The Secret to Being Talented

— January 16, 2012 (7 comments)
Let me chat up my brother for a bit. The guy plays piano, bass, and guitar at a professional level. The San Diego Union Tribune once described his singing: "like if Jack Johnson weren't so dang annoying." He makes art and sells it for actual money. He does graphic design, marketing, and was a founding member of San Diego's art collective, Sezio.

Also, he's a college-educated engineer and (thanks to Iraq) a war veteran. So yeah, talented.

For years, I was in awe of what he could do. I'm still, always extremely impressed by what he does, but I'm no longer in awe.

I know how he did it.

I remember the first time Andrew picked up Dad's classical guitar and had trouble banging out the theme to Spyhunter. I remember that, even though I sucked at piano, I was ahead of him in our lessons. I remember doodling at an equal level on the church bulletin during sermons.

When we were kids, he was no better at these things than I was, and I wasn't very good at them.

He surpassed me because he didn't quit. While I was working out how to program a text adventure, he was working out my dad's old banjo or ukelele. When I beat Fool's Errand, he was recording songs on the keyboard. When I was ten pages into my crappy Lord of the Rings knock-off, he was filling his tenth sketchbook.

Whenever he came across a challenge, he faced it again and again until he beat it. THAT is the secret to being talented.

It's possible that some people start off with a little more ability than others. I don't know. I've never seen proof. Andrew is the most talented guy I know, and when I think about where he started, I realize I had started in the exact same place.

This isn't to belittle Andrew's accomplishments at all. The opposite, actually. I would much rather someone praise all the work behind what I did than tell me I was given a gift nobody else was.

It's also to encourage you. Is there something you wish you were better at? You can do it. It's freaking hard work, but you can do it. (Can you succeed professionally at it? Well, that's not really up to you. I bet you've never heard of my brother's band).

Instead, focus on what you can control. Choose what you want to excel at, and work at it everyday. Even when it gets hard. Especially when it gets hard. Until one day someone looks at what you're doing and says, "Hey, you're really talented!"

Then you can tell them your secret.

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  1. Awesome.

    And isn't he your TWIN?? So, that's kind of an important piece of data (or not, to your point. Talent is grown, not born.)

    I've done a lot of different things and sometimes people are awed (or intimidated, which is the bad side of awe) and say things like "Is there anything you can't do?" I always think, "Well, yes. Lots of things, but I don't care about them." What I say is this: "Laundry. Also I really stink at cleaning. You could do what I'm doing - it's just crazy amounts of work, is all."

  2. He's not actually my twin, but close. He's 1.5 years younger than me, so I don't remember life without him.

  3. That's a great point, Adam. Talent only goes so far, and any disparity in talent is easily outweighed by commitment and dedication. Especially if you love something enough to give it all those tens of thousands of hours.

  4. I hope you are right. I don't want to spend the rest of my writing life being "almost there". It is okay for now (I'm actually fairly stoked about it right now), but at some point it isn't going to be so cool anymore.

  5. What a cool brother.

    And your post is right-on and reminded me of this bit from Stevenson:

    I am not a man of any unusual talent; I started out with very moderate abilities. My success has been due to my really remarkable industry – to developing what I had in me to the extreme limit.

  6. You're brother sounds like my son. He's the musician I always wanted to be. Your message rings so true, Adam. I will stop trying to get improve as a writer.