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Why Do We Think Talent Ought to Be Rewarded?

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I’ve been having conversations on Twitter about whether determination is more important than talent. (It was sparked by this recent blog post.)

These seem to be the key concepts at stake:

Talent. I’d define this as what you’re born with, what doesn’t change. When you have talent, it may lead nowhere if you don’t have any way to cultivate or nurture it.

Skills. This (along with many other things) is what comes with hard work and practice. People can put in the same level of hard work and not attain the same skill level as others. People who have a talent or aptitude for something can gain skills faster and at a more expert level.

Determination or grit. This is what helps you overcome challenges, delays, and bad luck. This keeps you in the game when you feel like everything is working against you. This keeps you on a path of growth and improvement before, during, and after failure.

What I’ve noticed is that most writers who haven’t succeeded (and aren't sure if they can succeed) love to hear that determination is more important than talent. People who’ve already achieved some level of stature tend to argue for the importance of talent. Successful people have already been “selected” in some fashion, so they're liable to believe they have talent that others don't. (Maybe they do, and maybe they don't. It doesn't really matter.)

Here are 3 things I believe about talent.

1. Neither talent nor skill is always recognized.
This is because there are too many variables that can stand in the way: background, upbringing, education, opportunities, network, relationships, resources, timing, luck, culture. That is, life stands in the way.

2. Everyone has some kind of talent—but so what?

Why do we believe that talent ought to receive recognition or attention? No one has to work to get talent; it is out of our control. We are all born with strengths, with special qualities that help us flourish at something in life. I'm not going to think you're a better person, or more deserving of success, just because you have talent.

What I find most sad is when someone goes through life thinking they are untalented. But I no longer feel sad about people whose talent goes unrecognized. There are a lot of reasons for that, and it describes most of the population.

3. I admire people who work hard to do what they love.
What’s especially inspiring are people who overcome great odds, or who work harder than everyone else, to achieve the same level of skill or accomplishment. There is usually tremendous sacrifice in that. There is something that had to be lost or left behind. It takes guts.

So that’s why I don't really give a damn about talent. Talent is common. Talent does not set you apart. Talent has little to do with a person’s character or contribution to the world.

For related thoughts on this issue, read my post 3 Boring Elements for Success.

I'm sure this will continue to be a controversial issue, so share your thoughts in the comments.

--

P.S. Check out this post: "A Big Part of Giftedness Is Task Commitment"

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