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The Truth Behind Talent

Canyon Lake Meteor

A few months ago I grabbed my camera gear and drove out to a lake near my home in Arizona to try and get a picture of a shooting star. It was a beautiful night and at about 2:15 AM I saw this one streak across the northern sky just at the time my camera was taking its timed picture. I knew it the second I saw it that it was going to be a great shot.

When I posted the picture online for friends to see I repeatedly got comments about how talented of a photographer I was. Comments like that always make me uncomfortable. I really do appreciate them but I know the actual story behind the picture and it doesn’t lead me to believe that I have a talent. Let me explain…

The Story Behind the Picture

The truth is that this wasn’t the first time I’d tried to get a picture of a shooting star. I had been out to see 3 meteor showers previously and hadn’t caught a single one on camera. In those other 3 attempts I had accumulated over 1500 completely unremarkable pictures.

The above picture was just 1 of 782 pictures I took that night. How do the other 781 look? Unremarkable. Boring. Many of them are really dark or blurry as I tried to figure out the right settings to use. I was out there by myself for 4 hours and my fingers were almost completely numb because I forgot to bring gloves. Somehow I always forget that the Arizona desert gets really cold at night in the winter.

So all together it took me 4 nights, over 2200 attempts, and 15 hours of lost sleep in the middle of the night to get this one picture.

And the day I posted it, people thought it was because I was a talented photographer.

Which made me wonder…

Is Talent Real?

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.” Is there anybody in the world who would say that Albert Einstein had no special talent?

The more I’ve studied the lives of people that I believed were naturally talented, the more I’ve realized that they share something in common: their talent came because they spent more time than everybody else focusing on their skill. (Coincidentally, they are usually the person who has also failed the most at their skill before becoming great.)

Sure, there are some people who are just born with a natural gift to be incredible at something without much effort. But those people are much fewer than you would ever suspect. Most of the people you think were just born with a natural gift actually were born like the rest of us…with potential.

But at some time in their life they found something they enjoyed and received encouragement from the right people at the right time. This sparked enough desire for them to try it again to receive a similar result. From there the fire grew into a passion which dominated their thoughts and actions. They spent thousands of hours perfecting the skill on cold nights by themselves. They put in the work that others weren’t willing to do because they felt such a strong fire within them to be the best they could at it. And by the time we ever hear about them, they are geniuses.

We never see the work that went into the talent. We see the talent at its peak form. And most of us think, “Wow! I wish I had been born with that talent.”

Maybe They’re Born With It

Nobody was born with a talent. I’ve never seen a baby make a 3-point shot, play in a symphony, or give a public speech. But every baby is born with the potential to do all 3 of those things and countless others. All of us were born as a cute little ball of potential.

The question we really need to ask ourselves is this: How badly do we want to be good at something? How badly do we want to be the expert? How badly do we want to be “talented”? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to turn that potential into talent?

Do you want it bad enough that you would put aside time from the other things you enjoy in order to improve? Do you want it bad enough to stink at it for a while until you get good? Do you want it bad enough to push through when you hit obstacles or receive criticism? Do you want it bad enough to get out of bed or off the couch?

If not, your life will most likely be one of potential but not one of accomplishment. It sounds harsh but it is the reality. Potential is transformed into talent only through dedication, perspiration, and perseverance.

Talent Is a Choice

Of course it felt good to have people tell me that I was a talented photographer. But, in all honesty, it felt way better to know that my persistence had paid off. That the hours of lost sleep and the multiple disappointments led to something I could be proud of. It felt great to turn potential into accomplishment.

I hope you can make the decision to turn your potential into talents. Whatever it is that you need to sacrifice to make it happen, it will be worth it. You will not regret the time or energy that you put into it. Make a goal to start today and another goal to stick with it. Remember: Persistence turns potential into power.

Kris Heap

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3 comments

  1. Really eloquently written, Kris! You’re a TALENTED writer. Lol.. seriously, being in the creative arts all my life, I’ve had this discussion many many times over the years. The old one-liner is Edison saying that genius was 1% inspiration and 99 perspiration. In my own process, it’s all about the consistent work. People say I’m talented, I don’t disagree, but I just tell them that I “show up.” Still, having said that, I do believe that we are somehow born with a certain proclivity or inclination towards certain things. I agree with the potential of the baby in your example, but it seems to me that as a kid grows up, they show (or feel) certain directional pull toward things; that’s where the nuturing and support come in, and for the lucky ones they can develop that talent, whatever it might be; but as you have stated (and no truer word were ever spoken), without the work none of it will amount to anything.. I know of few geniuses, but those that are labeled as such have all worked their asses off. Thanks for the article….

  2. Thanks for the encouragement!

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