only the collective society's we live in that define, reward, and give meaning to what a life is worth and its level of nobility in the world as a whole.  I don't see any of these people holding up Noble Peace prizes.  Is Bud a greater benefit to society then a conservative family man?  (who knows)

Life is what you make of it.  And luck is when opportunity meets readiness.  I won't lie to you, genetics do help a great deal.  But as I always quote,

"Knowledge is only powerful when its applied".

Thursday, October 9, 2003

stunted, I said the same thing to my husband last night.

Aussie Chick
Thursday, October 9, 2003

Hey, what's wrong with Bud's definition of success?

He certainly entertained a lot of people. I liked his movies a lot!

Thursday, October 9, 2003

I'm constantly impressed (and humbled) by people I know with Down syndrome. Many of these people are operating, day in and day out, at a level much closer to their theoretical maximum potential than I have at any time in my life.

For them, it takes an enormous effort to keep a job that many of us would consider mundane and degrading, like cleaning tables at McDonald's or sorting recyclables at a garbage tip. Some of them are even able to live independently, which is a significant achievement that most of us think nothing of.

Thinking about the obstacles these guys can overcome is a constant source of motivation and perspective for me.

Darren Collins
Thursday, October 9, 2003

What about Arnold?  He's had 4 careers in widely different areas... the best bodybuilder in the world, pretty successful businessman, highest paid actor in the world at one point, and now governor of the largest state in the US.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

Yeah, tell me about it.  All I did was write books, compose, play music, write poetry, write and perform plays, and created and hosted the NBC Tonight Show.

If I were still alive I'd be the governor of California.

Steve Allen
Thursday, October 9, 2003

Another one to make everybody jealous:

Troy King
Thursday, October 9, 2003

"that the single most important factor with a person like this is: superior time-management skills. "

I think this is probably one of the biggest factors (and the ability to laser focus on the task at hand). 

Just think about how you spend you're free time.  I would bet that most people spend less then 5% of their free-time towards their goals and the other 95% of their time on other non-goal oriented activities : watching tv, reading the JOS board,  etc, etc.  Of course, I have no hard data to substantiate any of these claims. 

Friday, October 10, 2003

Time management is definitely the biggest part of it.  I was reading about Arnold Schwarzenegger's day ... he maps out his daily activities from the minute he gets up until it is time to sleep, and sticks to the schedule rain or shine unless some serious unexpected events interrupt it.  He also makes full use of the weekends, when most other people would be lazing around or having fun all day.

He does take time for relaxation and entertainment, but that is also planned into the schedule, not something done when he "feels like it."

It also takes a high-energy personality to just keep going, going, going like that.  Most people would get mentally and/or physically exhausted if they used 15 hours of every day including weekends for productive activities.

T. Norman
Friday, October 10, 2003

I read he would lift so much weight that he would literally black out.

And he said he applied this technique to everything.  When he was getting his college degree, he would study until he didn't want to study any more.  And then he would study an hour more after that.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Maybe they don't spend time posting on JoS.

Friday, October 10, 2003

"Many people have talent. What is rare is the courage to follow talent to the dark place where it leads."

Seriously, though, most people have to make some really big sacrifices in order to be classified as high-achievers by the rest of us.


Mark Pearce
Friday, October 10, 2003

Another truly amazing achiever is Debi Thomas, the former world figure skating champion.

IIRC she started out doing a chemistry degree at Stanford. Her coach didn't approve because it took time away from her skating; if there are any sports you can fit into your spare time, skating sure isn't one of them.

After winning the world championships, she went on to become a medical doctor. Last time I looked (a few years ago), she had had a baby and was also undertaking a project to extol the nutritional and economic virtues of beans.

Frankly, folks, this is where "effective time management" ceases to be an explanation. "Oh, I was a principal dancer with NYCB for 15 hours a day, and in my spare time I developed a low-tack self-pulling substitute for salt water taffy which won me the Nobel Prize for Candy." Doesn't ring true.

I think that she must have two brains. One of them keeps awake while the other one sleeps. There's simply no other way she could've reconciled all this with the constraints of Euclidean spacetime.

P.S. Anybody seen the Buffy episode called "Superstar", where Jonathan creates an imaginary world where he is a movie star, NBA basketball champion, demon-slayer extraordinaire, medical doctor, inventor of the internet, etc. When the other characters begin to get suspicious as to how he managed all that by the age of 18, "effective time management" is proffered as an explanation. Maybe Debi Thomas cast a spell, and we're all bewitched! Or just me.

Oh, another, better-known example: Hedy Lamarr's invention of frequency hopping.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, October 10, 2003

What about Henry Rollins? Singer, songwriter, author, actor, businessman.

He also has rather a nice quote on the subject: "Want a good body? Work at it. Want to be a success? Work at it. Want to be truly exceptional? Be a touch insane... You need a little bit of insanity to do great things."

Friday, October 10, 2003

I read a book once where a rich guy paid genetic engineers to provide him with a child that didn't require sleep.

