A special natural ability to do something well, or people who have this ability”
— Cambridge Dictionary definition of ‘Talent’
According to the dictionary definition, the “A special natural ability to do something well” part typically gives the image of a Mozart — Individuals divinely blessed to excel from birth, naturally masterful and effortless in the learning process. Anything they touch turns to literal or metaphorical gold. It's believing Mozart's first concerto composed at 11 was already as masterful as those that took years of trial and error to achieve. This happens to be how most people understand the word ‘talent’ or define a ‘talented’ person.
Perhaps we’d like to believe in this romanticized version because of a silent wish that we could just sit around dreaming for our hidden talents to propel us to greatness. Or perhaps reality is simply not exciting enough. The idea of enduring months and years of grueling practice is too much to bear. It’s all too human and familiar, instead we romanticize the heroes journey and conjure mythical origins of their powers, rather than accept the reality of their gradual growth and progression.
Conventionally speaking, when one calls another 'talented', they in essence jump to the conclusion that their abilities has little to do with their efforts. Just because the process was not observed, it is assumed they just have it. This usage has rather negative consequences to the human experience as a whole, as it allows us to believe that there're shortcuts to achieving anything when it is the contrary.
One thing we can all agree on is that being ‘talented’ entails doing something exceptionally well. But we should also take into account how they’ve acquired the skills — Acknowledging both the outcome and journey. Therefore, I propose reexamining the underlying meaning and redefine it in a healthier way.
Here are 2 examples of how we can redefine the idea of ‘talent’:
The Deliberate Practitioner
A talent of this type is someone who excels through what author Robert Greene calls ‘Delibrate Practice’ — A very intensely focused training. In his book Mastery, Greene explains that a person needs to practice delibrately to achieve mastery in their vocation. On average that’s 10,000 hours of practice time, which amounts to 10 years of consistent 3 hours daily practice.
Contrary to popular belief, Mozart “wrote” his first concerto at 11 with the help of his father, and on his own at age 17. By then he’d have had thousands of hours of accumulated practice. There’s no going around the slow process of grinding, trial and error to achieve anything meaningful. I can personally attest to this with my own experience. During my guitar playing days, I would practice on average 4–6 hours everyday, sometimes tipping on 8 — It’s not pleasant, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate.
Just like an iceberg, what we see is just the tip and much of what goes on behind the scenes is hidden from view. What you see in a 3 minute music performance would’ve taken the musicians dozens of hours of rehearsal and a lifetime of preparation.
I’m sure we’ve come across or even know people who were born to do what they do. For example, someone tall who’s a basketball player, someone with long legs who’s a long distance runner or someone with a stark built who’s a bodybuilder etc. They seem to fit perfectly into their chosen field simply by being and doing what’s best suited to their natural attributes and practiced deliberately to mastery — Yes, just because they’re a natural doesn’t mean they just get it. It still takes practice, and lots of it.
That’s what a “Natural’ is —People who possess qualities/attributes that gives them the physical and/or mental advantage in their vocations.
A good example of this would be an outstanding audio engineer I often work with. His hearing ability is superior that of others and most people would agree he’s a ‘talented’ and naturally gifted audio engineer. He picked a craft suited to his natural abilities and that gave him a big advantage over those who didn't. But it wouldn't mean much if he hadn’t practice deliberately to constantly hone his skills.
The Wrap Up
I hope the renewed understanding of this word will bring justice and greater appreciation to those whom this word is subjected to. By calling someone a “talent” or “talented”, it should come with the recognition that their excellence and mastery was achieved through persistent effort and personal sacrifice.
Finally, it is important for all of us to know that we’re all talents and talented in our own right, or at least there’s the potential of it only if we’re willing to do what it takes. It is something we can all acquire with dedication, passion, focus and delibrate practice.
“The struggles, challenges, and obstacles that it takes to succeed in life is what makes success more valuable. Nothing great comes easy, and nothing easy can ever equate to greatness.”
― Edmond Mbiaka,
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Kian How is Asia’s leading Visual Media Audio Specialist, with over $100 million in accumulated project revenue and over 10 years of experience. Based in Shanghai, he produces/supervises audio for various global visual media outlets. He also teaches in art institutes and writes articles on his views pertaining to the creative arts.
For more information about me and my work, please visit my website: www.kianhow.com. Contact me at email@example.com. For more articles, please visit https://medium.com/@kenhao