The well-meaning narrative that causes good people so much pain

The well-meaning narrative that causes good people so much pain

Pete Turner
January 29, 2018

“Some people have told me that I am talented, gifted etc. Don’t agree at all, I work extremely hard”

The ‘talent does not exist’ and ‘all you need is hard work’ narrative has become one of the most persistent messages in educational, business and sporting discourse.

Its message of course is to encourage us to work hard and never give up. But it often goes much further; it dismisses talent. Removing talent from the success equation can send people on a slow quest of pain and failure.

Pretending that talent does not exist is a great way for winners to bathe themselves in the glory of their sweat and tears, but the message can blind everyone else to the roads of their own personal success journeys. The people this narrative hurts the most, are those value driven heroes that simply won’t give up, even when they are sprinting, full speed, in completely the wrong direction.

Gallup define talent as recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied

The question is not whether we have talent or not… we all have talent… the question for each of us is; what are our unique talents, and how can we apply them in the real world?

Take a moment… where can you best direct all that hard work? Where are you strongest? What activities do you find most flow?

Unfortunately, the stories that never get told are the failure stories. The noble loser who did their ten thousand hours, but didn’t get hired, didn’t make the team or didn’t get their enterprise off the ground. Not because they didn’t try hard enough, but because they weren’t working in areas of most natural talent (or any number of other factors, such as luck and opportunity).

So, what is talent?

Through childhood development and accidents of inherited genetics, people acquire different tendencies, predispositions, personality traits and aptitudes for different types of thinking and behaviours. These predispositions are what we call talent. They are relatively stable over time. When we operate in these areas we feel strong, energetic and learn quickly.

Consider different activities or types of thinking that you seem to be drawn to. Do you lose track of time in creative thinking, or analytical thinking activities? Does time fly past when organizing and arranging things, or in the midst of chaos and action? Do you feel compelled to interact with strangers, or do you prefer to work alone in deep quiet focus? Are you drawn to direct others, or are you at ease when going with the flow and adapting to changes? These urges are clues to talent.

They are the areas where your hours of practice and repetition will fly past for you… the areas where learning speeds up and your energy levels endure. This is you in your talent zone, areas of natural disposition. These are the zones to never give up in.

We all know those high performers that work extremely hard in some arenas, and have nothing like the same attitude toward hard work in other arenas. When they step out of their talent zone they procrastinate, time sticks and learning slows down.

Our talents are subtle and they affect the way we learn. They don’t automatically mean we should not pursue certain activities, but they may help us learn to approach them differently or form partnerships that can support us where we may be lacking.

Hard work is only half the story and ignoring an individual’s naturally occurring tendencies, urges, behaviours, interests and aptitude – talent – is to encourage us to ignore some of the enduring aspects of our individual human nature, that may give us a direction to throw all that hard work in.

Talent is often made the enemy in so much of our discourse and prevents people from investigating their greatest potential for success. Look for clues as to where you find yourself getting into flow states; it is the meeting of talent and hard work that creates performance.

“…it is the meeting of talent and hard work that creates performance.”

Talents, personalities and predispositions are complex… we often find ourselves being pulled in different directions… in some situations we feel like an extrovert, at other times we feel more introverted. Your neural pathways are complex, which is why attributing all our successes and failures to just effort and lack of effort pulls people away from developing an intricate self-awareness of one’s greatest potential; our talents.

If you want to take a short cut to understanding your profile of talents and tendencies; there are whole suites of psychometrics that can illuminate that self-awareness. Don’t let the ‘hard work is everything’ narrative blind you to how and where all that hard work is best directed.


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