The myth of talent and how it holds us back…

all do it. Look at a piece of art, idolize a musician or read a book that moves us and we say “so talented, so talented…” shaking our heads, secure in the belief that we don’t have that kind of talent.

The dictionary aids us in the handicap, calling talent a natural aptitude. But do you know what an aptitude is? Remember the aptitude skills of our school days, seeking the career that’s a good fit? That’s all aptitude is. A good fit.

Which means if talent is aptitude, then talent is just something that fits you.
I love the words Mitch Albom paints it with…

I will share a secret: this is how talents are bestowed. Before newborns open their eyes, we circle them, appearing as brilliant colors, and when they clench their tiny hands for the first time, they are actually grabbing the colors they find most appealing. Those talents are with them for life…
(The Magical Strings of Frankie Preston)

But skill and proficiency? Whole different animals…

Hours and hours of work. Painting over paint, sheets of paper tossed into the garbage bin in utter frustration as Stephen King did with his first novel and thank heavens his wife pulled it out and said no, there’s something here.

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to develop skill. Does it? I don’t know. But I do know that we aren’t born with skill or proficiency in much of anything. Child prodigies are more rare than you’d think.

When we look at people who have worked so hard to develop skill and proficiency and chalk it up to “talent,” we do ourselves a disservice. Because it allows us to mistakenly think that we don’t “have” a talent like that.

It’s skill and proficiency we may not have yet, not a talent. Talent is just the thing you’re suited to. And if you know that, as surely as you know the sun will rise again tomorrow, maybe you can get to work on the skills that will one day look like talent to someone else.

Written by

Top writer. Featured in NYT, Forbes.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store