Friday, December 13, 2013

Talent Is Overrated

I don't like self-help books. They're unnecessarily optimistic, which only makes me feel worse about myself. More like self-not-helped. Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin nearly crosses the self-help plane, but keeps to a more research and business-based tone. His thesis--that there is no such thing as innate talent, but rather a perfect storm of hard work ("deliberate practice"), support, and coaching--is both comforting and unsettling.

The idea of talent being a non-issue in the world of success means it's okay that I have none. (I'm okay at things. I don't think I have any great "talent" that no one else possesses.) The "greats" of each arena (business, sports, art, music, writing, etc) got to the top because of what they did and who encouraged them along the way, Colvin says, not because of any God-given gifts. They worked hard, like 5 hours-a-day-for-a-decade hard, so they deserve the superstar spotlight. His examples? Mozart, Tiger Woods, Bill Gates.

On the flip side, if talent doesn't matter, I have nothing on which to blame my lack of fame and superstardom...except my lack of hard work. It's true, I don't think I've spent five hours a day doing any one thing ever in my life, much less for at least ten years. Maybe reading. Is there a Reading Olympics? I don't know if I love anything that much to devote that kind of time to it. The way Colvin describes "deliberate practice" sounds kind of awful: it focuses on your weakest areas in need of improvement, it's repeatable (and repeated obnoxiously), it involves feedback from a coach or teacher, it demands deliberate mental application, and (no surprises here) it's not fun.

With that definition it's easy to see why so few people achieve greatness--it's not enjoyable, so everyone won't do it. Only the truly committed/slightly crazy. Still, applying the tenets of "deliberate practice" to my everyday life could prove useful. It can't hurt to set goals, observe myself in the moment, take responsibility for my imperfections and adapt in the future.

Other things that can't hurt right now: another glass of wine, a bowl of pasta, and a handful of chocolate covered cranberries (thanks Mom!).

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