This image was inspired by an idea from the Econtalk podcast interview #854 with the economist and blogger, Tyler Cowen, around his recent book, “Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World.”
“What is your practice?”
This is a question Cowen typically asks people he’s interviewing to come and work for him (and he interviews a lot of people, most of them hyper-talented top performers).
A “practice” is a Buddhist idea, of something you do every day to improve yourself spiritually. A meditation practice, a prayer practice, a yoga practice, etc. But it doesn’t have to stop there. You can have a writing practice, a knitting practice, a jogging practice, a coffee roasting practice, so long as it’s deliberate and disciplined.
The idea is that by asking a person what their practice is, you get a sense of what they really care about. Nobody maintains a practice indifferently. There’s a reason why Crossfit athletes are so intense.
The other point being that by asking what someone’s practice is, you can begin to understand if the candidate has self-discipline. It’s very hard to have a serious practice without it. This signals to Cowen whether or not the interviewee has the grit and stamina to stick with something difficult.
Sharing that in the evenings you like to study Italian so you can one day read Dante’s Inferno in its original language, sends a different signal than “I like to hang out in sports bars and drink cheap tequila.”
On one level, having a practice gives you something to focus on other than the usual consumerist nonsense. But on a deeper level, having a practice with something personally meaningful can act as a fulcrum to move your existence onto a higher plane of being.
Besides that, if you want to get anywhere interesting, there’s no substitute – not even talent – for grinding away at something year after year until you’ve put more work into it than almost anyone else alive.
And the real beauty is, it doesn’t really matter what the “it” is, so long as a) it captivates your soul and b) you keep at it.