Are Talents Born, or Are They Created?

Potter at work.

Why does it seem that some people are really talented and other people maybe not so much? Is it natural born talent? Is it that they just have opportunities others don’t? How did they get to be so amazing?

It can seem unfair when we compare ourselves to others. I have asked myself unproductive questions like: Why can’t I be the [insert adjective here] one, with the amazing [insert talent here], and the [insert personality type here]? We don’t get to pick the hand of cards we are dealt. We can, however, choose how we use them and what we do with them.

In his new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins addresses this question. He believes that a “starving artist believes you must be born an artist. The thriving artist knows you become one.”

I love this concept because we are all born with our own unique set of talents and abilities. Just because we are born with a talent doesn’t mean we will develop it or use it. And on the other hand, if we aren’t born with a particular talent, it doesn’t mean that we can’t work hard to make it one.

Parable of the Talents

The Book of Matthew in the New Testament outlines the story of the talents. A rich man called together his servants to watch over and care for his property while he was to be gone on a long journey. He carefully assessed the natural abilities of each servant, and gave each a sum of money (talents). The first servant was given five talents, the second was given two, and the third was given one, each according to his ability. The man then left on his journey. After a long time, he returned. The master asked each of his servants to report what they had done with the money which had been given to them.

The first two servants were industrious and double’d their master’s investment. The servant who had been given five talents approached the master and said, “thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more” (Matthew 25:20). “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make the ruler over many things” was his reply (Matthew 25:23).

The servant who had received two talents came to the master and said, “thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them” (Matthew 25:22). The man replied to the second servant, “well done, good and faithful servant; though hast been faithful over a few things, I will make the ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:23).

The third servant, however, could not give a similar report. The third man dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money. He said, “I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth” (Matthew 25:25). The master then took the talent from the man and gave it to the servant which had ten talents.

“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

Definition of Talent

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines talent as:

  1. A unit of value equal to the value of a talent of gold or silver
  2. A characteristic feature, aptitude, or disposition of a person or animal
  3. The natural endowments of a person
  4. A special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude; general intelligence or mental power

There are two possible meanings of the word talent in this parable. The first, literal meaning, is as a monetary unit or money. The parable can also be referring to a person’s individual aptitudes. A more encompassing definition would be referring to all gifts we have available to our use: natural, spiritual, and material. Including things such as our possessions, money, and opportunities as well as our natural abilities, resources, health, education, and capabilities.

Stewardship

This story illustrates the importance of stewardship. A steward is a person who takes care of the affairs or property of another. We are stewards of the talents we have all been given. And because we are stewards, we are accountable for how we take care of and use what is given to us, whether it be in the form of money; or in our talents, gifts, and abilities.

A critical element is the owner’s expectation of what should be done with their belongings, or gifts. In the story, the master expected a reasonable rate of return (interest) on his investment. The first two servants worked hard and used what they were given in a productive way and earned even more. The master was pleased. The third servant was a different story. His lack of initiative does not represent good stewardship. This third servant passively preserved what he was given and the master was angry. His expectation was for the servants to use their talents productively.

It Takes Work

Each servant in the parable was given a unique set of talents. Those talents did not grow on their own. The third servant is the perfect example of this, he hid his talent and it was eventually taken away. The first two servants actively worked and used what they had. Consequentially, they both gained more than they were originally given.

Even if a person is naturally gifted or has an amazing ability to do something, that talent must be nurtured for it to develop.

Why Some Have None

Like the servants in the story, we have all been given talents. Every person has their own unique collection of talents. It is up to us to choose how we will use them.

When I was in Middle School and High School I loved art. I’m sure the love started earlier than that, but during this time I took every art class I could. I loved to draw, and paint, and use colored pencils to create. I spent hours working on projects. It was a labor of love and self-expression. The more I practiced, the better I became.

Then life happened. School, work, and family became the priority. Now, I’m not saying these things are bad, they are important, essential even. My point is that I neglected my talent for creating art. I stopped using my gift. I stopped creating. Now, years later, when I try to pick it back up I get frustrated because I cannot create with my previous proficiency.  In my mind, I understand that a lack of practice leads to a lack of skill and ability, but that knowledge didn’t make my heart hurt any less at the fact that my talent had fallen away.

I didn’t actively try to lose my talent, but by merely doing nothing to improve it, I lost what I had.

Fear

Regarding the servant who lost his talent, the Bible scholar John Meir said, “out of fear of failure, he has refused to even try to succeed”.

Fear led the actions of the servant.

What fears do we let lead us? Do we let the fear of failure or the fear of what other people might think stop us from cultivating our talents?

You are guaranteed to fail if you never try.

If you stop working to develop your gifts you will lose them. If you use your gifts and find success, will it matter what other people thought? And what if you fail? Then you have an opportunity to learn from it.

Thomas Edison had over 3,000 theories about how to make the light bulb. Did people think he was crazy? Yes. Did he fail? Yes, several hundred times. But guess what? He kept working. He developed his talents and used his available resources until he found success.

