We Are the One

What is the greatest talent that Barack Obama possesses? Could it be the ability not to get in his own way? Many of us create our own stumbles.
Every ugly exam score, blown deadline and failed project provides the opportunity to try out new excuses. It was a blowup at home. A sick cat. An emergency at work. Not to mention the roadways: if only they hadn’t been so icy.
Most people make low achievement a way of life.
“This is real self-sabotage, like drinking heavily before a test, skipping practice or using really poor equipment,” said Edward R. Hirt, a psychologist at Indiana University. “Some people do this a lot, and often it’s not clear whether they’re entirely conscious of doing it — or of its costs.”
What makes unremarkable people obtain remarkable results just might be their unique confidence in the idea that they belong at the top. Consider Rod Blagojevich.
In another experiment, participants who had a good excuse for their poor scores — distracting noises, pumped through headphones they wore during the test — were less motivated to prepare for a subsequent test than those who had no excuse. “The handicap allowed them to say, ‘All things considered, I actually did pretty well,’ ” Dr. McCrea said in a phone interview. “And there’s no drive to get better.”
Blagojevich is remarkable for the calm with which he is navigating waters that most people thought he would have abandoned at the first swell. Obama surprised with his calm while his campaign was exploding into the bigtime.
The urge to shoot one’s own foot seems to be stronger in men than in women. In surveys, Dr. Hirt and others have measured the tendency by asking people to rate how well a series of 25 statements describes their own behavior — for example, “I try not to get too intensely involved in competitive activities so it won’t hurt too much if I lose or do poorly.” Men tend to score higher on these measures and, in lab studies, to handicap themselves more severely.
There is a brazen self-confidence that works for Barack, Blagojevich, and even Sarah Palin. A talent of not self-destructing that allows them to separate themselves from the crowd.