Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Talent Is Not Enough for Success

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Jeremy Statton. He is an orthopaedic surgeon, blogger, and recovering legalist. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Talent is a commodity that some say is God-given.

We talk about the beauty and wonder of talent all the time. Whether it’s athletics, music, business, speaking, leadership or writing, there are individuals who seem to be born to do a certain thing.

It’s hard to describe, but like the color blue, you know it when you see it. There’s just one problem: talent is not enough.

Talent Is Not Enough

Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)

Have you heard someone say, “That quarterback really has talent,” only to see them fade into oblivion? Or have you been told about a “promising young writer” but never hear their name again?

Why is this?

Because talent does not always translate to success. Being told you have potential is not necessarily a compliment. Potential is wasted all the time.

So how do not do this? How do we avoid wasting our potential? Here are six steps to turn your talent into something productive and meaningful:

1. Identify your talents

Many of us never get past this first step.

You are unique. You have something to offer. Sow hat is it?

Your talent can be something you love to do or something you are good at. Hopefully, both.

Don’t worry about getting this right the first time. Or even the second. It’s a process.

There are numerous examples of writers and actors and even some athletes who did not get their start until much later in life than normal.

2. Start

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, you have to put on your running shoes.

Many of us are paralyzed by fear — of not knowing where to begin.

Maybe your path is clear. Maybe it’s not. You will never know for sure until you actually get going. Either way, starting is a much better option than sitting around, wasting your talent.

If you make a mistake, acknowledge it. Learn from it, and then move on. Get back on track, and get over the fear of starting.

There are greater dragons to slay.

3. Work hard

Ever wonder how Steve Jobs got good at speaking and managing a company?

Wish you could play golf like Tiger Woods?

Do you hope to some day find out Warren Buffett’s secret to investing?

Here’s their secret: they practiced.

Yes, all of the above people have talent. But they also worked their tails off to turn it into skill.

Malcolm Gladwell calls this the 10,000 hour rule. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice it for at least 10,000 hours.

You might even have to make a few sacrifices along the way.

You had better get busy. That is a long time.

4. Use a coach

No athlete achieves their full potential without a coach.

Coaches provide new instruction, offer feedback, and keep you accountable.

Feel like not showing up today? Your coach will keep you on track. Unsure of the next step to take? A coach can help motivate you to keep moving. It helps to have someone to provide not only accountability but also negative feedback.

We all need to get better. And your best friend may not have the guts to tell you so.

Get a coach. You won’t regret it.

5. Finish

Many have wasted talent and hard work, because of a lack of perseverance.

Finishing is an art. We have to fight distractions, obstacles, even what Steve Pressfield calls “the Resistance”, and perfectionism.

Whatever you choose to do, get it done.

Set deadlines. Keep yourself accountable (or ask someone else to help).

Put a bow on it, and ship it.

6. Do it again

If you find early success, don’t get cocky. And don’t let yourself grow content.

The wide receiver who doesn’t stop celebrating his first touchdown reception is celebrating his only one.

Start a new project. Finish an old project. Learn from past mistakes. Whatever you do, keep going.

Set an alarm, get out of bed, and do it all over again.

But this time, do it better.

The Great Divide

Sure, it’s important to discover your gifts. But don’t stop there.

The divide between talent and skill is immense. The goal here is to turn your potential into something productive.

The person that wins is not the one with the most talent.

It’s the one who works the hardest, does the most preparation, and keeps at it when others slack and give up.

Don’t let that be you — no matter how talented you are (or aren’t).

How has talent gotten in the way of your success? What has good old hard work and practice taught you that skill did not? Join the discussion in the comments.

*Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (Creative Commons)

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Pride is such a nasty thing. It’s so easy that when we identify what we are good at, that we get arrogant about said talent(s).

    As a communicator and teacher, you have to adapt. You can be a great speaker, but just because you are good, doesn’t mean you connect with people. I have learned over the course of a few years of how to adapt to an audience and read them, in order to connect with them in appropriate situations and environments. 

    • Great point about connecting. It’s the first step in making a difference.

  • Lkfischer

    I am not sure what talents I have, however, I believe I have the hard work down.  I would consider myself a jack of all trades master of none.  I can squeak by on just about anything from guitar and speaking to plumbing and landscaping.  How do you decide what to focus on?  I love doing all these things but can’t put the 10,000 hours in all of them.  I am just stuck at step number one.  Great guest post!   I will visit this one again.

    • Great question. Maybe there is one thing you love the most. Maybe there is one thing where doors seem to open more often.

      • one way to think of it is like this: what have you been reading about lately?

        • Lkfischer

          Your blog is daily reading yet I have little interest in writing.  You just have great posts. 

          • great! don’t tell anyone but that was the intention — to write about more than just writing. truth is, i write about life. and there are a lot of parallels between writing lessons and life lessons.

            • Lkfischer

              You do a great job with it!

        • Lkfischer

          I guess that would make me a “quitter” 

  • Finishing can be hard when you start to get discouraged. But that’s where a coach comes in to help keep your head up and push you to keep moving forward. 

    • agreed

    • if you have someone else to help motivate you, you can make improvements you never thought were possible.

      • Yes. That’s what I love about mentors, friends, accountability partners. They love you too much to let you stay the same. Because of that, improvement always happens. 

  • I am someone that is still figuring my talents and passions, but all of this was great advice and something that I will probably read again and again.

    • agreed, david. good stuff here from jeremy.

  • I think this is a fantastic topic (I actually just wrote about it on my blog yesterday). People often perceive those who are successful as talented, but it’s not talent they’re seeing–it’s years of hard work and determination and continuing to believe in their dreams even when the odds seemed impossible. 

    Talent is just the first step. If you want to succeed, you need practice, patience and more practice. Not something people often like to hear. 

