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Talent is a mask we put on perseverance and dedication because we don’t want to see that greatness is within our reach -if we are willing to work for it-
We want to believe that top athletes and performers got to their level of mastery mostly because of “natural abilities”, and that we could do the same if we only had those traits.
It’s easy to dismiss the hard work and commitment behind greatness as mere talent, but we don’t realize how much is behind becoming a top performer. The resilience, the mental toughness, the endless hours of practice…
The truth is that we are not willing to do what it takes, we make up excuses and blame other factors to protect our ego. If we were conscious about how hard masters work on their craft we would feel ashamed for ever thinking that talent is the reason for their success.
When people called Michelangelo’s “Pieta” a work of genius, he replied “If people knew how hard I had worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all”
While it’s true that some people can learn faster than others, or have physical traits that makes their craft easier for them, they still need a great deal of practice and dedication to become a master.
Everyone that has made it to the top in any field had to spend endless hours learning and refining their skill. No exception. None. Even Leonardo Da Vinci or Mozart, who have been wrongly popularized as geniuses that simply “got it”, worked extensively on their craft from an early age.
In the example of Mozart, we are amazed by stories that he could hear a pice of music once and later replicate it without error. While the stories could be exaggerated, if almost everything you have ever done since age 3 from the moment you woke up to the moment you fell asleep was playing and composing music it would be just as surprising if you weren’t able to do such a feat. Mozart worked very hard on his music, no amount of talent without his passion and commitment would have taken him to such level of mastery.
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Another example is Michael Jordan, one of the greatest sportsman of our time. His work ethic is legendary, he demanded the very best of himself and everyone around him. Most of the time he would be the first one to show up for practice and the last one to leave.
Jordan never settled for the level he had reached, he kept looking for ways to become an even better athlete and player. It would be an insult to call “talent” the lifetime of dedication to the improvement of his skill.
“The mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than some of the physical advantages you might have” – Michael Jordan
In the book “Mindset” -one of the most influential works on personal development– Carol Dweck discusses how the belief that we are born with certain traits that can’t be altered limits our thinking and our progress. But embracing the “growth” mindset, the realization that we can change and improve regardless of the traits we have, will help us improve faster and motivate us to take on bigger challenges. The idea that “you either have it or you don’t” is only true if you want to believe it is.
In that sense, taking responsibility for our development is the first step towards mastery. We have to admit -no matter how painful might be- that whatever level of skill we have or don’t have has been a result of our own making. Though factors such as genetics, special circumstances, and overall luck play a part, our progress in learning and mastering skills is largely under our control.
“People always said I had a natural Swing. They thought I wasn’t a hard worker. But when I was young, I’d play and practice all day, then practice more at night by my car’s headlights. My hands bled. Nobody worked harder at golf than I did” -Sam Snead
It saddens me to think of passionate people who want to pursue arts, sports, or any craft but quit before even starting because they were told -sometimes after short assessments- that they were not talented or didn’t “have it”. How many potential great minds, artists, and sportsmen have we repressed? You might be one of them.
Never again let your perceived talent or lack of it steer you away from your passion and your goals. In the search of mastery natural abilities can be an advantage but they are not a requirement.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” -Calvin Coolidge
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