Being Referred to as ‘Talented’ is Demeaning (part 8)

Sam Obitz / February 22nd, 2018 / No Comments »

One of the sad hard truths of life is that people love to hire and be around people they perceive to be “naturals.” Naturals can easily be interchanged with talented or gifted. There are many problems with this and not the least of which is that most (if not all) of what is perceived as being natural talent or a gift has been earned through effort as I have discussed ad nauseam in previous blogs in this series.

Wouldn’t it be better to think about achievement in an area as a skill to be acquired rather than as a talent? Ultimately, excellence in any area requires a lot of effort.  The more that you believe that achievement requires hard work, the more willing you are to put in that work.

When we watch a master perform in their domain, we are awed by the skills they possess, but we never consider the amount of time and effort they put in to reach that level. We instead like to attribute their accomplishments to gifts. One of the reasons we do this is to make ourselves feel better. You see if it is a result of being a natural, gifted or talented we have a built-in excuse for paling in comparison and the threat to our ego leaves.

Our egos are so fragile that we instinctively explain away why we are so ordinary. It would be impossible to enjoy such performances if we were saddled with questions or regret over why we never loved anything enough to develop that level of skill. If instead we perceived masters to be individuals who worked really, really hard, we would likely be forced to walk around with low self-esteem all the time.

Recent studies found that experts and novices both prefer working with those seen as naturally gifted. Again, this is because if they saw them as hard workers they would have nowhere to hide. If someone performs better than you because they are perceived to work harder than you, one can ask, why don’t you work harder? But if they are perceived as performing better than you because they are more talented or naturally gifted you have an excuse for your underperformance.

Think of it this way: let’s replace talent or giftedness with height. If a position physically requires a person to be 6’ tall, no one expects someone 5’6” to be able to do the job.  It’s accepted that you can’t tell someone to be 6’ tall, just like it’s accepted that you can’t tell someone to be naturally gifted, or more talented.

Now using the same example but changing the requirement for the position to be a “hard worker” instead of 6’ tall. You will be expected to be able to do the job if you are put in that position. We are creatures of comfort and the majority of us create worlds in which we are comfortable. All areas of life therefore have built in mechanisms (some that started being erected as soon as people inhabited this planet) to allow us to not be as good as we could be and still have high self-esteem.

In general, this is probably a good thing, as there can only be one top dog in each field, and we would not want everyone else walking around depressed all the time. Most people have a certain level they aspire to that will make them feel good about themselves and/or comfortable (and again this is not all bad).

But when you are in the field of peak performance, helping people perform as close to their capability as possible, this is a huge stumbling block. I can’t help someone be better than they want to be. So, if they have comfort level in place that they are unwilling to give up, there’s a limit to how much I can help them. I learned a long time ago that I can only help someone reach the level they are willing to work to get to. There’s a reason the highest achievers among us are rarely satisfied, as that is an essential part of reaching your maximum level in any pursuit.

If you are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve at the highest levels, you will never accept being just good enough.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc



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