What we mean by Talent

I have argued before that our culture needs to shift its thinking about the nature of “talent.” In a post at theodysseyonline.com the author tells how he was viewed as talented in basketball:

“Most of the coaches I had… would tell me I had a natural ability.”

This “natural ability” is what most mean by “talent,” something natural, innate, or inborn. The surprising part to me is that this was said without irony after:

“I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

This does not describe a natural-born ability. This describes learning through commitment and practice. And that is not what people mean when they say, “you’re so talented,” or “you have a natural ability. Those words mean:

“Wow! Your skills are so impressive you must have been granted this special ability by some supernatural power.”

What the “talented” person hears is,

“I blame not having the same ability, myself, on an unknowable force, and give you no credit for the passion, commitment, and practice you have dedicated to develop this skill.”


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