The myth of talent

Talent is a birthright, but skill, on the other hand, is learned.

I will grant you that some people will never be able to dunk a basketball, but most of the things we do are skills that can be learned: Everyone has an equal talent for everything.

The difference between those who “can” from those who “can’t” is simply the number attempts someone made. Successful people are not successful because of all the success they have obtained. No, they have learned to embrace failure. They learn to fail, fail again, fail better.

So maybe we should stop telling ourselves stories that we aren’t good enough when we fail. You cannot possibly be competent in a world that is constantly changing. What’s scarce then is the ability to ship your best work, learn from your interaction with the market and do it again.

Popularity has never equaled talent. Anything new is most certainly rejected at first. And if automobiles have taught us anything is that people don’t know what they actually want.

Learn to play the game so that you can keep playing. You’re not playing to win; you’re playing because it matters. You’re playing because it creates meaning. So if you are relying on this idea that you need be a competent writer before you even begin writing, you will be waiting a long time before you ever begin.

The thing is: We don’t know what we don’t know, but that isn’t evidence that we cannot learn something new.

There is risk in shipping your best work. You will be judged. But the greater risk comes when we fail to ship; it’s regret. We regret that we didn’t follow our hearts, our dreams, our passions and, instead, we pursued distractions.

Alex Lowe said it best, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” That’s good advice to live by.

[Learn more about this idea of talent and skill from Ellen Langer.]