Several years ago, after being inspired by listening to Guns ‘N Roses, I decided to pick up the guitar. And as any beginning guitarist will tell you, it ain’t easy. But I practiced and I practiced; I did exercise and exercise; I attended lesson after lesson. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t getting any better. And then that’s when the doubt crept in; I kept hearing a voice in my head that said, “Maybe I’m not talented enough to excel at guitar.”
Looking back on it years later, I realize what a silly notion that was. After all Slash didn’t just pick up a guitar one day, and just play Sweet Child O’ Mine. He didn’t come out of the womb playing guitar. It took him years to get that good. I saw an interview of his where he explains that he spent many years practicing literally all day, whether it was doing certain drills, or playing along with his favorite records. He lived with that guitar in his hands. I can only imagine the number of hours it must’ve took to develop that level of skill. What’s my point? My point is that no one is blessed with success, we sweat for success.
Whether we verbalize it or not, many of us have this internalized idea that there are people born with certain gifts, and those are the people you see succeeding and making a name for themselves. These are your musicians, your comedians, your scientists, your engineers, etc. We imagine that these people just have it. And in this way we sort of split the entire human population into two categories: The talented and the untalented. The have and the have nots. The capable and the hopeless. Now why is this important? It’s important because I think our emphasis on talent is harmful. It distorts our perception of ourselves and of others. Now, in saying that am I being dismissive of talent? Of course not. But, in many cases our obsession with talent cause more damage than is intended.
The damage can be seen even in little kids. Studies show that children who are told they are “smart” by their parents tend not to do as well in their studies. That was the story of my childhood. I remember once when I was in first grade, the teacher asked me why I was laying my head on the desk. “You’re supposed to be working,” he said. My response was, “I’m already smart, why bother.” That was my attitude. Instead, experts recommend we teach our kids the importance of hard work and determination. “You can get anything you want if you work hard.” No one is blessed with success, we sweat for success.
And this is advice, by the way, that is worth hearing as adults as well. You’d be surprised how many adults I’ve spoken to who use their professed talent as an excuse not to work hard.
The emphasis we place on “talents” is damaging in another way: I alluded to it earlier. It causes folks to fall into the trap of thinking that success in a particular area is only for those who are talented. “I’m not talented enough. I could never play guitar like that.” “Maybe I’m not smart enough to be a doctor.” “I don’t have what it takes to master this skill.” “You have to be really smart to do this or that.” Let me just say that is the wrong attitude to have in life.
I had a math teacher once who on the first day of class, stood on front of the room and asked this question, “How many of you would say you’re not a math person? You’ve just never been good at math. Raise your hands.” About half the class raised their hands.
He pointed to a guy in the front row. “So you’re not good at math?” he says.
“Nah, I’ve just never been good at it.”
Then the teacher says, “is there anything you are good at?” The guy says basketball.
“Interesting,” he says. “So you’re good at basketball. You watch basketball?”
“Yeah I watch every game.”
“Every game? Wow. You play a lot of basketball?”
“Yeah. Like every day. I’m on the court like eight hours a day?”
“Eight hours a day!” Then he asks him this: “How often do you study your mathematics?”
The guy goes, “Not that often, maybe like an hour a day.”
“Only an hour a day? An hour, huh?” What the teacher said next I’ll never forget. He goes, “Of course you’re not good at math. Why should you be?”
Now just imagine how good he would be at math if he applied the same effort to it as he did basketball. He would be doing algebra in his sleep in no time. I challenge you to find me one person who is just naturally good at math. Don’t waste your time, he doesn’t exist. The goals you haven’t reached are the skills you haven’t spent enough time with.
Talent is not the be all end all. Those who have them, great! The reality is though, the majority of us aren’t talented. I know this isn’t something that most folks want to hear; deep down we all want to be told that we’re gifted. Most of us believe that we’re above average; studies have shown this. The fact is, for most people, that’s just not true.
You might find this to be troubling news. This is where many become defeated, discouraged, depressed. I hear some of you saying to yourselves, “Well great. Might as well not even try,”. But I’m here to tell you that that’s the exact wrong response; in some sense, how far we get in life is based on our response to this fact. Will you let it bring you down, or will you let it motivate you? I’m here to encourage everyone to choose the latter.
Because here’s the key: even without talent, you can still accomplish your goals. Without talent you can fulfill your ambitions. Without talent you can still realize your dreams. Like I said, talent isn’t everything. Sure, you’ll have to work harder; you’ll have to put in more effort, but a little sweat never hurt nobody.
Ignore that little voice in your head that tells you to give up, that you’re not good enough, that you won’t succeed. Whatever you want in life, just go for it, but be prepared to fight. Talented or not, hard work is the life blood of success. Those who get what they want are those who try harder, period. No one is blessed with success; we sweat for success.