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A class by herself
On imposter syndrome, natural gifts, and why we should credit the very humane aspects to what look like superhuman efforts
The physical extremes of a Simone Biles floor routine are enough to summon words like "superhuman" to the mind. Her performances are truly extraordinary -- and perhaps even more so because she has earned the record for oldest woman to earn a US national title in the sport. She is an athlete in a class of her own.
■ Most elite athletes are endowed with some kind of natural gift or another, but what turns out a truly epic talent like what Biles is able to display is something more: Sustained, persistent effort. Six hours a day in 2016. Then seven hours a day in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics. And then whatever it took to shake the "twisties" since then.
■ Could just anyone spend the same amount of time in training and turn out the same? No; that's where natural gifts come in. But even with a gift that would put someone standard deviations outside the mean, it's not enough just to show up in a lucky place and time.
■ That's the root of the common (if not almost-universal) revulsion people feel about the con artists who fake their way into good fortune. When a person has a natural gift but does the hard work to refine it, most of us feel admiration. But unearned success is aggravating to outsiders; fortunately, it seems like it's often aggravating to the undeservedly successful, too. We've even coined the name imposter syndrome to explain the nagging feeling that even an earned success doesn't always feel quite earned enough.
■ Nothing beats sustained, persistent effort. Other things may pull ahead of it from time to time, but nobody stays on top for long (or even close to the top) without it. Really respecting outstanding performers requires seeing them not as superhuman, but as humans who apply super persistence.