#1810 Novak on “The Gift”

It’s NOT a Gift—It was Trained

The other day I was having a chat with a new friend who happens to be the head coach of one of THE most prestigious college football programs in the country.

We were chatting about how we plan to roll out Heroic for his team (and the team behind the team!) for the upcoming season.

That was a lot of fun. 🤓

One of the things we were chatting about (of course!) was how to forge antifragile confidence so they can activate their Heroic potential (on AND off the field!) and win a national championship.

As we were discussing how to go about doing that, Coach brought up a 60 Minutes segment with the great tennis player Novak Djokovic.

Check it out here. It’s only 13 minutes. It’s FANTASTIC.


You may already know that Novak is considered the greatest tennis player of ALL TIME.

I don’t follow tennis so I didn’t know that until I watched the 60 Minutes segment.

With 24 major championships, Novak has 2 more than Rafael Nadal (who won 22 majors) and 4 more than Roger Federer (who won 20), so by those numbers he’s the GOAT.


Novak wasn’t ALWAYS better than those guys.

In fact, early on in his career, he’d always lose to those guys.

Not only that, but they consistently intimidated him.

It wasn’t until he developed an incredibly strong MENTAL TOUGHNESS protocol that his game went to the next (next!) (next!!) level and he became as dominant as he is.


That’s not quite what I want to focus on today.

What I want to talk about is ONE scene in the conversation where the interviewer prefaces a question by saying: “People understand big muscles and speed and strength. Mental strength—which is what I think is your great gift—is much harder to articulate.”


Before he could finish his next sentence, Novak politely but firmly interrupted him as he said: “I have to correct you. It is not a gift. It is something that comes with work.”

To which the interviewer said with a bit of surprise: “You train for your mental side the way you would your serve or your forehand? HOW?”

To which Novak said: “Absolutely.”

Then he continued to chat about the various techniques he uses to train his mental game—starting with his conscious breathing.


THAT is what I want to focus on in Today’s +1.

Our culture likes to live from the myth of “the gift” that the great ones have—as if their extraordinary abilities were handed to them by the Heroic gods at birth.

Carol Dweck talks about this ALL THE TIME in her great books. (See Notes on Mindset and Self-theories.)

Believing that myth (/LIE!) of greatness is exactly how you fall into the fixed mindset trap in which you believe you either “got lucky” or, more likely, DIDN’T get lucky to get “the gift” all the great ones got.

Dweck tells us: “We endow our heroes with superhuman abilities that lead them inevitably toward their greatness. It’s as if Midori popped out of the womb fiddling, Michael Jordan dribbling, and Picasso doodling. This captures the fixed mindset perfectly. And it’s everywhere.”

(Note: This 60 Minutes scene is an example of it being “everywhere” and why I created this +1!)

Mozart was BORN a genius, right?


Sure, he had talent. And, yes. He was also born the son of a world-class music teacher.



As Dweck also says: “Do you know that Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children? That Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, was completely uncoordinated and graceless as a child? That the photographer Cindy Sherman, who has been on virtually every list of the most important artists of the twentieth century, failed her first photography course? That Geraldine Page, one of our greatest actresses, was advised to give it up for lack of talent?”

Anders Ericsson (the godfather of deliberate practice) talks about this in his book, Peak, as well.

He tells us the EXACT same thing.

We ALL, he says, have the most important gift: in short, the ability to TRANSFORM OURSELVES into that which we aspire to be.

In his words: “But the clear message from decades of research is that no matter what role innate genetic endowment may play in the achievements of ‘gifted’ people, the main gift that these people have is the same one we all have—the adaptability of the human brain and body, which they have taken advantage of more than the rest of us.”



How do YOU think about the whole idea of gifts and greatness?

Notice whether you think those you admire were “lucky” to be “gifted” something YOU weren’t so lucky to get…


Whether you KNOW that, sure, we all get different blessings and curses…


It’s ultimately all about what we DO WITH THOSE GIFTS that make us extraordinary, or, to be blunt, mediocre.

It’s REALLY important we take EXTREME OWNERSHIP of the fact we ALL have THE GIFT.


We need to get to work unwrapping that gift and giving it to the world.

As I typed that, another historically great genius came to mind…

Thomas Edison.

He once said: “We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work.”


With this wisdom in mind, if you feel so inspired, please put on your Heroic overalls and GET TO WORK.

Give us your gifts.


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