The Myth Of Talent

Talent is a funny thing. It's one of those traits that you're either born with or you're not. You either have a knack for certain things, or you don't. For example, maybe you were especially good at math in school - it just came more easily to you than others. One might say you were gifted or talented in math.


But it's a little different for us artists and musicians. Whether or not we have talent, many people view anyone in a performative field as being "talented". It's as though they are letting themselves off the hook by saying, "He is so talented... I could never do something like that." While yes, some people do have a natural inclination toward certain things, like music or the arts, some don't, but love it anyway and choose to dedicate themselves to learning. Think about it - do you really believe that everyone who attends the Juilliard School just happens to be naturally talented? Believe it or not, the vast majority of them are not, they just work really, really hard to be the best of the best.


And therein lies the difference between the talented and the less-than-talented. So while people might mean well by calling someone talented, this also dismisses all of the hard work said individual has put into developing their craft of choice. Many people think when they see a musician that it must be easy for them to do what they do because they're just talented. It's simply not true. While music may come more naturally to some than others, regardless of talent level, every single musician and artist has to put forth a conscious effort and hours upon hours to develop their skill level. There's no getting around it. They didn't just wake up one day, decide to pick up the cello, and suddenly were able to play concertos. It took years of hard work and dedication to get to the point where they are performing in front of you.


“What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve”

Geoff Colvin, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else


While talent is helpful in the sense that it makes things a little easier when pursuing a particular skill or activity, hard work and dedication are much more important in the long run. It is often those who have no talent but are willing to put in the hours that end up surpassing those who are naturally inclined toward their craft. I say this as someone who does happen to have a natural ability and some may say "talent" when it comes to music, although this is not necessarily a positive thing. In school, I often found myself using my natural ability as a crutch, and an excuse to slack off when it came to practicing. I saw my peers work twice as hard, meanwhile I was able to get away with spending about half the time in the practice room learning and memorizing my pieces, and still sound passable when it came time for my next lesson or performance. Not a great lesson to have learned. As a result, I often think about if I had put in more work and had used my natural ability as a tool rather than a crutch, where I could have been.


So, whether you are a musician yourself or a valued audience member, I encourage you to think about the concept of talent in perhaps a new way. Think about where you have heard or used this term in your own life, and if it was used correctly, or maybe as a way to console oneself. Either way, I hope you'll be encouraged to work diligently at whatever you are trying to achieve, because, as we've learned, you and you alone can make it happen.

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