How Mastering the Fundamentals Can Set You Apart in a Competitive World

June 5, 2020

Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, was famous for insisting that his players master the fundamentals of the game. His idea was that other teams might rehearse complex plays and tactics to perfection. But if your team excels at the basic stuff that everyone else takes for granted, you’ll end up the winner and earn the ultimate distinction of a championship. This timeless concept can also be applied outside of sport. In many areas of your life, you’re going to face competition from a lot of talented people with specialized skills. Here’s why making an effort to cover the basics may actually be the thing that sets you apart from the pack.

Reflecting the right mindset

changing mindset

Just like a house being appraised will lose value if basement finishing and remodeling have been ignored, you’ll eventually face situations where neglecting to finish your development with well-rounded fundamentals will haunt you.

Mastering the basics isn’t easy—and it’s rarely glamorous work. Few, if any, will congratulate you or acknowledge the effort you put into practicing the little things or simply showing up. Many people have a fixed mindset; subconsciously, they place too much emphasis on achievements or things that are immediately impressive, overlooking the effort that goes into polishing small skills and details.

If you’ve got the fundamentals covered, it serves as a demonstration of your complete dedication and reflects that you have a growth mindset. You’re not someone who just works on the most attention-grabbing aspects of your craft; you do the “grunt work,” which often goes unnoticed but provides the foundation for overall success.

Making a difference on multiple fronts

Artistic skills may seem like a rare and amazing ability. But in our information-saturated digital world, millions of people are using tutorials and learning each day how to draw, paint, or render beautiful designs on a computer. Even in such a traditionally inaccessible discipline, the competition can be daunting. Yet many of these industry newcomers lack fundamental art skills—capturing line and form, light and value; drawing correct perspective and proportions; and creating interesting compositions. They are specialized but one-dimensional; this works against them.

Whether you’re an aspiring illustrator working in traditional media, a computer-based concept artist, or pursuing a career in the more distant domains of architecture and animation, mastering the fundamentals will make a difference on all fronts. You’ll be a greater asset to an employer than someone who’s very good at a few narrow, advanced skills, but hasn’t got the basics covered.

Creating value from scarcity

When you know that the competition in any realm is vast and intense, the perception of saturation can be intimidating; to succeed, you’d have to be capable of something scarce and thus in demand. If you can’t do that, why even bother? Yet this line of thinking can be founded upon a myth of scarcity. Brett and Kate McKay, editors at The Art of Manliness, note that opportunities aren’t as rare as you’d expect, but common sense, good social skills, and being reliable are the things that are truly in short supply. Simply executing the basics, such as preparing for an interview by doing prior research and coming up with a list of questions to ask, will already distinguish you from a lot of aspiring candidates.

Sports are founded on competition, and you can take this valuable lesson from one of the great sporting legends and apply it to your career, out-hustling the rest with your focus on mastering the small things that matter most.

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