Talent is one of those confusing concepts that I don’t really like. Calling someone “talented” in reference to the presence of a particular skill misses the point. Anyone who does anything well does so as the result of a great deal of practice, not because they are naturally gifted.
Thinking about myself, this becomes quite evident. Taking just two of my skills – I play the piano reasonably well and I’m quite quick around an indoor kart track – as examples, it’s clear to me that both are the result of hard work much more than any “natural ability”.
I started learning to play the piano when I was seven years old. I practised most days from then until I completed my ABRSM Grade 8 exam when I was 17. Since then, I have practised less, but still continued to play regularly – in a church band, with singers and instrumental soloists – and I have performed at a few small house concerts.
My proficiency on the piano is not down to talent. It’s down to the fact that I now have over 20 years of playing the piano behind me. I’m not sure if I’ve made it to Malcolm Gladwell’s magic number of 10,000 hours, but I’ve certainly spent a lot of time at the piano.
When it comes to indoor karting, I have for a long time considered myself to be “naturally fast”. Thinking about that recently, it’s become clear that I’ve been deluding myself. I’m not naturally fast. My early attempts at karting were pretty poor, which would not have been the case if I were somehow “just good” at karting.
I’m quick around a kart track because I’ve done literally thousands of laps. Although I only really started racing about 5 years ago, I made a point of getting in regular practice until I was quick enough to be competitive. Now it seems fairly straightforward to me to get into a kart and take it pretty close to the limit on a track.
Looking at any of my other skills (I’ve thought about this quite a bit recently) leads me to the same conclusion in each and every case. Any skill I have is down to practice.
Looking at other people around me, the same appears to be true. I’ve never met anyone who is just spectacularly good at anything at the first attempt.
The authors I know have become competent through years and years of writing. The musicians I know play well because of years and years of practice. The racing drivers I know who are quicker than I am have had more practice than I have had. The entrepreneurs I know who are successful have spent years of their lives trying to run businesses and have learned hard lessons along the way.
No-one is “just good” at anything. Of that I’m becoming more and more convinced. And the lesson is a great one for me – it tells me to stop looking for those things I’m naturally good at, and to work hard at the things I want to do well instead.