"Talent" versus "Skill"
Updated: Mar 6
Have you ever seen someone perform so effortlessly and to such a high level that you couldn’t help but say “Wow, they are really talented!”? Maybe consider someone with a long list of amazing feats. When comparing yourself to them, it may seem unfathomable that you could achieve all they have achieved…they must have some kind of talent you don’t. Nope, they sure don’t. Your mind is playing tricks on you: it is labeling that person’s “skills” as “talent.”
TALENT ISN’T EVERYTHING
Simply labeling someone as “talented” influences your mind in a very ineffective way. It shuts down your ability to learn. It shuts down your ability to be okay with not being perfect. It shuts down your effort, perseverance, and dedication. Your attitude shifts and your brain tricks you into thinking that if you’re not good already, you’re not going to get good, you won’t ever have the “talent.” Labeling “talent” only means you’re giving your brain an excuse to stop working at getting better because you teach it to believe you’ll never be good enough. Focusing on “talent” leads to stagnation--your performance will plateau.
Being labeled as “talented” is equally detrimental. If you are labeled (by others or yourself) as talented, that talent is something that must be defended; your ego kicks in and it becomes a preservation game instead of the focus being on performance improvement. Guess what? Even if you’re good, you can always get better. Even if you pick something up quickly, doesn’t mean you’ll end up being the best at it. Relying on talent alone will only get you so far.
To be fair and to be clear: this is not to say that some people aren’t naturally inclined to some things. They may pick up things more quickly. Maybe progress faster than their peers with all other factors being equal. The problem with labeling them as talented (or labeling yourself or being labeled as talented) is that this “talent” now becomes an obstruction that stops hard work, stops strategic planning, stops openness to feedback (i.e. If you’re that good, why work hard? If you’re that good, why do I need to hear others’ opinions?).
CHANGING “TALENT” TO “SKILL”
Let’s change our mindset: instead of “talent” let’s focus on “skill.” If your mind labels someone as highly “skilled,” they now become an inspiration for our own development and growth. Instead of putting their accomplishments and level of expertise on an unattainable pedestal, you are their equal and you can achieve what they have achieved. Think of their ability not as “talent,” but as a finely tuned set of “skills;” we have just reprogrammed the way our brain views their success--as something we too can work towards. Learning, development, and growth are now more important.
All the best performers out there are very highly skilled. They have the mental, physical, and emotional skill set to consistently operate at their highest ability level. They’ve capitalized on things that come naturally to them as much as they purposefully train hard to improve. These high performers speak of their years of hard work, training, coaching, etc.
Thinking of abilities as “skills” (or sets of skills) enables us to become the most awesome version of ourselves. Thinking of abilities as “talents” creates stagnation, performance plateaus, and only facilitates a mediocre version of ourselves.
Step 1. Just observe. Notice if you are labeling someone (or yourself) as “talented” or “skilled.” Don’t add any judgment, opinion, or rational to this observation. Just take note. Becoming more aware of when this label of “talent” or “skill” comes up is a necessary first step in changing your mindset.
Step 2. Challenge your beliefs about talent. Every time you notice you’re identifying someone (or yourself) as talented, become curious--question whether or not the ability is truly “talent,” or is it more of a “skill” or set of skills? Does that person back squat 500 pounds because they just showed up one day? Probably not. It was a result of consistent effort, systematic and progressive training, appropriate rest days, eating the right things, etc. Focus more on HOW they accomplished this feat rather than the performance outcome itself.
Step 3. Be patient with yourself. Changing your perception and changing your beliefs will likely take some time; the brain naturally fights change. It will also take awareness and effort to change your belief about skill development. Acknowledge that sometimes you’ll backslide, feel like you’re not making progress, or get frustrated and just want to give up. These instances help you become more skilled at your changing your perception of what you and others can accomplish.
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