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How to Win

The Sixth-Grader No One Saw Coming

When Donene Taylor was in sixth grade, she could have made a good guess on which of her classmates would do great things in life.
She would have placed her bet on the girl who was the best student and best athlete in the class.
But Donene would have been wrong.
The future superstar turned out not to be that girl at all. The future superstar was Donene herself.
It didn’t come quickly. But at age 52, long after those days in the sixth grade, Donene achieved a decades-long dream by becoming a world champion tie down calf roper in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association.
“That is my story,” Donene says on her blog, donenetaylor.com.
When asked if her sixth-grade teacher would have spotted her as the class superstar, Donene said, “No way.”
Donene was a hidden gem, a superstar no one saw.
And in fairness to the teacher, no one could blame anyone for failing to see what Donene could do. Donene is an example of what we might call general prediction, as opposed to specific prediction.
In a specific prediction, you try to project how good someone will be in one given field. For instance, when a baseball team drafts a high school player, it doesn’t care about general greatness. It doesn’t care if the player will one day speak three languages, or play the guitar, or even find the cure for a disease. It cares only how good of a baseball player the person will be. And making that prediction is tough.
Even more baffling are general predictions. That’s when you look out over any group of people, seeking clues on which of them will become great at something. Anything.
You must resist the temptation to choose the one with the best grades, the one who pays attention, the one who is a star in sports.
Chances are the future superstar won’t come from those groups. Better clues might be passionate interest in one subject, a curiosity that goes beyond schoolwork, strength in the face of obstacles.
Even those qualities might not be enough. They can predict moderate success for sure. But true genius? That might take time.
In Donene Taylor’s case, unseen was a certain toughness once she identified what she wanted. And it took her nearly four decades to get it!


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