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Talent Is Overrated: The Myths of Talented People

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Someone said something to me today that nearly knocked the wind out of me.

I’m staying in New Hampshire at the moment, readying myself for a four-in-a-rower starter this Friday (Dedham, Rye, Hartford, NYC), and chilling out with my soon-to-be-family.

Across the street lives a man that my fiance has been very close to his whole life. Almost like an uncle.

He’s out in his yard daily, trimming, mowing, weeding, etc. He’s always moving about… and he’s nearly 93 years old.

As we walked out to the car today to get somewhere that has wifi, we caught this neighbor as he was headed out to do some hedge-trimming. We strolled over to talk to him and he asked us about our work situations.

As Rick explained what he was doing (his amazing podcast and coaching), the neighbor seemed to space out a little bit… which honestly happens more than not with people who don’t quite understand the technology.

But then, he looked back at us–at me–straight in the eye, and said:

“In 93 years, I never once found something I have a talent for.”

My heart dropped to my feet, and I think every bit of air left my lungs, too.

This incredibly sweet man just expressed all the pain of a lifetime of regret in one sentence, directly to me.

The idea that someone can spend their whole life never finding something they can dive headfirst into. A life of working a so-so job, never feeling that deep satisfaction and fulfillment of “This is it.”

So let’s get down to what you’re aching to skim to: how do you avoid getting to your 90’s, never having realized your talents?

Here’s the sucky part: I don’t have a straight answer for you.

No one’s journey will be the same.

All the people we look up to who are doing incredible things, found out their passions and talents organically, but that doesn’t mean that  they just stumbled over them. Their talents come from growth and work and openness.

Here’s my thought on what you should do to find your talent:

Demolish your idea of talent.

Many times, all the advice you’ll read (yes, including this advice you’re reading right now) will get you absolutely nowhere. Why? Because it’s not personal. It’s not made for you.

Your talents aren’t their talents. You won’t discover them the way they discovered theirs.

What I want to do today is show you why certain ideas of discovering your talents are downright wrong, and how to expand your perspective so that you can start living your potential.

And hey, if it doesn’t work for you, I’m sorry I couldn’t help. But the important thing is that you keep looking. You keep trying.

“Talented People Are Gifted”

People always think that the people who are good at things just had it easy. They were born with it.

Talent isn’t always a gift. Sometimes, it’s kindling that needs to be lit and nurtured to grow into a roaring blaze.

I’d like to ask John Coltrane what his music sounded like when he was a kid. I’d like to ask Meryl Streep if she skipped out on classes because she was “gifted.” I’d like to ask Robert Frost to show me his writing from middle school.

Talents take work to develop into gifts. If you’re not good at something that you love, get better at it. Practice, hone, take a class…

But don’t use the “I wasn’t born with the gift” excuse, because most of us aren’t. Some of us are just harder workers than others.

“Talented People Don’t Give Up”

“Never give up,” they say. I tend to disagree.

I don’t give up on things that are important to me, sure. The way I’ve found the practices I’ve honed into talents, however, is by giving up the ones that don’t hold my interest. That’s how I’ve found out what I’m good at and what matters to me.

I’m pretty sure I’m undiagnosed ADHD, so this may have something to do with my methodology, but hopefully you can learn something from my inability to focus on many things at once.

You see, I’m not very good at multi-tasking. If I start getting interested in something else, I’ll leave the thing behind that I was working on before. Sometimes I’ll come back to it, but if I’m not interested, I’ll just move on.

This is my way of finding out my “passions.” If I get intensely interested in something, I will focus on just that one thing, honing it and bettering myself at it. This is how I’ve found my “talent” for training.

Many of my personal heroes say similar things: giving up the things that you lose interest in allows you to find the things that truly matter to you, and develop those into talents.

Don’t be afraid to give up on something if you’re not feeling it. You can always come back to it.

“Talented People Are X, Y or Z”

No. They’re not. You can’t just throw people into categories like they’re a file in your tax records.

We are all innately talented. And yes, I know this goes against everything I just said, but hear me out.

Talent is what you make of it.

Some of us are talented mothers. Some of us are talented at making people feel better. Some of us have a talent for avoiding confrontation.

You don’t have to be artistic or perfect at something to be talented. The fact that you are a unique human being means that you have something that is completely your own.

Discovering what that is may take time.

Open up to the reality that you are unique and allow yourself to meander around in that. Explore what this means and how you differ from other people.

Exploration can open up any self-pigeon-holing you may have been doing subconsciously. Allow yourself to open up to the fact that finding “it,” may be in an aisle you have yet to look down.

Just because you never have doesn’t mean you never will.

And just because you always thought you should have, doesn’t mean you really should.

Open up the idea of talent. In fact, crack it open with a jack hammer and explore all the delicious seeds within. Let it grow into anything it wants to.

*****

As we said our goodbyes and walked away from the neighbor, I felt like this blanket of sadness had been placed on my shoulders.

This man had waited his whole life for talent to discover him.

But what if he had created it? What if, instead, he had looked for it, or honed what he loved into talent?

You all know as readers of Strong Inside Out that I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to waiting for things to happen for us. I am the proponent of going out and making it happen for yourself. That same idea applies here to talent.

Don’t wait your whole life for your talents to find you. Go out there, explore, discover and hone your own.

The Suck It, Temptation! Challenge Check-In

To all 70 of us in the challenge, we’re just over a week into it and you’re probably feeling cranky and hating my guts a little bit. I’ll take it. ;)

This is the yucky part that needs to be overcome in order to get to the awesome RESULTS part. Keep thinking of all the ways you’ll feel better if you just keep going. Hold that close to you when it gets tough.

If you haven’t received 2 emails, comment on your original “I’m in” comment and I’ll make sure your email address is all good!

What’s next for 30×30? It’s a big week for the movement! Friday is Dedham, Saturday is Rye, Sunday is Hartford and Monday is NYC! Click here to see the full map and all the details.

Hope to see you in person soon!

With hope and fire,

Amy

pic by Tom Marcello

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6 responses to “Talent Is Overrated: The Myths of Talented People”

  1. shawna says:

    Thanks for the little blurb at the end about the suck it up challenge….I really wanted cookies, but then I read that and decided that cookies do not fit into the 80/20 rule this week. :-)

  2. Keith Sykes says:

    I really liked this: “Talents take work to develop into gifts. If you’re not good at something that you love, get better at it. Practice, hone, take a class…”

    I agree that having a certain talent isn’t something people are born with. While our genetic make-up may predispose us to certain skills, our actual life experience is what determines them. Many people tend to think of talents in polarities, either they have them or they don’t. I think there is always a middle ground, being proficient in something can take you a long way and anything can be improved upon with time and practice.

  3. Steve says:

    Wow, that surprises me too that someone at that age would say that. It’s interesting how people perceive talent. They think it’s some innate gift given at birth. Never mind the hours of practice, hard work and persistence that goes into making it.

    I just remind myself of Michael Phelps. Yes, he’s talented. But when he was competing, he worked out hours every single day. He didn’t rely on talent alone. He worked his butt off.

    There are so many other things more important than talent.

  4. jenny. (: says:

    Im in. <3

  5. Angela says:

    I think you have some good ideas and a realistic perspective on the subject of talent.

    I get off the boat though about “talents” that a person might have that are of no value in the labor market. Not every “passion” is worth much of anything in the world.

    And that is where actually being gifted is so important. In so many areas, just being talented isn’t enough to give a person a place to exercise those talents. But if you are gifted, then you have a better shot.

    Being a talented mother, listener, hugger, etc., make you a nice person but don’t do much to make you valuable.

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