Quitters, Dabblers, Hobbyists and Superstars — The Path to Greatness

Greatness is hard. Many of us think we’ve attained it in some way or another but the truth is we haven’t. We haven’t even touched the surface. This is a simple fact. Most of us who think we’ve attained greatness are really just hobbyists.

Achieving greatness goes against the grain of society. Society ingrains us in the concept of ROI (return of investment) or ROE (return on effort). It’s always asking, what’s the return for my investment and most of us don’t do anything that doesn’t provide a tangible, measurable return on our effort or commitment and that’s the rub.

You see, achieving greatness requires we work exceedingly hard for little return on our efforts. As we get better at something, we have to put in ten times more work and effort to realize even the smallest of improvements.



When we fist learn something new, it’s hard. It takes quite a bit of effort to “get the hang of it. This fist bit of frustration brings the quitters out. Quitters can’t stand being uncomfortable or struggling for anything for more than 10 seconds. Quitters try something new, and quit in the first few days or weeks because it’s just too hard. They aren’t willing to push through.

For those of us who push through the first few hours, days, or in some cases a few weeks, something miraculous happens. It get’s easier. This is the best part of learning. We get a huge reward for our efforts. Put in a few hours and you can feel the improvement. Improvement comes fast and furious for awhile. This is the fun part of learning. It’s new and it’s fun. The more effort we put in the faster we get better. Gains are almost immediate. After a while however, the “fun” wears off and the frenetic pace of learning slows down. It starts to become more work than play to get better. This is where dabblers hit the road. Dabblers don’t bend over the curve. It stops being fun all the time. Dabblers are in it until it gets hard.

At this point, you’ve been at for awhile and you’ve said to yourself; “I want to get good at this, really good.” This is were lessons comes in, or books, or you start spending money on better equipment, better tools, more resources. As the improvement curve starts to head down, hobbyists recognize that if they want to get good, they are going to have to put a lot more work in for smaller gains, so they commit. The ROI for hobbyists is one of diminishing return. It’s kinda masochistic. They are putting in more and more effort for less and less improvement for the effort. Hobbyists feed off this. It separates them from their friends and they are obsessed with their chosen hobby/sport/game/etc. Hobbyists are in it for the love of the game/activity. They accept that growth and improvement are not as fast and take more time.

Eventually, even for the most devout hobbyists, the time commitment becomes to much and a decision has to be made, go professional and devote even more time or stay a hobbyist.  Professionals get paid. They devote their life to their activity or sport. Everything they do surrounds the activity. Professionals put in 2x, 3x, 4x, 10x, more effort and time than hobbyists, yet the improvements and gains are minimal. The time commitment is astronomical. It can take years to move from a hobbyist to become competitive at the professional ranks. Professionals accept this and pour their life into their activity. It’s all they do.

At the very end of the curve, with almost no incremental gains for their efforts are the superstars.  Superstars will spend days, weeks and even months to shave a single stoke  of their golf game,  to cut a mere 3 tenths of a point from their batting average, to find a single piece of research no other author could find, to go one tenth of a second faster. Superstars will put in ungodly hours for the tiniest of returns. Superstars commit every minute, every hour, every day to get better. There is nothing else. The amount of effort superstars put in to get better is completely inverted. It makes little sense, except for them.

Most people bail at quitters and dabblers. A small, but healthy number of people become hobbyists. A very select few of us become professionals and superstars, we can count them on one hand. Superstars make up the 1-2% of the professionals.

In most cases, it’s not our skills or lack there of that prevent us from getting better. It’s our lack of willingness to put in the time. Malcolm Gladwell introduced us all to 10,000 hours. Here’s how 10,000 hours breaks out on the learning curve.

Quitters<100 hours

Dabblers 101 – 1,000 hours

Hobbyists 1001 hours – 9,000 hours

Professional 9,001 – 15,000 hours

Superstars 15,001 – whatever it takes

If you want to be great, if you want to great at your career, your favorite activities, etc. you will eventually have to make a choice on what side of the curve you want to play on. Eventually you will have to work harder and harder and harder with the improvements coming fewer and fewer and fewer and that’s just too much for most of us.

I won’t hire anyone on the right side of the curve. Just because people have been doing something for a longtime doesn’t mean they’ve been learning and improving. Dabblers can stop improving and be just fine participating in their activity without ever getting better. Hobbyists, professionals and superstars on the other hand, HAVE to keep going in order to stay where they are.

We can’t be hobbyists, professionals or superstars in everything we do, but we must at least be on the right side of the curve in our chosen profession and at least one other activity.

If you’re not on the right side of the curve in two things, then as Seth Godin would say, you’re listening to your lizard brain and you’re not creating art.

Go create art!

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