4 Things That Matter More Than Talent


Busker in Ignoreland

Talent is one of those qualities people seem to really admire. And to a certain point, I can see why. It’s easy to look at someone successful like a big writer, artist or other professional and conclude that their path to greatness was due to some internal ability on one else has.

Even recently I fell into that line of thinking while watching the Olympic athletes this year. I certainly couldn’t do those things. But I have news for you: talent isn’t everything. In fact, I wouldn’t even consider it one of the more important qualities you need to become successful.

Talent vs Non-Talent

The trouble with talent is that it doesn’t necessarily lead to success. It can help when you get a good jumps start to where you want to be, but doesn’t really do much by itself. It’s equally important what you do with that talent.

Keep in mind that no one relies on talent alone. All musicians, artists and writers spend hours every day honing their skills. If talent were enough, they wouldn’t need to do that.

Another problem with talent is how people generally perceive it. Talent implies a natural ability to excel in something. You either have it or you don’t. So if you don’t think you have it, you’ll be less likely to put in any time and effort to succeed.

And many people see talent as essential to achieving many goals.

How often have I heard:

“I could never write a novel since I don’t have the skills for it.”

“My natural abilities prevent me from running a marathon.”

And so on…

What they forget is all the other factors that go into making someone successful.

In fact, I’d say that these qualities matter even more:

1. Persistence

Persistence is one of the simplest and best ways to succeed. Even the most talented of people face some obstacles and setbacks. Many even go through years of rejection and negative feedback before reaching their goals. Despite the talent, they must persist until they have made their way.

Look at the lesson from two talented writers, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Stephen King faced many years of rejection letters before finally seeing anything published. J.K. Rowling had her first Harry Potter book rejected twelve times before finally getting picked up.

2. Creativity

Talent and creativity are closely linked, but there is a significant difference. Creativity is innovative thinking. It’s when you bring into the world something that didn’t exist before. It’s when you can make something out of nothing.

Just imagine someone who is extremely talented at art. They can copy and mimic other artists to the point where you can’t tell the difference between the two. However, they are unable to come up with anything original or unique.

This is a huge difference you should be aware of. How far you take your talent can depend on creatively you use it. That’s how you separate yourself from everyone else.

3. Showing up

Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” What a great way to sum up something so simple, but still quite overlooked. All roads to success start by simply showing up and being ready to put in the work.

Just imagine how many people fail to do something before they even start. The person who never pursues their dreams simply because of negative thinking telling them they won’t succeed. It’s rather sad actually.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to be an extra in a movie being shot in Minneapolis. I didn’t make it in the movie, but one girl managed to make it in the background of a few key scenes. Her secret? She just showed up and asked if she could be in it.

4. Your personal network of connections

One thing I’ve seen documented over and over again as being critical to success in almost any field is networking. According to several studies, most jobs are found due to the contacts in your network. That’s how many romantic relationships begin too.

But more than that, networking can open you to new opportunities. How many new things have you tried because someone introduced you to them? Plus, your network can be a valuable source for new thoughts and opinions. There is a reason why businesses focus a lot of attention on networking – because it is important for recognizing and building new opportunities.

Thinking Past Talent

Talent may not be everything, but you should see that as a good thing. Instead of seeing talent as the only thing separating you from where you want to be, you can see the other factors you need to consider. The road to success isn’t entirely dependent on some internal ability, but other things as well.
photo credit: tochis

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  1. This is so true! I spent 5 years of my life in the competitive ballroom dance world. I came to it with no talent. I worked for every single step I learned, much harder than people to whom it came naturally. That eventually worked in my favor. While initially they were much stronger competitors, because I had more practice and thus a better understanding of the moves, after the initial learning curve, I really started to improve. I also was more committed than many of my fellow dancers.

    I can only dream of what I could have accomplished if some of it had came naturally to me. But now I wonder if I would I have worked as hard.

    • Tammy, what an interesting story. I don’t know much about the competitive ballroom dance world, but I imagine that there are a lot of great dancers out there. You just show that you don’t need to have things come naturally to do well. A lot of other factors need to be taken into account.

      I’ve found the same thing has been happening with me and teaching. I’m not a natural at it like some of my classmates. However, I’ve kept going and steadily improved to the point where I can see a lot of great progress.

