Genius, talent, luck. What do those mean? Are they important? Can they be acquired, or are you born with them?

“You’re so talented. It’s easy for you.” Is this a compliment? Or have you just made someone’s ability mean nothing? Have you just demoted an accomplishment down to meaninglessness because of some magic called talent? Did you just tell that person that you know they didn’t really do this great art or music—that it’s just an accident of the universe and they happened to be standing in the lucky line when gifts were handed out?

All of us admire the gifted, the talented, the brilliant. And yet, some tiny little piece of our hearts will always be just a teensy bit jealous, too. We wanted to do that, or something like it. Why didn’t/couldn’t we accomplish something like what that artist over there did? It couldn’t possibly be that the artist put in hours and long hours of practice or struggle to reach their height of ability. Could it be that the talented artist had the maturity and level of introspection to say, “I can do this better,” while the most of us stop at, “Well, I could never do that”? It’s easier to just pretend talent is some magical gift that falls out of the sky on someone’s head.

Though largely discredited as taking an idea too far, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that talent was built. That 10,000 hours (his magic number) would make anyone a genius. Yet we see plenty examples of that not happening. A person practices years and years, every day on the piano, and indeed becomes perfect—as far as technique is concerned. However, listening to that person doesn’t move you, any more than listening to a machine play the piano would. That person didn’t love what she was doing. She was just working. She got what she put into it. Technical skill.

What does that talented person, that Yo Yo Ma or Albert Einstein, have that mere mortals don’t? That takes an act and makes it art?

Love. And stubbornness. And the ability to honestly examine themselves and to not be afraid.

People who become the greatest at something become that way because they have found something in themselves that they love, and love so much that they are willing to put in all the effort and denial and struggle that it takes to achieve that something. Talent is hard work and sometimes sacrifice. It’s scary, and people are afraid. It’s much easier to say, “Oh I could never do that,” than to be driven to struggle until yes, in fact, you can do that.

Artists who achieve greatness all feel driven by their creative spirit. They don’t think what they’re doing is easy. It’s not. Talent takes that interest or aptitude of a child and pushes him to learn, and create and refine. In the end, the genius (artist, etc.) makes it look easy. But you are only seeing the fine, finished effort.

Michelangelo, the greatest sculptor of all time discovered his love for working with stone at a mere 6 years old. Luckily for the world, he had people and opportunities around him that allowed him to fully explore and practice that love, and a teacher that told him, “Talent is cheap; Dedication is costly,” thus setting him on the road to practicing and commitment. Still, it took 24 years of dedicated learning and apprenticeship to be ready to create his David. What are you willing to put 24 years into? That’s your talent.

I believe we all have some talents or another. It might be painting, or mathematical theory, or baking bread. It’s up to each of us to find that “gift” and to make it a reality.

Talent is not magic, and just because someone makes his or her endeavor look easy doesn’t mean it is.




3 thoughts on “What Makes Us Great?

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