The Talent Myth

July 21, 2006  ●  2-minute read

“My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

A friend and training mentor once told me, “The secret of the pros is that they train in secret.” For a while that made sense. It seemed that where performance is highly optimized — and where optimization is highly coveted — it would make sense that methodology would be closely guarded.

But secret methodology is the province of world-class athletes; not of participants; nor of enthusiasts. Most people — if sufficiently motivated, and if unencumbered by lame excuses that they assign to genetics — want to know the secret that distinguishes the pros from themselves. The real “secret” of the fit, the fast and the “talented” is no secret at all; it’s a much harder pill (than genetics) to swallow. And no one will accept it because of what it demands: real commitment in the form of regular, consistent, indefinite practice. And real practice demands devotion.

THE PROS TRAIN. And they train consistently and indefinitely. In other words, they commit.

People love to say that they don’t train (or practice or study…) They think it makes their mediocre performance more impressive. Or they use a hero as an example, saying he or she doesn’t practice either. But the truth is that anyone who becomes really world-class good at anything has devoted a large part of their lives to that thing — often to the exclusion of all else. They may not call it “training” or “practice;” the actual labels are irrelevant. It’s the time spent that counts.

“Practice” and “training” are not timelines and diet plans — although those are effective parts of it. Real training means committing to the process: showing up at the keyboard or behind the lens or in the ring or on the rope, and doing it religiously, even when you’re tired, even when you’ve got nothing to say, even when it’s too cold, too hot, too hard.

People wish they had talent. They see it as a practice-free ticket to crowd-stunning skill. But talent doesn’t exist. “Talent” doesn’t get results; practice and devotion do.

Was Picasso gifted from birth with the talent to become an artistic genius? Or was he gifted with the tenacity to become a genius at anything? As he wobbled down the street on his first bicycle, did his mother see her son’s uncommon ability, or his uncommon focus and determination? What led her to predict that he would be great? Was he out-of-the-womb a brilliant finger-painter? Or was he just stubborn?

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