I have never felt particularly talented. I have always been one of those guys who get excited about something (my wife would say obsessed) and then just grind it out. With a dream, a belief, and hard work I have, on occasion, managed to succeed. It has little to do with talent, more with just sticking to the task at hand.
That’s why I enjoyed reading professor Angela Duckworth’s New York Times bestseller Grit : The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Her basic thesis is simple: the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent, but a special blend of passion and persistence that she calls grit. We Finns would probably call it “sisu,” which means a stoic determination.
Duckworth, a pioneering psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, bases her argument on years of in-depth research on military cadets at Westpoint, finalists at spelling contests, athletes, CEOs and writers, and many others. She narrows her findings into two neat and simple equations: talent + effort = skill and skill + effort = achievement.
We all have a little bit of talent at something. In order to turn that talent into skill, we need to give it some effort. Once that skill is combined with effort, we can achieve something.
Now, how often do you hear that someone has extraordinary talent in say, music, mathematics or sport? Sure, there are people who have a better starting point than others in a certain field.
But at the end of the day talent is often used as an excuse for explaining why we are not good at something. When, as a matter of fact, we can be as good, or almost as good, as the guy next to us, just as long as we work hard at it.
When I was writing my PhD at the London School of Economics in the late 1990s, I spent hours researching, writing, and revising. Doing it all over again, from morning to evening. And then all over again a few more times. Not something you can do without passion and persistence.
The good news is that Duckworth believes that you can grow your grit. You can do it by one of two ways. First, by cultivating your interests and habits “from the inside out.” Second, by learning from other people “from the outside in.”
So, there is hope for all of us. Developing a skill takes hours of practice and in order to do that you will need to be enthusiastic about what you are doing. Some persistence and endurance will help, and that skill may very well turn into what others perceive to be a talent.