The Fallacy of Talent


1. a special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing.
2. a capacity for achievement or success; ability: young men of talent.

Talent is one of those most misleading words in the World today, and typifies Western society’s obsession with doing everything quickly. Talent, as per the definition above, implies that a person is somehow gifted in a certain field, which thus leads to great success. We can see this all through our popular culture – Harry Potter finds out he has a talent for magic despite being raised as a muggle, in the Matrix Morpheus tells Neo “don’t think you can, know you can” and that is basically all he needs to turn into a demigod. We are basically told repeatedly by movies and television that we simply have to discover our talent and we are going to be awesome at it.
This flies completely in the face of reality where hard work and dedication are what make you good at anything, not this mysterious thing called “talent”. If The Karate Kid was actually realistic, Daniel (and most likely Mr Miyagi too) would have gotten his ass kicked by the Cobra Kai at the tournament rather than winning with that ridiculous crane kick. To be honest I think the term talent is actually somewhat insulting, because it implies that the person was somehow gifted that trait by god or whatever deity you follow, rather than having earned them. I want to give three examples as to why talent is an inappropriate term.

A good friend of mine, Matt D’Aquino is an Olympic level judoka. He has competed at world championships, world cups and of course, the Olympics. He is exactly what people would refer to as a talented judo player. People have even told he was “so lucky” to have made the Olympics. Take a glimpse into his life, however, and it becomes clear that talent doesn’t even enter into it. Matt lives and breathes judo – when he is not on the mat training or teaching, he is thinking about judo. When he is at home he is making notes, watching videos, talking to people online about judo. He recently started a website, the University of Judo, where he helps other judoka by providing hundreds of his own videos (amongst other things) and answering questions. He has had multiple operations on his knees from injury. This is not talent, it is immense dedication, persistence and hard work. Matt’s dedication reminds me of a saying from feudal Japan: “Every day you train, someone, somewhere is training twice as hard. One day you will meet him on the battlefield, and he will kill you”. Matt is the latter guy.

The second example is a work colleague who happens to be an internationally rated chess player. The cliche thing about chess is that you have to be smart to be good at it. This is incorrect. Chess is just like anything else – the earlier you start and the more you practice the better you will be. James doesn’t just dabble in chess and because he is intelligent wipes the floor with people, no. He spends 2-3 hours a day on chess (in addition to working full time and being a father), playing games, working problems and studying. He has traveled Europe and been coached by some of the best in addition to coaching others himself. He plays in tournaments all the time. Again, this is not about talent, it is about working hard and working smart.

Finally, I’m using myself as an example. A lot of people that read my work tell me I’m a talented writer. I was thinking about it last night and realised that I’m not talented at all, I’ve just written a hell of a lot more than most regular people. I’ve been writing creatively since I was a kid. Add to that a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, a master’s degree, the many blogs I’ve had over the years and we are talking thousands of pages of work. I also read heavily and across a wide variety of genres. Looking back it is no accident that I am good at writing – if I wasn’t by now I’d be worried!

So to conclude, there is no such thing as talent. The best people in any field get there through a huge amount of work and dedication. Remember that in every part of life – when you think someone at work is talented, realise that they have actually worked hard to be as good as they are. In sport when you pass off someone defeating you as them being really talented remember that no, they have more likely trained far more than you have.


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