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There is no Such Thing as Talent

October 22nd, 2013 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Have you been told you’re talented? Maybe you’re someone who feels they’ve had to fight for every scrap of demonstrable skill.

But what if talent wasn’t a gift? What if talent was earned as well, and not being “talented” doesn’t hold you back?

Let me Tell You What I Believe talent is

A paintbrush

Every child loves daubing with a stick! Image courtesy of Horatiu Curutiu.

I’m going to do the summing-up first, because I have one simple phrase that demonstrates what I believe about talent:

Talent is skill born from unwitting practice. (Tweet this)

Let me break that down. There is no such thing as talent. But, sometimes we practice a skill without realising, because it’s fun.

This normally happens when you’re a child. By the time you get to show that skill to people outside of your family, it seems as though it came from nowhere.

When I was little I loved to draw. Me and my brother both drew all the time, inventing elaborate stories in pencil on huge sheets of paper (A3 probably, but it felt huge at the time).

We put in a hell of a lot of practice, but as far as we were concerned, we were just playing.

In late primary school and then high school this so-called talent began to get noticed. If I got caught doodling it got me some attention from the other kids. At least three times I was persuaded into a “draw-off” with another kid who had the “talent” (if I got to choose, I made the subject dragons because it was what I most liked to draw, had the most practice at, and was best at).

But early practice only gets you so far

But I don’t draw so much now. I don’t draw for fun and I certainly don’t make a conscious effort to practice. So I have stayed at the level I was then.

My brother on the other hand has continued his practice. He has found new tools to do it with in this digital age and has read about the subject.

Not only is he a better drawer than me, but if something is subtly wrong with a drawing, he knows what it is. I might not.

Then again, he’s nowhere near as good as someone his age who has been drawing every day.

The point is it’s all just practice, and the point where you stop, is the point where you stay.


A violin takes dedicated practice from the start – there’s no natural play involved here. Image from Daniel Valentine.

From a Certain Point of View

But so what? We like being told we’re talented, don’t we? Why can’t we just have that?

Because it encourages us to stop, or to not try as hard. We begin to believe our own hype and that our “talent” will pull us through.

That wil get you through primary and secondary school, maybe even university; but out in the real world, you’ll hit the talent wall pretty fast, and the people you’re up against might have been practicing while you were cruising.

Recognising talent is just practice encourages us to push and to think, “I’ve earned this, and I can do better – all it takes is more practice”.

Even better: when we look at other people, supposedly more talented than us, we can say, “all they did was practice – I can do that too”. Hell, anyone can!

To put it briefly:

Knowing that talent is just practice is enabling. (Tweet this)

Try to think about all the times you’ve felt held back by your own abilities, or looked jealously at someone who appeared to have their skills handed to them on a plate.

Now think of all the times you’ve cruised through something because what you could do without trying was enough. How much better would you be now if you’d pushed harder?

Over to you:
I love this topic: it’s great for discussion because everyone has an opinion on it. Why not share yours in the comments? I’d love to hear it!

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  • Craig

    “Talent” brought us all those losers on the X Factor, so we should outlaw it. By that I mean the X Factor.

    In terms of actual Talent… well that’s a tough one. How people can often perceive it is as this magical gift that you have which makes you exceptional at something. This is the kind of rubbish that shows like the X Factor perpetuate.

    However, I do believe that individuals can possess a natural aptitude for certain things (such as writing or music or whatever) which makes them better at that thing than other people. The thing is though, this natural aptitude is much like the skills you have when starting a particular class in an RPG. A thief (or more generally a rogue) will have +1 (or maybe +2) sneaking skill, so they have a natural aptitude for sneaking that your warriors and your mages wont.

    All well and good, but you need to level that stat up if you want to become amazing at sneaking. And this is the same with everything. Yes, people may have a natural ‘talent’ for something, but that’s only going to be at a baseline level. If you want to become truly exceptional at that something, then you have to work, study, and put the effort in.

    But please, dear god, don’t do it on national TV.

    Whats so specially about singing anyway? Surely an X Factor type show about writing would be far more useful to the people in that particular field. Oh but of course, ‘writing’ isn’t as exciting as ‘singing’. Lest we forget that if songs never got written, there wouldn’t be anything for those desperate attention seekers to actually sing.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Ha! Can you imagine? A live writing competition show. The stage is filled with people going head-to-head, each writing their own story in silence. The critics would call it a write-off!


      • Craig

        Face. Palm.

        • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

          Holy Moly! It seems I actually described this new and very real show! I… I don’t believe it.