The Myth of Talent

I grew up listening to people talk about how talented this person was or how talented that person was. There would be a literal conversation about how talented someone was. These conversations ensued, when I would play the piano. Inevitably, someone would tell me how talented I was. As a little girl, I would puff up with pride, udder a thank you and strut away. Looking back as an adult, I recognize that it was really the years and years of piano lessons that my parents gave me that allowed my “talent” to flourish.

I heard a cartoon artist say that he gets the same kind of comments and he wants tell them that they too could cartoon if they sit down at the kitchen table and put 10,000 hours of work into it. Talent is such a misleading term. It is in fact a myth, by its current definition. Talent in our culture indicates a natural inclination to be able to accomplish something without effort or with limited effort.

Talent should simply be another word for grit. For sticking to something until you turn around and recognize that you have put 10,000 hours of your spare time into something.

There are indeed children who can drum a solid beat from the time they are small. There are children are able to sing far better than other children their age, but it takes far more than talent alone to achieve greatness in an art. I venture to say that talent may only be a sign post pointing a person in the direction of one’s purpose.

In teaching we have professional jargon that mentions “best practices” all the time. Now to an outsider, the comment “best practices” seems weird because there are many ways to accomplish the same task and many of these tasks fall into the arena of “best practices”. It is the same with life.There are many ways to accomplish and fulfill your best life. I do believe that there are many sign posts in our life that helps us accomplish our most fulfilled life. Talent is but one of them.

For a long time my first response as to why I fail to try things was because, “I am not that talented.” or “I wish I was talented.” When the correct response should be, “Wow, am I willing to work at that?”

Changing my thinking about talent has come about with maturity, I am pretty sure, I do not have to paint like Picasso to enjoy a brush and a canvas. Nor do I need to play like Bill Evans to enjoy the music that comes out of my heart. But I do have to work on the small things, the details to hone my skills.

I have to talk to musicians and listen to them. I have to work on my turn arounds and my chromatic changes. I have to play my scales until they become a part of me. Nothing shows up in my music until I practice it for a long time. With work, I can be a talented musician. Talent however, should be redefined as lots and lots of work.


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