My thoughts on genetics

Posted on by Ben Bruno

I can’t stand when people talk about genetics in relation to athletic ability. It seems to seep its way into lots of conversations to explain why someone is so good at something, or why someone has improved at something.

That guy is jacked. He has some awesome genetics.
Wow, he has put 90 pounds on his bench press. Must have great genetics.

I’m sure many of you have heard similar things, or even said them yourselves. The truth is, genetics absolutely play a role in ones success, or lack thereof. Some people are genetically predisposed to be better at certain things. It may not be fair, but it’s life, and as we know, life is not always fair. If it’s true, then why does it bother me so much?

I’ll tell you why. I hate it because it is almost always the people that are not having success themselves that use genetic ability as 1) the reason they have not made progress themselves and 2) why others have done better than they have. How many times to you hear someone admit that they have fabulous genetics? I know I don’t very often. The majority of the time, it is just an excuse unsuccessful people use to let themselves off the hook. In some cases, these people may be right. They may very well have poor genetic potential in a certain area of their lives that will make it difficult for them to be successful. SO WHAT? Genetics are something we cannot change. You cannot pick the hand you’re dealt, you can only control how you play it. People that use their lousy genetics as an excuse will continue to be unsuccessful. I guarantee that. It is a waste of time and energy to worry about it. If anything, use that energy to work harder to overcome your deficiencies.

Now that we have that out of the way, I want to highlight another part of genetics that never gets talked about but something that I believe is extremely important. Typically, when we talk about genetics, the typical things that come up are size, strength, speed, etc. If our parents are small or do not have a substantial athletic pedigree, we seem to think that will our fate as well. But what about attitude, work ethic, resiliency? Why are these never mentioned?

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

We’ve all heard this cliché before but some people forget it. I believe it 100%. Work ethic can not entirely overcome natural ability, but it can sure help. I would always rather be considered an overachiever than an underachiever. I always say that you can’t be the biggest, the strongest, and the fastest, but you can ALWAYS work the hardest.

What does this have to do with genetics? Everything. I would say that I have great genetics in many ways. My mom is 5’2” and is about 115 pounds soaking wet my dad was 5’9” and had a thin build too. This may not sound like a recipe for success, but I will beg to differ. I attribute much of the success I have had in life to my parents, both athletically and in life. Why you ask? I have learned from them what it takes to be successful. My mother is probably the most impressive person I know. On paper, she has had probably the hardest life of anyone I know. She has continually faced incredible adversity and overcome it every single time. She is really my definition of resilience. She does not make herself a victim or feel sorry for herself and does not make any excuses. She takes whatever comes at her and deals with it by making the best of it. She has an uncanny ability to turn a negative situation into a positive. I try to emulate this in my everyday life as much as possible. Likewise, my dad was one of the most determined people I know. When he set a goal, he accomplished it, come hell or high water. I have never met someone as driven as he was. He would make incredible sacrifices to achieve his goals. He worked an incredibly time-consuming job at still would wake up at 3am to run 10 miles before work to prepare for the Boston Marathon, and come home at night and run another 10 miles at 10pm. There is a lot to learn from this type of behavior. He had a lot of traits I did not like, and I try to learn from those too and not repeat them myself.

My point here is simple: don’t waste your time focusing on the things you can’t change. Try to make the most of what you have and learn from those around you. I am not sure if I believe personality traits are genetic. In some ways I think they are, and in other respects I would say they probably aren’t. Some scientists say depression or alcoholism is genetic, so I guess you could day that attitudes can be too. At the same time, I would say that is more of a learned behavior that we internalize through modeling. Nevertheless, it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to make the most of ourselves. Losers make excuses. Winners get it done.