It can be easy to ground ourselves with the notion that we don’t have — or weren’t born with — the talent to succeed. While some people may naturally have the upper hand in some skilsets, being successful at something really comes down to dedicating yourself to develop and master skills. Talent is just a starting point.
It’s practically impossible to disprove that some form of “natural talent” exists. Some people are genetically constructed to have a knack for certain things, especially when it comes to physical ability. For most of us, however, success is not a physical venture. We just want to be good at something. We want to make a decent wage doing something fulfilling so we can live a comfortable life. When we don’t get that, we catch ourselves wasting away on our couch, looking at successful people with envy. Oh, that we were blessed with such talent! If only our stars had lined up like theirs did. Well, your stars can change. You just have to be the one to change them.
Change Your Perspective On Ability
The wrong perspective can hold us back from so many things. When you start to believe that talent is the most essential piece to the puzzle of success, you’ve built up a wall all on your own. You think to yourself “I’ll never be that good because I just don’t have the talent.” You either have it or you don’t, right? The problem is that believing in natural talent assumes that to be successful, you have to be born under the right circumstances. You assume that you must have a marked innate ability to do something well just because you are you.
As soon as you start to think that, you’ve already denied yourself the chance. You won’t let yourself go beyond your self-made wall. Talent is real and it makes a difference, yes, but not having it doesn’t block you out of doing whatever it is you want to do. You can be good at something without being naturally talented, it just might be a little more difficult for you.
What it really comes down to is passion, dedication and the belief that talent can also be learned. When we see talent, we gawk and marvel at someone’s “gifts”, but if you stopped to ask them, there was likely years of hard work on top of that. The Olympic sprinter ran as fast as they could every day of their life, the musician picked up a guitar and played until their fingers were bloody, and the brilliant mathematicians of the world couldn’t stop themselves from satisfying their own curiosity in numbers. You want to be successful at something? Then stop holding yourself back. It’s time to change your mindset and forge your own talent.
Call Them Skills, Not Talents
This is the most important part: stop labelling ability as talent. Instead, think of other peoples abilities as skills. If someone is good at something, they’re skilled. By calling talents skills, you subconsciously tell yourself that what you’re seeing, hearing, or reading about is learnable. Half the battle is simply knowing whether something is even possible, and by turning talent into skill, you’ve done that. The musician is skilled at playing the guitar. They practised and then practised some more, and as long as you have both arms you can be skilled too if you follow suit.
Of course, playing the guitar is something that can be considered more technical. What about something that’s more reliant on your body? In the same musical vein, it can be easy to assume that singers are naturally talented and born to have the voice of an angel. A recent study from Northwestern University published in the journal Music Perception suggests that singing is a skill as well. According to the study, most people can find and hold notes just fine, and that people become “bad singers” when they don’t do it enough; what they call a “use it or lose it” skill. Sure, some people actually suffer from amusia — which causes tone deafness — but it only occurs in about 1 in 20 people.
The bottom line for most people is you can be a good singer if you want to be. Why aren’t there more incredible singers? There are. They sing in the shower, in the car, and when they do chores around the house. Some people don’t like to sing in public or think they’re good enough to.
Even analytical skill sets, where some might say they aren’t “smart enough”, require discipline and dedication. In “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” from the journal Psychological Review, authors K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer study the learning curves of grandmaster chess players. The authors explain that no single chess player had attained the level of an international chess master without at least 10 years of intense preparation with the game. According to their research, it took master chess players — older than the age of 11 — an average of 11.7 years to reach such a high status. That’s 12 years of intense chess play every single day.
Film and television love to tell us the stories of brilliant minds that can just whip up amazing equations and solve the toughest of analytical problems, but for most people, being good at that stuff still takes work. Nobody learns the rules of chess and immediately knows how to take on the best in the world.
When you make everything a skill instead of a talent, the entire world opens up. These successful people we look up to begin to just look like dedicated individuals. Successful public speakers are suddenly people with experience and practice under their belt. Expert programmers are people that sat down and took the time to learn the ins and outs of a language. Powerful businessmen and women are merely disciplined investors. When innate talents shapeshift into learnable skills in your mind, you see that you really can be successful at what you want to do as long as you pursue with vigor. So, what do you want to do?
Practise Deliberately and Practise a Lot
With the right mindset, you’re ready for the other half of the battle. When you know what skills you want to develop, you have to practise. This doesn’t mean doing the same thing over and over. If we go back to the guitar example, practising the same song over and over hardly makes you more skilled at playing the guitar. It just makes you more skilled at playing that song. The same way you add weights as you get stronger, you must expand your skill development. To practise deliberately, you need to learn new chords, new rhythms and new songs in whatever field you want to succeed in.
Now you have to do it a lot. It takes more than just practising for 20 minutes a day. It takes hours and hours of practice, and it takes years to get anywhere. Many call this the “10 Years of Silence“. You have to be patient with your practice just as much you need to be deliberate. It may not take you 10 years — or 10,000 hours — to get where you want to be, but make sure you have a target.
Without a target, your motivation can take a nosedive before you ever make any real progress. The beginning, when you have the least amount of skill, is the hardest part. It’s the point when most people decide something is too hard and give up, but don’t get discouraged. You probably won’t be very good when you start, but no one ever said success would be easy. Keep your expectations in check, set times to practise regularly, and just keep going. It’s both the hardest and easiest part, but all you need to do is keep on going.
Don’t Cheapen Your Own Achievements
Last of all, you don’t want to believe that you succeeded just because of natural talents. For many people, the idea of achievement being born from natural talent cheapens it. Instead of earning something through your effort and dedication, achievement just fell into your lap. Even if you believe that you do have natural talent, it only benefits you to change your mindset in that sense. You want people to know that you worked hard to get where you are, and you want to know it yourself.
It is a lot more exciting for you to achieve something when you believe you earned it. Don’t short-change yourself by thinking that you’re “just good at it”. It could be as simple as making mac and cheese, or as complicated as solving advanced calculus problems. Whatever it is, you’re skilled because you took the time to practise.
Success is a difficult equation to solve, and there are a lot of variables to account for, but innate, natural, born-this-way talent is not an essential component. Maybe naturally talented people have an edge, and maybe they don’t. It’s hard to say. What can definitely give you an edge, however, are skills, discipline, practice, passion, and maybe a little luck (depending on what you want to succeed at). You are your worst enemy when it comes to success, but you can also be your greatest asset.