Talent, a Dirty Word

I don't like the word talent. See, we use this word to say someone is good at what they do, and that's fine, but the word "talent" implies they are good because of some natural ability. It implies they did not work hard to become good -- they were lucky, not persistent, blessed, not persevering.

It also implies a division: between the talented and untalented. It implies that, regardless of what you want to do in life, if you haven't "got it" you'll never be good enough no matter how hard you try.

I know what you're thinking. I'm making too much of this. You don't mean all that crap, just the compliment, right? The truth is, I'm not bothered so much by talent as a compliment. What really bothers me is the thought that comes after: I could never do that.

The thing is, I've quit so many things in my life because I saw someone amazing and thought, "I'll never be that good. Why bother?" I quit piano. I quit sports. I stopped writing and drawing for years.

I quit because they had something I didn't. To quote Leia, they had a power I didn't understand and "could never have." Without talent, I thought, I'd never be good enough, so I didn't even try.

I regret those years. I could've learned so much if I'd known what I know now. But you know what? Regret is useless too. All that matters is what I want now. I can do anything I want to do, and I can be really good at it, if I'm willing to put in the work.

So can you.

It's true, not everybody's starting block is in the same place. Not everyone has the same hurdles. But nobody gets to the finish line without working hard to get there. You find me one person born with professional-level skills, and I'll show you a hundred people just as good, who practice everyday. (And probably that one person practices everyday too).

So don't say, "You're lucky to be so talented." Say, "You must have worked really hard." Don't say, "I could never do that." Say, "I could do that, but I'm working on other things right now."

Or better yet: "I'll get there, too. It's just a matter of time."


Natalie Whipple said...

I really like this, Adam. I gave up on a lot of things I wasn't "talented" at.

The whole idea implies that we should stick with only the things we're good at—and that's kind of the easy way out.

I've recently decided to put up a picture in my house that says "We Do Hard Things." I don't want my kids thinking they're allowed to stop trying just because it's "too hard."

Adam Heine said...

"We Do Hard Things."

Man, I love that! I need to get something in our house that says that too.

Margaret Yang said...

Hi. I followed you here from Nathan's blog. I just wanted to say--excellent post.

Adam Heine said...

Thanks for stopping by, Margaret. I'm glad you liked it :-)

fairyhedgehog said...

I believe this, too. I do think talent exists, but without practice it won't get you far and a less talented person can get a long way with perseverance.

It's at least partly a case of how much do you want to do it.