Talent Is Overrated

In 2009, after leaving the corporate world and going through four years of schooling, my wife became a registered nurse.

This was something she had dreamt about doing for years.

Yet after her first day on the job, she began to have serious doubts about her abilities.

“I feel so lost!” she exclaimed. “I can’t imagine how I’ll ever know as much as the experienced nurses on my floor.”

She felt overwhelmed, even a bit incompetent. Never mind that she had ended up with one of the highest grades in her class. Never mind that she had won an award for excellent performance during her residency.

To her, the seasoned nurses on her floor were smarter, sharper and much more talented than she was.

Ever been in that situation as a freelancer?

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there! You’re either learning a new skill or working to develop a new specialty. You see others around you talk about this stuff like it’s child’s play. They make it look so easy!

You begin to wonder if you’re cut out for this.

Well, here’s the thing: Just because you’re learning doesn’t mean you’re no good. And it doesn’t mean that those who have achieved competency or mastery are any better or smarter than you are.

That’s not how the world works.

I don’t care if it’s Picasso, Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett. Behind every “talent” there are countless hours of practice, sacrifice, failure, self-doubt and sleepless nights.

That’s the stuff we don’t see as idle spectators. It’s the stuff the movie or news reporter won’t tell you about. Because it’s not pretty. It’s not glamorous to say that you had to practice, sacrifice and make mistakes day after day.

It ruins the story! I mean … do people really want to know what Steve Jobs went through to take Apple to where it is today? Do we really want all the details about Michael Jordan’s rise to fame? Would we accept the fact that Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton and Michelangelo suffered from depression (they did!)?

Sure, we want the rags-to-riches story. The quick rise to fame. But do we really want to see the ugly side? The character flaws? The embarrassingly bad decisions? The feelings of inadequacy many of these historic figures felt nearly every day?

I don’t think so.

My wife made the error of putting these other nurses on a pedestal. In her mind, they were born that way — knowing everything about everything. (Heck, I’ve made the same mistake many times!)

Yet every expert started out knowing zip! He or she had to screw up a lot before developing the competence necessary to do their job well … and the mastery to make it look easy.

In fact, Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, has found that it takes 10,000 hours of education and practice to master a complex skill, to achieve true greatness. Citing numerous studies and examples of people most of us might consider “gifted,” Gladwell offers convincing proof that if you’re willing to put in the time, effort and dedication, you can be great at anything!

The lesson here is clear. Feeling inadequate when learning a new skill or starting out in a new field is completely natural. We all go through it.

The trick, however, lies in doing the following:

First, use that feeling of inadequacy as a motivator to get better, faster. Rather than letting the situation bring you down, use it as “fuel” to help you improve. Keep reminding yourself that there’s nothing you can’t do. Because it’s true!

Want to know what works for me? I keep reminding myself that thousands of other people who were no better than I have mastered this skill. So if they can do it, I can do it! Sounds silly, but it works for me.

Second, find courses and mentors that can truly “short-cut” your success. By this I mean to find information and teachers that have developed step-by-step systems and frameworks that are proven (not theoretical) and can get you to a level of competence faster!

Although Michael Masterson asserts that it takes anywhere from 600 to 1,000 hours to achieve competence at any complex skill, he also acknowledges that the right kind of instruction and mentoring can cut this time dramatically.

Every Picasso starts out finger painting. Every new nurse feels incompetent on their first day. And every copywriter will at some point feel a bit inadequate, wondering if they’ll ever achieve anything close to what the so-called “superstars” have accomplished.

Talent is definitely overrated. And hard work and smart training will probably never get the credit they deserve.

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Published: February 16, 2011

3 Responses to “Talent Is Overrated”

  1. Thank you Ed for your astute and wise comments in this article. I am a new writer who is still looking for the first paid publication. It is so easy to consider giving up and returning that overly comfortable cocoon and never stretch new wings of artistic freedom. Thank you again.

    Guest (Cyndi)

  2. This post was just what I needed. I feel like I'll never learn fast enough and start earning enough money with my business. I'll just keep learning as fast as I can and apply it to my skill set.

    Guest (Elizabeth)

  3. I'm brand new to B2B copywriting and was having some serious doubts about my ability to be successful in this field. I really needed this encouragement. Thanks Ed.


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