What is talent?

This article was born out of a conversation I had with a good friend quite some time ago, when I was still studying and working in Austria. He suffered from what he thought was a lack of talent and was really concerned with the real meaning behind this word.

Does everyone have a talent? Is everyone good at something? And what if not? What if everyone had a talent and, sometimes, we just couldn’t see it?

As he used to say, we are taught that a talent has to be productive, that you have to be able to make a living out of it, that it is not a talent if it doesn’t add anything to your interpersonal or professional skills.

But what is talent, anyway? Is it something we were born with? A gift? Something we are just good at because we are very interested in it or passionate about it? And who cares if we don’t have any talent, if we are just here to be?

what is talent definition

The fact is, we worry too much about having a talent or not and we end up disliking ourselves and our life for not being “as good as”.

It seems to me that people often get attention because of what they can or cannot do instead of because of who they really are. As a result of this distorted way of thinking, people who don’t want to comply with the perform-till-your-last-breath and the I-regret-every-choice-I-made-in-my-life-but-at-least-I-have-money attitudes can be or feel left out.

There are many definitions of the word “talent”, I found one I really like by Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania:

“(…) the rate at which you get better with effort. The rate at which you get better at soccer is your soccer talent. The way at which you get better at math is your math talent. You know, given that you are putting forth a certain amount of effort. And I absolutely believe – and not everyone does, but most people do-that there are differences in talent among us: that we are not all equally talented” (Duckworth, 2016).

I have to say, I agree with her. We cannot get good at something unless we train a lot. That’s why Michael Jordan was no one in the beginning and didn’t even get in the basketball team when he first tried. But he trained so hard that he ended up becoming one of the best players. His talent was probably the determination he had in becoming a top player. One might say I have a special talent for writing, but they might not know that I started writing tales when I was 8 and I spent every single afternoon after school writing tales and short stories for at least ten years, while also giving my best at Italian in school and reading a lot of books. I remember one summer when I read 25 books in two months. No wonder I am good at writing today.

Talent has to do with how much and how often you have done something. Studies carried out on the brain show that people who have trained a certain skill for a very long time have more grey matter than others in that special area of the brain, which would suggest they were not born with it: it was a result of training.

But the point here was not just what talent is. The real question was if everyone has a talent.

In my eyes, yes, everyone does have a talent. Everyone is good at something. Often we do not see talent in someone because talent does not always show itself the way we would expect. Some people have a special talent for making others laugh, but they might never come to develop that ability or turn it into a job, so their talent might go unnoticed. Sometimes it’s because of their background or because of lack of means. Not everyone makes it to the top. And some people never even discover their real talent or spend a lifetime looking for it.

how to find your talent

People are worth it because of who they are, because of how they think and how they feel and because of their ability to love and care for others and not because of how hard they work or what results they get in life. The way someone makes you smile, the way they talk, hold your hand and hug you when you are crying, know how to care and be there… That is a talent, too. 

When it comes to work, the best recollections I have are the moments spent having fun with my colleagues, laughing about how messed up our company was, taking a coffee break and telling each other what we had done over the weekend or (only once, I promise) missing a plane to go see a customer and then having the worst and funniest day ever trying to catch another plane and getting lost in the faraway snowy Bavaria because of a GPS that wouldn’t detect the Munich airport close-by. This is what I want to take with me of my previous work experiences and colleagues. We shared moments of happiness and sorrow. And I loved them. And I still do. For you don’t need to be close to someone to love him/her.

how to find your talent

My current work environment has been a positive surprise, as I had not expected to find people like that again and to be able to share something more than just work. Even if, at times I really feel like a workaholic compared to them who chat way too much for my German mindset.

No matter how much you like your job, no matter how much they pay you or how far you will go, you cannot do without people and their warmth and you will go nowhere alone.



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