The Road To Success: Why Talent Is Overrated

Talent is often viewed as the most important factor in a person’s success. People look at individuals who are successful in their chosen field -- be it sports, entertainment, medicine, or business -- and assume that their stellar achievements are a result of innate talent, skills, and abilities that separate them from ordinary people.

However, this view fails to take into account all of the other factors that can and do determine an individual’s propensity for success. As a result, onlookers may become demotivated if they can’t identify any specific talents within themselves, and subsequently become resigned to a life of mediocrity. On the other hand, those who mistakenly think that they’ve been granted some sort of “special powers,” are on an inevitable road to failure if they never figure out that talent is only one part of the success equation.

There are many successful people who don’t have any discernible talents, and these individuals are often classified as being “lucky,” by those who can’t understand how such seemingly talentless individuals were able to triumph over their circumstances, and reach such high levels of achievement.

There are also countless people who appeared to be destined for greatness and failed to reach their potential. For example, countless high school valedictorians either dropped out -- or flunked out -- of college, and now hold minimum wage jobs. Many Heisman trophy winners rank among some of the all-time worst players in the NFL. In the entertainment industry, one-hit wonders are commonplace. And CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies have a shorter shelf life than one of Henry the VIII’s wives.

If nothing else, these examples illustrate the fallacy of assuming that talent is everything. And there are at least 5 reasons why sheer talent is overrated:

Talent Is Usually Hard Work Disguised As Natural Ability

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers,” it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice or training to master a given subject or field. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Serena Williams are often thought of as being naturally gifted, and they may be, but by Jordan’s own admission, he always had a basketball in his hands when he was growing up.

The fathers of both Woods and Williams were notorious for practice sessions so rigorous, they could arguably be considered child abuse. And while Bill Gates is considered a computer genius, and rightfully so, he also had the rare good fortune of being able to access a computer terminal in 1968, when he was only in the eighth grade. Gates spent countless hours programming at night and on weekends, and this provided an inevitable edge over his contemporaries.

Talent Must Be Constantly Developed And Cultivated

According to Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago professor who is an expert in performance and brain science, “The main factors that separate extraordinary performers from ordinary ones are the time and effort they put into developing skills they will eventually need to succeed in their craft.” That explains why Michael Jordan failed terribly when he attempted to play professional baseball. While he always had a basketball in his hands, obviously he never spent any quality time with a baseball or a bat. And even when an individual reaches the level of “expert,” or “professional” in a particular field, it is still necessary to keep developing that talent. That’s why an athlete who is injured or leaves the sport for even a year has to work extra hard to reach the same level of achievement again.

Talent Isn’t Choke-Proof

Many talented individuals succumb to the stress and pressures of being expected to perform at such a high level of excellence. In other words, Beilock says they choke under pressure because they’re so worried about failing. Instead of performing their natural routine almost subconsciously, they over-think every action, which leads to “paralysis by analysis.” Consider the 2004 American League Championship Series, in which the New York Yankees had 3 wins and the Boston Red Sox were winless. The Yankees only needed one more win to sweep the Red Sox and advance to the World Series. However, the Yankees lost the next four consecutive games, ending their championship run that season.

During the 2010 AFC divisional playoffs, Nate Kaeding, the San Diego Charger’s placekicker, missed three field goal attempts, resulting in a 17-14 loss to the New York Jets. One of Kaeding’s misses was a 36-yard attempt, and one was a 40-yard attempt. However, for the entire regular season, he hadn’t missed a field goal that was 40 yards or less.

Talent Doesn’t Replace Self-Discipline

The lack of self-discipline is one of the biggest hindrances to success, according to best-selling author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy. Specifically, the path of least resistance and the expediency factor thwart success. The path of least resistance causes people to take shortcuts and seek the easiest way to an outcome. This results in people arriving late, leaving early, and seeking get rich quick schemes. Over time, Tracy says these individuals develop the habit of finding the easiest, quickest way to get anything done.

The expediency factor is a natural progression of the path of least resistance. People who seek the fastest path to completion have no concept of long-term consequences. They chose quick and easy instead of what’s necessary. In fact, Harvard University sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield says the most important trait of the successful is a “long term perspective,” which may involve sacrifice and short-term pain.

However, sometimes people who possess great talent are accustomed to achieving success quickly, and when it does not occur as quickly as expected, they may seek shortcuts to achieve their goals.

Someone Will Always Be More Talented

Many talented people are unable to get to the next level of achievement because they have difficulty coping with the fact that there are others who are just as talented, or even more talented than they are. These individuals do well when they are the big fish in a small pond; however, when they become a small fish in the Pacific Ocean, they struggle to excel.

For example, a star quarterback in college, who is placed in the role of a backup quarterback in the NFL, may have trouble adjusting to -- and even refuse to accept -- his new role. And when a company hires a new employee who outshines the star salesman, a destructive level of competitiveness may arise which causes the senior salesman to seek unethical methods of increasing his sales quota. Or these individuals may seek to sabotage the success of their competitors, yet another destructive tactic formed by those who don't accustom themselves to hard work.

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