26 May 2011

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge


Talent is what you’re born with; skill is what you develop. It took me a while to understand the relation between the two.

When very skilled people are discussed, they are held out as geniuses that regular people could never become. We look at how far advanced that person is in their skills, compare them to regular people who don’t have that skill, and assume that they must have been born that way, because there is no way that a regular person who wasn’t born special could have such amazing skills. This is preposterous.

What we think of as talent is just a skill, practiced consistently over the years. I have a friend who is an amazing storyteller. He wasn’t born an amazing storyteller, in fact when he was born, he couldn’t even talk! However, ever since he was five or six years old he started thinking about ways to make his stories better every time he told them, while all the rest of us weren’t paying attention to that sort of stuff. Twenty years later, big surprise, he’s a spectacular storyteller. I have a friend who is an artist. Back in kindergarten she was drawing the same nonsensical kid drawings as everyone else. Suddenly, 20 years of hard work later, people tell her she was just born to be an artist.

We only see people at one point in time, and naturally extrapolate to think a person was always that way. If only we could see people over the years, it would be ingrained in us that there is no skill we can’t acquire.

There is certainly a mystery variable that either helps or hurts each individual when they are working on acquiring a skill. If you’re trying to be a great basketball player and you’re under six feet, it’s going to be a lot more difficult than if you were over seven feet. For certain things, it’s very helpful to win the sperm lottery. However, for the vast majority of people and the vast majority of skills, there’s nothing naturally about us that should be able to stop us from becoming skilled at whatever we want.

It’s also never too late. Van Gogh started painting at age 27, and died only ten years later. Think about how much he learned and accomplished in only ten years!

Skilled does not mean the best in the world. Maybe I wasn’t born with that special something that would let me be the best in the world at anything. Luckily, I don’t need to be the best in the world at anything in order to be incredibly successful. I’ll never have the best communication skills in the world, but if I can get into the top 10%, I’ll be incredibly successful. If I can be top 10% in lots of areas, like hard work, being bold, persistence, picking myself up when I fail, no matter what I do, there is no way I can fail. And none of these things require anything you’re born with. You can choose to be in the top 10% of hard workers, there is nothing stopping you.

I’m not saying that you should do everything. I’m saying that there is nothing you can’t do.