What is Talent and should I worry about having it?

Natural Talent

This term is ubiquitous throughout our lives. Someone has a natural talent for some athletic feat. Or someone is talented in some academic endeavor. I think that the term “talent” is over-used, and the majority of what is considered a talented person is invested time.

Lets look at the definition of talent:

A natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught.

Cambridge Dictionary

Almost every human in the history of the world is talented. Who explicitly taught you to walk? How to blink? Who taught you how to fire off the infinitely complex sequence of electrical impulses towards bundles of assembled molecules in such a way that you end up on a soft man-made rectangle with a tub of delicious frozen cream with cookie dough? According to this definition, you are an incredibly talented individual.

Extra-ordinary Talent

Ok, lets ignore the “innate” talent of how to manipulate your body through time and space that most of us are graced with. When most people say “talent” they probably mean something more extra-ordinary. Someone who can do something better than most. Often, talents are discovered in childhood, and more often in those privileged enough to have free time and safety. There is an ever-expanding scientific base that generally says child brains are like a sponge. They can learn and master things without having to really understand how they work. Think of your own knowledge of your native tongue. Before a formal education, you were able to communicate with others at a much higher level than someone actively trying to learn a new language later on in life. Almost everyone speaks at least one language, they must be talented in that language. Why can’t they be talented in another?

Time is Talent

In my pondering, I think that (arbitrarily following the 80/20 rule) 80% of someone’s ability to do something comes from the time they have invested in it. Think of it this way: we have Bob and Alice. Lets say that Alice is talented at piano, so she starts off at 20% ability to play from natural talent. Bob isn’t but is interested in learning. All that means is that Alice starts off with a slight advantage. If they then both put in lots of time and reach their peak potential, Alice will be 20% better than Bob, however Bob will be at 80% ability.

Would you say being able to be 80% good at something isn’t worth it, just because you can’t get that last 20%? I don’t think I would.

What a ramble. I might clean this up later.

Early start can be mistaken for talent.

Lets say Bob started learning to play at 8 years old, while Alice started at 30. Bob has 22 years of an advantage, he probably can’t remember what it’s like to not know how to play piano. Alice, while talented, may look at Bob and believe that he is naturally talented, but it’s time and practice that brought his skills to where they are. What I’m trying to say, is it’s not possible to know whether someone is more or less talented until you see them at their absolute peak, think of the Olympics. These are singular people out of Billions. Just because they are there doesn’t mean they are the most talented, it could just be that someone more naturally talented than them hasn’t put in the time or had the chance to train.


It’s near impossible to tell who is the most talented, as that would require everyone to train in everything to their peak, then compare. To me what this means is that in most cases it’s possible to ignore “talent” and focus on the time someone has put into whatever they are passionate about. This is the true show of someone’s ability. If someone was talented at piano as a kid, it means very little if they don’t keep practicing, as there are likely thousands more “untalented” people out there who have put in the time and practiced to make themselves better at something.

In that way, I don’t look at myself and my abilities as what am I “talented” in. I really don’t know. I don’t think I’ve peaked in anything particular, and almost everything I know came from an investment of time and curiosity. In terms of what I’ve achieved, that is completely subjective. To me right now, the most important thing is peace of mind so that I can continue enjoying my joyride on this massive ball (sorry flat-earthers) hurtling through an unfathomably complex universe on an unknown destination.

Ivan Written by:

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