‘Talent doesn’t exist,’ I heard someone say. ‘It’s all about the hours. You’ve got to put in those 10,000 hours or 10 years and then you can become a master at anything.’
Anything at all?
Is it really possible for anybody, through the process of hard work, modelling, perseverance and learning, to mold themselves into a person who can succeed in any field? It’s a tantalizing question because, if true, it opens the door of opportunity for all of us to realize our dreams. So let’s explore the different sides of the discussion and identify some key factors that will enable you to find your calling.
The System’s View
No prizes for guessing that this viewpoint will tell you there’s very little you can do with your life. Venerated social scientists will point to studies saying that your environment; access to education, background and parenting will play the decisive role. Even Malcolm Gladwell (author of Outliers) will tell you that no matter how hard you work or how good your idea is, a large portion of your success will be down to luck. In fact, luck and talent are the main factors the system uses to explain success. Either you’re born with an incredibly rare and fantastic ability which enables you to excel above all other competition, or you chance upon a lucky break that virtually puts success in your hands. With both options, the system’s message is clear – a whole bunch of factors out of your control will end up determining your life.
Advice: The best thing you can do with this viewpoint is to completely disregard it. Although accepted by the majority, it will NOT help you in any way. With the cause of success always being dependent on factors outside yourself, it can easily lead to feelings of helplessness and dis-empowerment.
The Self-Help View
The world is yours! You can do anything! (This is what the self-help guru’s will tell you). Through the process of modelling, learning, adapting and a large slice of perseverance, the individual can mold themselves into whatever they need to become to succeed. You repeat affirmations, practice visualization, get in a peak state, push yourself out of your comfort zone and always think BIG. After a period of time, changes will begin to occur that attract success. You become more confident and charismatic; you learn from mistakes instead of quitting and have the self-belief to seize an opportunity when it arrives.
Advice: You would do well to practice all of the above. Your chances of succeeding in a field you are passionate about will increase tenfold when you realize that YOU play the deciding role in your success. However, there is one caveat. The self-help view is too general. If you can really do anything then how do you sift through the endless possibilities and find the path you could describe as a ‘calling’?
The Third Way
Talent DOES exist. This is what I have discovered and it is SO important in identifying your calling. Throughout my years working as a tennis coach, I tracked the development of children who possessed an innate natural talent for the sport compared to those who didn’t. In every case, the talented ones learned to master technique more quickly, adapted their game more proficiently and possessed the unique ability to learn some skills without being taught.
However, before you accuse me of being a defender of the system, hear me out. I learned two more fascinating insights from my work as a tennis coach. Firstly, despite what the system preaches, there was a significant minority of the children that could be classified as talented. Rather than being the one in a million exception that the system wants you to believe, I had the figure at roughly 20%. The second observation was that talent was a very incomplete predictor of future success. The children who ended up excelling, who 10 years down the line are now playing regionally or nationally, were the ones who were obsessed with the sport.
So what does this mean and how will it help you? The key principle is this, you may well be able to do anything but to stack the deck in your favor, you must position yourself wisely. Follow these 5 steps and you can’t go wrong.
- Study your self-help. The principles really do work and will give you a solid foundation to succeed in any field.
- Ignore the system. It will always be there, telling you that you are powerless to influence the world around you but YOU MUST NOT LISTEN TO IT’S VOICE.
- Use your talents. Make it easy on yourself. You may want to be a singer or a sports star but is there something that comes more naturally to you? Give yourself a head start and position yourself in this field. If you’re not sure where your talents lie then look for the skills you pick up quickly and listen to what other people say you’re good at. Finally, don’t buy into the talent is rare myth. You may not be talented at everything but you will be talented at something.
- Find your obsession. Talent will only get you so far. To find your calling and see it through, you have to be obsessed about living it. Only the pursuits you REALLY love will inspire you enough to put in the time necessary to become a success. Fortunately, we seem to have a tendency to enjoy what we do well so this should mesh quite naturally with using your talents.
- Adapt. You may have more than one calling. Be prepared for the possibility of your dreams evolving along the way.
Joe Barnes is the author of critically acclaimed ‘Screw the System: A Modern Guide to Greatness’ (www.screwthesystemnow.com/