Does Talent Matter As Much As Hard Work
Last week, I had the honor of sitting on a panel for LaGuardia Community College students interested in tech entrepreneurship courtesy of my home away from home – the imitable Grand Central Tech. The room was incredibly diverse, smart, and thoughtful. I left the room feeling very hopeful about the future.
One question stuck with me for days after though. A bright young student asked if talent really exists. He had been raised to believe only in hard work and wondered what the panel’s take was?
The group’s answers, as one can imagine, landed somewhere in between:
- It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert.
- Hard work creates talent.
- Don’t ignore talent.
These are modern takes on a question as old as nature vs. nurture. At the time, I had nothing to add. But I could relate.
When I see the word talent, I automatically think of acting talent, beauty, or IQ. Perhaps this student thought of his classmate who was born and raised by two computer scientists. I too find myself wowed by results, publicity, and admittedly everything I don’t have. It’s easy to write this off as talent.
“Never compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides.”
At the same time, part of the satisfaction we feel when somebody says, “Hard work is everything!” is the hope that anything is possible. That even if you were born deaf, dumb, and blind – you can still be a pinball wizard!
What Is Talent
A “talent” was a unit of currency in ancient times. Historians trace the shift in definition due to a biblical parable that tells of three servants who are each given talents according to their ability. One received five talents and made five more with shrewd trading. The second was given two and made two more. The last was given one and dug it into the ground out of fear.
Guess who the so-called master was disappointed in.
I’m no theologian or philosopher, but what if the master was us and how we feel about ourselves when we shelve our talents. Also, I appreciate that this story does not espouse that talent is equally doled out. Yet everybody got something.
It’s what we do with what we have that matters. And how much we let fear dominate our actions.
Whether it’s a currency or innate ability, I believe talent is an outward expression of a deep inward interest. If you’re not interested in something, you are definitely not going to be talented at it.
Your challenge is to discover what “it” is. What opens your heart? What can keep you up until 4am? What are you willing to be rejected over and over for?
Read more: Five Steps To Find A Career With Purpose
Because unfortunately if it’s something you love, then you will be rejected until you are accepted. When I first pitched edittress to a former partner at my old firm, he scrunched his leathery brow, adjusted his thinning white hair, and said with disdain, “Would you actually use this?” The answer is yes.
Thankfully I’m not alone. A newspaper fired Walt Disney because they said he had “no original ideas” and “lacked imagination.” Michael Jordan was famously not selected for his high school basketball team. Baltimore’s WJZ-TV told Oprah that she was “unfit for television news.”
What Is Hard Work
All of which is a perfect segue to unpacking hard work. We love the idea of hard work because it feel egalitarian. How many of us, especially Americans, have heard time and time again that hard work is the solution to everything?
“Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one…”
-Dr. Emmett Brown, Back To The Future
My beef with this thinking is that it assumes an impossible level of control in this life. Who among us chose our boss? Who decided who would be our parents? Who delayed the trains that made you late for that important meeting?
By saying hard work is everything, we fail to recognize that everyone is born with a set of unique interests, traits, and circumstances. If someone was only 5’1” and wanted to play for the National Basketball Association, I wouldn’t mentor them to work harder.
Hard work is the outward expression of what we choose to do with our time. To the extent that choice is aligned with your interests influences how hard you’re willing to work. In fact, it may not feel like work at all.
And so we’ve come full circle. What is talent without hard work? Potential. What is hard work without talent? Exhausting.
What is the right mix of both? You.