  • Great advice.   The practicing is where I often find myself getting stuck.  It seems like there are so many different rabbit holes I run down when I am writing.  Some lead places and others don’t.  I’m trying to retrain my brain to be okay with this.   If I write something and it  stinks, that’s really okay.  Maybe it will  help launch me in a different or better direction.

  • I think some people don’t even know what they’re capable of, though. 
    I don’t think you have to be born with a natural talent. 

    In high school, I was bad at math and focused on my interests- art.  A few years ago, I got a job in management and worked with numbers all day long and got GREAT at it.  I mean, really good.  Sometimes you just have to try something and see what happens.  And practice of course 🙂

    • I experienced this as well. I had no interest in writing in high school or college, but 10 years after college something changed. I suddenly had a desire to write. Now I have to make up for lost time through hard work.

  • That is really good stuff Jeremy.
    I think for me what I have seen is that I could have talent but I have to prove it with hard work. Talent in fact is not enough, hard work is what separates. Great reminder today

  • This quote from Calvin Coolidge goes along with this post: “Nothing in the world can take place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost priceless.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

  • The word “potential” actually motivated me because I wanted to hear “That’s great” instead. When things came easy in school, I didn’t learn much. I made the grades but didn’t  learn the lessons. Hard work coupled with wisdom make a lot of difference when applied to natural talent. Just read an SI piece on Justin Verlander, probable American League Cy Young winner this season. Detroit drafted him because he had 100-mph-fastball talent but that talent alone wouldn’t have brought Verlander success. He worked on other pitches, location, and pitching strategy. Now he’s undeniably the best pitcher in the 2011 AL. Great advice. Thanks for a special guest appearance, Jeremy.

    • Another great example. A 100 mph fastball is good to have, but there is more to pitching than speed.

  • Great post, Jeremy. I’ve always been impressed when I run into well-known authors who still go to writer’s conferences and acknowledge that they haven’t “arrived.” To me, that speaks volumes about staying faithful and working hard.

    This post is a great reminder that practice and hard work are essential when it comes to any kind of success.

    Thanks again.

  • My talent got in the way when I first came to Christ. I’m one of those people who can memorize and retain information in the short term, so I never really had to study in school. I could remember the info, regurgitate it for the test and get good grades without ever having to learn how to study.

    When I came to Christ and wanted to learn my bible and more about Him, I struggled because following Him isn’t just about getting to some test and then forgetting the info. I had to learn how to study so I could study His word.

    Great post, Jeremy!

    • Jason are you saying that the journey is the destination? Interesting…

  • I’ve seen this when I’ve written a post that was a good concept but I didn’t put enough work into the post. I thought I wrote it so well that it didn’t require a lot of work, I was completely wrong everytime. Good post Jeremy

    • Great example! Writing is more about the 3rd or 4th draft, not how good it looks the first time it goes on paper.

  • Thanks for this Jeremy. I love that you talk about getting a coach. I was just reading an article in the New Yorker about how all the best athletes still have coaches

    https://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/03/111003fa_fact_gawande?currentPage=1

    It makes me want a writing coach so bad.

    • As you probably know, Jeff, has written about using a coach. it makes perfect sense, but really isn’t done by that many people.

      • I’m more interested in mentors than coaches, but both are valuable resources for someone wanting to grow.

  • Jeff, nice piece. This concept must be active in the universe right now. I see that Ava wrote about this and I did a post on a leader’s “secret sauce” as well! The need for self awareness and then the motivation to do something with it seems so fundamental, yet people get stuck all the time. It makes me wonder how many Mozart’s we missed over the years! Thanks for your thoughts.

    • thanks, all credit goes to Jeremy, the guest blogger.

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  • Kingszo_louis

    i have always believed that talent  is not enough, there is  always need for training 
    thanks Jeff u are blessed. 

  • Benny Roc

    This was an excellent read. I basically know all of this, but it’s good to be able to read it in an organized, step by step format. I truly believe I have immense skills in a certain area. No need to say what that skill it is, but it is here and I’ve mastered it. I feel as if God has given me this skill to develop it and to make a difference in this world. He did his part, but I’m not positive I can do MY part. I know it’s possible, but it’s just the extreme amount of hard work I NOW have to put in in order to reach my goal — glory!! The one line that has stuck out the most, to me, in this article is “The goal here is to turn your potential into something productive.” Having the potential is one thing, but transforming it from POTENTIAL into something that can pay off can be very difficult, especially in some professions. ALSO, one thing that I’ve learned through experience that this article failed to mention is DIRECTION. You have to make sure you direct all of your actions into the right direction, otherwise all of your hard work can very well be pointless (when traveling down the road to success.) The number one thing you need is to HAVE STRENGTH. We must all be strong and do exactly what it is that needs to be done for us to achieve our dreams!!! 

  • dg

    Great advice.  I am most assuredly wasting my talent.  I loved to draw when I was younger, but I just stopped.  I also loved to write stories and I rarely do that.  I am paid to write for a living, but it is not the type of writing I would prefer to do. People tell me how creative I am all the time, but I just can’t apply myself and I’m not sure why.  A coach is a fabulous idea or, in my case, a therapist. Yep.  I think a therapist.

    • Benny Roc

      Well one thing I will say is the next time you feel a sense of inspiration, take that inspiration and run with it!! If you sit there and take the time to put the work in, you WILL have results. One thing I do believe is that the only hard part is getting started. Once you get started on any type of project, it’s all downhill from there. Here is a little rhyme I thought to describe this notion: If you’re ever pressured, don’t feel fear… Just get yourself in “The Zone” and it’s all down hill from there… Cheers!

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  • Maria Romanova

    talent and success are two different things.
    You can only show your talent if you are successful