Why Some Are Truly Talented

The answer to why some are talented is not that they are born with it. While that certainly may be a contributing factor for a person’s success, it is not the only reason for it.

So, what is the real reason? It’s because they take the time and put in the effort. They work at it.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he illustrates two elements of success: ability and opportunity. Our environment plays a role in developing talents. If you look at the lives of famous and successful people, they aren’t “self-made”. There are events, opportunities, and people that were behind the scenes helping to pave the road to success.

Even if someone was born with an amazing gift, if that gift was never used, never developed, you would never know about it.

Natural ability will only get you so far, it is a threshold.

After speaking with several coaches, I have learned that it is not necessarily the kids with the natural talent that are the best players. It’s the kids who practice the hardest; the ones that show up, and are willing to work that are the best. Now, the kids need to have enough ability to make the team, but once they are on the team, what they had was enough to give them the opportunity to develop. There is no denying that natural ability is a bonus, it is a gift, a head start. Ultimately, it is what you do with your talents that matters.

Passive or Active

I mentioned before that we all have talents. This is true. Everyone has their own assortment of gifts and abilities. What you were given may not seem as impressive as others, but that’s OK. If we all had the same talents we’d live in a pretty boring world don’t you think? Plus, you may be comparing an undeveloped talent to someone who has spent years perfecting theirs.

Your talents are unique to you. How’s that possible? No one has the same gifts that you were given, grew up in the same environment as you, and has lived through the same experiences that you have. That means that even if you have the same talent as someone else, it is not going to manifest itself the same in you as it does in someone else. That’s great news! Comparing ourselves to others is pointless. People we compare ourselves to have their own different package of talents, they’ve experienced a different environment, and have been presented with a different assortment of opportunities.

It all boils down to choices. Will you be passive about your talents? Remember, when I was passive I lost mine. So did the third servant in the story…

Or, will you be active in developing your talents? This is the harder route. It requires work, it requires time, and it requires sacrifice. But, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Remember the first servant, not only did he double the number of talents he originally had, he was given the talent from the third servant.

As a bonus, most people enjoy their talents. So even though it will be hard work, you will be motivated to continue because you love it! You will get the opportunity to live in an abundance of joy because of the fruits of your labors.

Am I Too Late?

So, what if you are the servant that lost his talent? Now what? Well, you have two choices. You can work to develop a talent. Or, you can be passive, and do nothing.

Thankfully, life is not a zero-sum game. Talents can be developed at any time. Some may develop early and some can burst out later on. Many times, discovering a new talent comes through trying new things. If you become inspired to excel in something, run with it. We are all capable of extraordinary performance in some area of expertise. The key then is to find the mode of personal expression that will allow your personal talents to shine. Then, you have to do it. You can’t just think about doing it, or say how nice it would be to do it, you need to physically, actively, do it.

I believe that you are never too late. Life is a journey of continuous learning and growth. There is no age limit!

The fun part is trying new things and finding joy along the way. The only guaranteed way to fail is if you never try. And when you do fail, it is a learning opportunity. Failing is not bad.

If you’ve been putting off something you love to do, it’s time to make time for it. Today. I promise there will always be something else to fill in the time. If you wait until you have time, you will never find it. What gets scheduled gets done.

Start small, even if it’s just 20 minutes three times a week, or even once a week. Write it down. Schedule it in. Make the time to do it. Start to feel the joy that comes from cultivating talents.

What will you make time for?


References

  1. Gladwell, Malcolm. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.
  2. Goins, Jeff. (2017). Real Artists Don’t Starve. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.
  3. LDS.org. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt/25.14-29?lang=eng#20
  4. Merriam-Webster.com. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/talents
  5. Rutgers.edu. (2012). Retrieved from http://edison.rutgers.edu/newsletter9.html
  6. Sirico, Robert. A. (1994). Foundation for Economic Education. Retrieved from https://fee.org/articles/the-parable-of-the-talents-the-bible-and-entrepreneurs/

Krista Palo

I'm Krista, the owner and creator of Evolve. I have a masters degree in Business Administration and I am passionate about development, motivation, and change. I love stories in all of their forms, and believe in continuous learning and the power of positivity.

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2 thoughts on “Are Talents Born, or Are They Created?

  1. “Ultimately, it is what you do with your talents that matters.” I love this! It is so easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Really what we should be doing is using that energy to work and develop our skills, to become better.

    I would love to be able to sing. I joined the choir, practiced and practiced. I’m still not a great singer, but I am a better singer than I was before simply because I tried.

    Great Post!

    • Miss Lori, I appreciate your comment. I think that comparing ourselves to others is a very risky thing to do. We can’t see the entire picture. We don’t know what it took for them to be where they are now. And I truly believe that we are our own worst critic.

      I’m not suggesting that everyone can do everything, but like you pointed out, we all have the ability to grow. We can all work to be better tomorrow than we are today.