Wake up at 8am.
Eat a full, balanced breakfast by 8:30am.
Get on the bus for school.
Arrive by 9:15am.
Meticulously unpack, fold and put away your belongings.
English class begins at 9:30am: the focus is immersion Math and Language Arts.
11:30: Korean: Ballet and Science.
1:20: English again: Phonics and Creative Writing.
4:30: Advanced Math in Korean.
By the end of the day, you’ll have taken Ballet or Gym, Art, English, Korean, Chinese, Science, Math, and Social Studies – in two languages, at minimum.
7:00pm: Piano lessons.
9:00pm: Ballet academy.
10:00pm: Homework in three languages.
Bed by midnight.
This is your schedule, 5 days a week. On Saturdays, you leave school early at 4pm. School is year-round – there are no three-month summer breaks. By the end of the school year, you will have completed over 30 textbooks.
Is this the schedule of a high-school overachiever aiming for Harvard or Princeton?
No, this is the schedule of kindergartners in South Korea.
Now, Americans have plenty of criticism about this model.
“Kids should play.”
“There’s more to life than studying.”
This is the talk of binary-thinking underachievers.
You can work hard and still have time to play.
There is a mile of middle-ground between keeping kids in school 100 hours a week and 20 hours a week.
Kindergarten is when a child’s brain is most plastic and malleable: neuro-scientifically the perfect times to expose them to creativity, languages, start expanding the brain functions responsible for discipline and willpower.
Say what you want about this model. But it’s undeniable that many of these kids will grow up, attend American universities, integrate into US workforce, and have unparalleled achievements, focus and discipline.
And the irony? After years of training under these conditions, some Americans will oversimplify or attribute their success to: “Asians are just naturally smart.”
Let’s be honest: most people (let’s say 95%) don’t want to do the hard work that’s required to be at the top of their game or achieve something significant.
They’re constantly looking for a shortcut, a get-rich-quick scheme, or an elevator to overnight success.
They want a million dollars (or two or three or five million) so they can cash out and lay on the beach for the rest of their lives.
And that’s fine for them. Everyone doesn’t have to be remarkable. Some people just want to lay on the beach with margaritas in their hands.
The issue is the ubiquitous nature of the effortlessly successful person:
And as soon as the 95% realize my answers to these questions aren’t just short “oh I just watch what I eat” or the equivalent, their eyes glaze over. (Ironically, these people are the loudest dissenters when you achieve something of significance).
95% of people don’t want to hear that I actually:
But you know what? 5% of people lean in and want to know more.
If you want to be exceptional, you have to work at an exceptional level. There is no shortcut to doing the work.
The top 5% of performers and achievers internalize this.
When the media talks about Steph Curry, they talk about how effortlessly he sinks baskets: from tunnels, backwards, and even with his eyes closed. But what they don’t highlight is that his father was a professional basketball player, and he’s likely had a ball in his hands since he had the fine motor skill development to hold one. We don’t talk about the fact that this is his diet, and that he still practices shooting, a minimum of 250 balls, every single day.
It’s not just athletes and students. We can find examples of excellence everywhere:
I get the appeal of being effortlessly anything: cool, stylish, brilliant, talented, and successful.
The Italians have perfected “sprezzatura” in their fashion - the art of looking effortlessly stylish, or casually nonchalant.
In fact, I’ve even perfected my “no makeup” makeup look. And who doesn’t love a good fake candid Instagram picuture?
You don’t have to fight the attraction to that effortless je ne sais quoi, but never forget to do the actual work behind it.
Ironically, you can’t pull off sprezzatura, in any context, without first mastering the fundamentals.
It takes thousands of hours to achieve a level of mastery that allows you to look effortlessly successful. Happy, Healthy and Almost Wealthy is dedicated to learning, dissecting and sharing the secrets of elite performance, in all fields, but if you want to be remarkable, start here:
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