Guest Post: Lazy But Talented - Brian Levenson

Facing another juggernaut of a day (it's 4:40a as I'm typing this), I'm extremely happy to provide an excellent guest post today from mental coach Brian Levenson:

Lazy But Talented

What’s your first reaction to seeing the t-shirt below?  Anger?  Shock?  What’s wrong with this generation of kids?  How about, what’s wrong with Nike?  No, it’s not ‘Just do it’ or even the new‘Make it Count’ video, which has over 3 million hits on youtube, but this shirt grabbed my attention like few slogans have.

Walk into a high school gym and it’s likely you will come across a young man rocking a t-shirt that looks something like the one above.  It’s a powerful statement that would have any coach at any level cringe upon reading it.  We have all been told at some point that being lazy, but talented, is a recipe for disaster and un-fulfillment in the “real world”.  Yet, Nike has chosen this simple, but powerful message to represent their brand.

There are a number of supremely talented people who may never come close to reaching their potential due to a lack of work ethic.  We see them in all aspects of life—business, Hollywood, sport, politics, whatever profession; we’ve all seen lazy but talented people scratch the surface, but not reach their full potential due to a lack of work ethic.  In fact, Will Smith preaches hard work over talent at pretty much every opportunity:

Kobe Bryant, considered one of the best players of all time, is quick to point out that he enjoys practice more than games.  He takes pride in his blue-collar work ethic more than any other aspect of his game as he discussed in a radio interview on ESPN. There’s a reason why Bryant, drafted in 1996, is still considered an elite NBA player while colleagues Tracy McGrady, drafted in 1997 is a bench player and Allen Iverson, drafted in 1996, is out of the NBA altogether.

I have been fortunate to work with a lot of talented athletes over the years, but one athlete’s comment has really stuck with me.  He was an elite athlete and said, “do what you could not what you should.”  A lazy but talented athlete may do what they should, but not necessarily what they could.  Just doing what you should leaves room for excuses and allows you to think "what if..."    It also leads to blending in with the rest of the pack, rather than creating separation from teammates.  However, doing what you could allows for maximum effort and provides the best opportunity for success for not only yourself, but for those around you.

Human beings have a desire to fit in.  It starts at a very young age, but perhaps shows itself most in high school.  Growing up in an upper class suburban area, I’ll never forget when my Sociology teacher bluntly asked who considered their family to be lower class—no hands were raised, middle class—all hands were raised, and upper class—no hands were raised.  Sure humility played a factor, but the point was made nonetheless; nobody wanted to be seen as lower or upper class because they didn’t want to stick out.  But how does sticking out help athletes?

Go back to your high school days.  What were you like?  I know for me, I always looked up to the kids who didn’t have to study, but always aced the test.  I was jealous of the superstar athlete who didn’t have to work on his game to make the team.

Laziness was cool, as long as it didn’t impede success.

In college it’s the party animal, who doesn’t go to class, but still has a 3.5 GPA.  Ah, lazy but talented.  The truth is you can do pretty well being lazy but talented in high school and even college.  But once you get into the real world all of that goes out the window.  The real world doesn’t reward laziness.  It fires it.  A high IQ or athletic body that isn’t worked will eventually crumble, and all that is left is what could have been.  The lazy but talented attitude that allowed for success early will eventually be the same reason for failure.

Greatness occurs when gifted people work as if they’re not.  Don’t believe me?  Go look up the greatest person in your profession.  Do they define them-self as lazy but talented or do they hang their hat on work ethic?  If you’re in high school or college you have a great opportunity to jump-start your greatness.  Do what you could, not what you should and don’t be afraid to stick out.  Go for greatness.  And throw out that lazy but talented shirt that caused this article to be written.  Thank you Nike for bringing attention to a long-standing concept that needs to be addressed.  Perhaps it’s the best slogan yet.

Brian Levenson is a mental coach with the Center for Athletic Performance Enhancement (CAPE).  CAPE specializes in working with professional and amateur athletes who seek to enhance athletic performance through a focused approach to the mental aspects of sport.  Checkout their site here or contact Brian directly at