      It just shows that you don’t need a lot of natural talent to be successful in life.

  2. One thing that changed my attitude to talent was reading “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice” by Matthew Syed earlier this year. Fundamentally, what is most important is caring enough about something to put in the effort to excel at it.

    • I’ve never heard of that book before so I’ll have to check it out. I think caring about something definitely helps in excelling at it. Sounds like it would be an interesting read.

    • After I read this I thought, this is why i excelled at my job. When I was in college I got a D in my first Economics class. There was no way that was going to fly, so i took it again. I worked my ass off and took micro, macro economics and a bunch of other economics courses and before I knew it i was at the top of my classes acing tests, blah blah blah. It wasn’t because i was talented. I had to work twice thrice as hard as my coutnerparts. Flash forward, i ended up majoring in economics.
      I ended up taking a career that used my degree in economics unfortunately, i was not a gifted or talented person in the area so although i kept rising in the work force, i had to put more and more effort into my job while for others it came more easily.

      Point is, i think if love sometething and are not talented in it, that’s ok. but sometimes it’s not a good idea to put all your effort into something you are not good at. Looking back, i should have been an anthropologist or linguistics expert. It would have been hard work but at least It would have touched on my natural talents too.
      I digress.

      • I’ve studied economics before so I understand how hard a subject it is. It’s definitely something you should have a passion for if you want to get a job in that area.

        When I look back on the decisions I’ve made, I realize that I tended to follow my heart. I didn’t major in engineering like most of my friends. I got into something I loved. It’s a hard path to follow, but one I’m ultimately thankful for doing. I can’t imagine putting in a ton of effort into something I’m not passionate about. That just seems to make achieving it so much harder.

  3. It’s great to have a talent but nothing can beat the hard work. If you have a talent and you are lazy – it’s no good! If you are a hard worker, you can become talented in so many things!

    • Yeah, that’s true. Talent plus laziness is not a very good recipe for success in anything. You have to put in a lot of hard work too to get things done.

  4. Persistence definitely matters more than talent. Just as important, I think, is hard work.

    Many people don’t network, show up, work creatively, bear the pain of deliberate practice, etc… because that kind of work is usually the hardest. So it’s not just hard work (as in lots of hours), but hard, hard work (doing the kinds of work most people don’t but should).

    “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” That’s a fantastic quote!

    Looking back on my life… that definitely seems to be true. Things often seem to take care of themselves after showing up.

    • Amit, you make a great point. A lot of success comes down to doing hard work. And like you said, it can mean hard, hard work too – the kind of things people don’t do, but need to do in order to get where they want.

      Sometimes it seems as if there are too many distractions that can keep people away from doing hard work. Think of all the things you could be doing on the internet or watching TV or a movie. That can make doing hard work difficult.

  5. Thomas Grunzinger says:

    I have literally been thinking of this for the past couple of weeks. I have brought this up in many conversations to friends and acquaintances. There is no words I can use to describe how happy I am that they are others who feel the same about life and missed opportunities the way I do.

    • Thomas, I’m glad that I can cheer your day up. It’s great when you can think about something and find those same thoughts repeated online somewhere to back them up.

  6. Great article, real-world information. I wish more people preached this kind of information.

  7. Hey Steve,

    Hustle will beat talent every time.
    A great example is GSP’s (UFC fighter) attitude about winning fights. The guy is a workaholic and beats “born” fighters any time.

    thanks for the share!

  8. Steve,

    It’s like this post was meant for me :) I agree that talent is just the beginning, and that effort and persistence can take you really far. I started out as a content writer, and didn’t know where this would take me. I’ve now been published on major websites, and have had an exponential growth in my income ; things that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t persisted in the first few hard months.

    Have a great year ahead!


    • Hi Alana,

      It seems to be common that the first few months in anything are the most difficult. I guess that makes sense since you’re just starting out and have a lot of things to learn.

      You have a great year too.


  9. Do something that suit with your passsion will facilitate you to get success

  10. Hi Steve,

    Great post and so true. I have seen so many people with natural talent rest on their laurels while others with less ( but more determination) go further. Sometimes when the talent is there and the individual knows it they think they don’t have to work at it. Unfortunately what holds a lot of people back is they assume talented people didn’t have to work at it. We can use that as an excuse for not facing our own fears.


    That’s a nice one

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