It was fascinating to think about - removing the need for sleep would give you an extra 8 or more hours *every day*! Think of what you could do with all that spare time! You also wouldn't need a bed, or even a bedroom.

It was hell on the nannies, though, looking after a baby that never slept. And later trying to keep up with an active child that never stopped.

Darren Collins
Friday, October 10, 2003

There must be a reason Bud Spencer is more famous than you, isn't there?

If you were as accomplishing as Bud, there would still be persons that accomplish more, and these would be famous.

char* full_name()
Friday, October 10, 2003

Personally, I think all those achievements pale compared to this.

Jim Rankin
Friday, October 10, 2003

Seriously, though, it seems like the traits that give someone the ability to achieve world class excellence in one field probably carry over to other fields as well.  Time management, discipline, general intelligence, etc.

Jim Rankin
Friday, October 10, 2003

I think some amount is based on desire.  Obviously, desire alone can't get you to world-class level in something, but it can get you pretty far.

I'm no hotshot, but I taught myself Japanese, Latin, and I'm learning ancient Greek.  (Why those three?  Damned if I know).  I also have two kids, and my job is in software, so it's not as if there's a pay-off involved (not even for knowing Japanese).  I just really wanted to know them.

Every so often, I'll run into someone who says, "boy, I wish I knew Japanese (or Greek, or whatever) like you."  And if I ask them if they've ever picked up a language book, they'll say no, they don't want to spend the time.  Me, I don't watch much TV; the time I save from that alone is probably huge :-).  Other than that, my time-management skills are no great shakes (otherwise I probably wouldn't be posting here and slacking off from work :-) ).

Lest I come across as holier-than-thou, I don't see myself as better than a person who watches TV--learning dead languages is not the smartest thing to spend your time on, either; it's just something that's fun for me (my equivalent of doing crossword puzzles, essentially).  The point is just that if you really want to learn something (and if you have some minimal basic aptitude), you should set aside the time to do it.  It can be amazing how much a concerted half-hour a day can get you.


Friday, October 10, 2003


You ask one question your self:

Step 1.
Am I working towards my goal right now?

If the answer is yes .. continue doing. your work.

If the answer is no.. change your activity, go back to step 1.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Regarding time management:

Reminds me of the joke about the person who dies and has to make the choice between going into heaven or going into a room containing a discussion group about heaven.

Friday, October 10, 2003

I agree about time management. One sort of revelation I had was that certain projects can sit for months, and you can come back to them at a later date. My website for example... Haven't updated it in months, but it's still there. I have a few articles "in the works" but the website will be there when I'm ready to post them.

I go cycling on an irregular basis, and while I'm not in as good shape as I was 10 years ago where I would go cycling for 5 hours two, three, or four times a week - probably around 200 miles total - I can still go for 2 hours that often - around 60 miles total. If I hadn't laid the groundwork though, I would have to build up to 2 hour trips.

Just 2 hours a few times a week, and mostly during the warm months, with long breaks during the winter and for random reasons, yet I'm far ahead of most of my friends. I'm probably not at "Bronze Cycling Certificate" (note the Red Darf reference) level, but I'm still probably in the top 2% of the nation with regards to physical fitness. (2% is one in 50 right, I'd bet that a random sampling of 50 people on a subway platform during rush hour would only turn up 1 or 2 people who could cycle for 2 hours a day.)

Look at someone like Steve Jobs. The Mac, the iMac, the new iMac, the G5, the iBook, the iPod, OSX, etc. all come out of his company, all great innovations that everyone copies, and when lined up... a few things each year. If we pursue something, even something as simple a posting to the JoS forum, don't you think you could have a handful of inspired articles a year?

So the question is, why don't you spend a couple of hours a day doing something you enjoy? Why don't you act on your inspirations? Just look at Joel On Software, how much effort did it take to create this site? Let's say each major article is 5 hours - 5 hours he enjoys - and he writes a major article every month, let's say 18 a year. Now 3 years down the road, he has 54 major articles, and dozens of minor ones.

How many of us *couldn't* do this? How many of us couldn't be the next Joel On Software? Or maybe not even Joel on Software, maybe, or "Camel?" Heck, when I was involved in a nightmare project, I wanted to start a web log of it, but never seemed to get around to it.... But if I'd started, it would probably be easy to keep up.

In any case, perhaps all of us can't excel, but we can all do something more than most other people.

Mark T A W .com
Saturday, October 11, 2003

Someone meets world's most famous musician.

Someone: Oh, I'd give my live to be as good as you in musc.

Musician: I have given my live to be as good.

char* full_name()
Saturday, October 11, 2003

What about me? I can walk, chew gum, and forget where I've left my keys ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

Stephen Jones
Saturday, October 11, 2003

I have just read about the british admiral Horatio Nelson.

He was an excellent tactician, and won a hell of a lot of battles, in spite of the fact that he was almost always ... sea-sick!

Incredible, isn't it?

Sunday, October 12, 2003

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