Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. For those of you that like binge-watching sappy over the top melodrama on Netflix, you probably recognize this as the slogan for the Panthers, the “based on real events” team from the television show Friday Night Lights. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it’s about high school football in Texas. For those of you not familiar with high school football in Texas, it’s kind of a big deal. You know how we love hockey? This is like that. But more intense. In any case, before the Panthers hit the field, their coach always repeats the mantra; Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose. It is, for an emotional sap like myself, gripping. It is also, for all practical purposes, not true.
The slogan is meant to suggest that keeping your goal clearly in your vision and maintaining focus on that goal, while fundamentally putting all of yourself into the preparation to achieve that goal leads to victory. And the truth is, it doesn’t. There’s vision. There’s dedication and then there’s talent. And you can have all the eyes and hearts and lungs and legs and ears you want but if they’re not connected to a brain full of ideas, this mantra might as well be; Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Who knows? I’ve played football. I’ve played on a team that was dedicated and focused and practiced harder than any other team out there and went 5-5 and barely scraped into the playoffs, where we lost. I’ve played on a team that coasted through the season to a perfect 10-0 record based on pure talent despite repeated lapses in focus. Talent. Talent trumps effort.
Now this is not to say that effort is not important. You can’t coast. That perfect season I told you about ended in a devastating loss in the championship because we thought talent could fix everything. And it can’t. But it makes it a heck of a lot easier. This is evidenced in every corner of competition and performance there is. Let’s talk homework. You remember homework, right? If you have school aged kids you’re probably telling them RIGHT NOW that they need to do their homework. But here’s the thing. Study after study suggests that homework (wait for it) is basically a waste of time. You see, in academics, unlike physical performance, repetition has no measurable effect on performance. In general, you either know something or you don’t and until that concept clicks with you, you can do page after page of homework. Fill your boots. You’re still not going to pass calculus.

Let’s use math as an example. Imagine that you don’t understand addition. You’re given a worksheet and that worksheet has 10 addition problems. You work on those addition problems and you get all of them wrong. All of them. Because you don’t understand addition. But that’s ok because you’re teacher gives you an extra worksheet filled with 100 addition questions. Surely an additional 100 questions will give you the practice you need to understand addition, right? Wrong. You’ll get 100 questions wrong again. You’ll probably get a few right out of sheer dumb luck. Now imagine that you understand a concept, like addition. If you’re given 10 addition questions, it’s likely that you’ll get 10 of them right. And if you were given a sheet of an additional 100, you’d probably get them right too. But is that any better for you? Yes, you still know how to add. But did those questions help you in any real, measurable way.

You see, the point is that we don’t need more practice with things that we don’t know, we need to be able to get help in understanding the things we don’t know. That’s what separates great mentors from lousy ones. That’s what makes Wayne Gretzky a bad hockey coach and Dan Bylsma a good hockey coach. Player: “I’m not sure how to do this.” Wayne: “Have you tried just being awesome at it?” Dan: “Yeah, I didn’t know how to do that either. Here’s the workaround I found.” Great players in sports tend to make bad coaches. Genius minds tend to make mediocre teachers. They might be inspiring when you get to a level like graduate or even undergraduate studies but when you’re in grade 10 trying to figure out what a tangent is in math, that super genius is not going to be a lot of help, automatically. Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Add.

So what does all this mean? Well, I’m not suggesting that you don’t need to work at something to get better at it. I’m not suggesting that practice, in some fields, doesn’t make perfect. Rather, I’m suggesting that just plugging away at something with great intentions doesn’t often lead to getting it done. What you need, in most cases, is help. You need a master. You need a mentor. You need Mr. Miyagi. So how do you identify those people? Well, you ask. For me, it’s about Twitter. When I need to bounce an idea off someone or I need help understanding a concept, I throw it out to the ether. I reach out to people I’ve seen demonstrate a proficiency in a field. Whether that’s talking hustle and grind with Ross Simmonds or talking startups with Milan Vrekic or talking beards and business with Findlay Hilchie, it’s about competent mentors.

And on the flip side, if you’re good at something. If you really get something. And if someone asks you for help, provide it. If it needs to turn into a monetized interaction, fine. But spend time trying to make the people around you better. Build the community YOU want to see. It doesn’t weaken you to strengthen the field and if it does, you were weak to begin with. And of course, remember;

Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Still Can’t Add.