I have a problem with Talent.
It began one night while flipping through my photography portfolio with a friend: “You’re so talented with a camera. Whenever you take a photo, it just … works.”
Just works? What? Do you realize how much work I put into those shots? I can only wish that as soon as a camera was bestowed upon me — bam! — photographic masterpieces emerged. It’s easy for people to look at my 500+ photos on Flickr, and think that all of my pictures walk off the camera that way.
They have no idea of the thousands upon thousands of ‘lens cap photos’ I took, trying to understand exactly how ISO affects shutter speed. Or the hours upon hours of Lynda.com seminars I watched, trying to comprehend why Photoshop behaves the way it does. Or even all the times I came home from a shoot, only to find that all the shots that looked great on a 3″ screen were really out of focus.
I wish that it was as simple as creative people waking up each morning and waving their magical paintbrushes around to create works of art. But it doesn’t work that way.
People use talent as a crutch — an excuse: “I couldn’t possibly do such and such because I’m nowhere near as talented as so and so.” Sure, it’s easy to believe that it’s not your fault you aren’t good at something, simply because you weren’t granted that ‘talent’ at birth.
It simply wasn’t meant to be, right? You just don’t have that eye for composition, that ear for music, that voice for speaking, or that touch for writing. Blame your parents or God or whatever — but most definitely, it’s not your fault that you’re not out creating masterpieces.
Let me tell you: that’s a lie. I’ve never believed that. Anyone can be the best at what they do regardless of whether they’re talented or not. Talent isn’t some magic formula that makes everything work. It’s not something that is either bestowed upon you or not, ultimately deciding your fate.
There are a lot of unsuccessful, talented people in the world, and there are just as many successful, untalented ones. Yet we say that the successful people are talented because we want to believe that some sort of luck-of-the-draw talent got them to where they are.
We couldn’t be more wrong.
Becoming good at something takes a lot more than just talent. It takes hard work — pure, unbiased, hard work. Pressing on, day after day. Pulling your hair out in frustration, night after night. It’s definitely much easier to believe in luck, instead of actually having to put hard work, time, and effort into something.
That’s not to dismiss talent completely as nonexistent. Talent is very real, and I meet talented people that I admire every day. But talent isn’t magic. It doesn’t make things happen by itself. It still requires hard work; it just makes the process easier.
And it bugs me when people simply dismiss hard work as mere Talent.
Potential vs. Effort
Derek Sivers published a piece a couple years back on why ideas are simply multipliers of execution, and I believe the same to be true with talent.
Talent is potential. It is worth nothing if you don’t do anything with it. Telling me that you have talent is absolutely worthless unless you’re the kind of person that’s going to do something about it. There are those with exceptional talents that do absolutely nothing to develop their giftings, and simply remain mediocre. And then there are those with no natural talents or giftings whatsoever, that want something — really want something — and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
Some companies aim to hire talented people. Don’t hire talent.
Determination, persistence, passion, effort — these things are more valuable than talent alone.
Creativity works the same way. It’s a learned skill, not some mythical gifting that is appointed to the elite among us. It’s something anyone can tap into and develop, if they pursue it enough.
People often attribute a person’s creativeness to some sort of a genetically inherited code that allows them to bring things to life, seemingly effortlessly.
They really couldn’t be more wrong. There is no gene for creativity.
Yes, some are naturally able to tap into creativity, while others need to set aside hours at a time simply to ‘get in the zone’. But anyone can get there. Anyone. You just have to want it enough.
I wish I were one of those people that immediately had an eye for photography or an ear for music. But I’m not. I have to work at developing that eye, and honing that ear. Day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s the most antagonizing and frustrating process: doing the thing that you want to be able to love, but continually failing at it.
In the words of Merlin Mann: “Creative work only seems like a magic trick to people who don’t understand that it’s ultimately still work.”
Don’t kid yourself — creativity isn’t some hippie club of feel-gooders. It’s hard. And anything that’s hard is easy to give up on. Which is why so few actually make it to the top. And why creativity is simply excused, by many, as magic.
Maybe I wasn’t born with the eye for photography, or the ear for music, or the touch for writing. Maybe I’m not talented in any way. Maybe I wasn’t born naturally creative or gifted to any extent.
But I don’t want that to stop me.
Maybe creativity is like anything else. Maybe it can be learned. Not packaged into a neat little curriculum and taught in schools, but learned through experience, mistakes, and determination. Maybe a good eye can be developed, a good ear, honed, and the writer’s touch, perfected.
Maybe my value is determination, persistence, passion, a stubborn refusal to say “I quit”.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s more valuable than Talent.