Talent vs. Work: Is it And/Or?

horn manIf you Google quotes about talent, most of the results will describe how talent itself is fruitless without hard work.

For example, Tim Notke said: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Anna Pavlova said: “God gives talent, work transforms talent into genius.”

Michael Jordan said: “Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.”

And Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said: “A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.”

These people would know since they’re all very talented and hardworking–I think. Besides MJ, I don’t know who the heck the others are, but they must be pretty awesome to have so many memes made of their words, right?

I agree that talent alone isn’t enough, but I also believe there are inherent gifts bestowed in some that no amount of effort will compensate for in others. As fifteen seasons of open auditions for American Idol have proven, some people just don’t have it. No matter how hard they’ve worked, how bad they want it, or how many times their mamas have said, “You’re going to be a star!” they’re not.

Take it from the daughter of a vocal teacher who spent an entire childhood listening to students screech from our living room. There are some people who will never, ever, EV-VER learn to sing well from hard work.

My daughter is a gifted artist. From the moment she could hold a crayon, pencil, or permanent marker (I bought Don Aslett’s “Ink Out” product by the gallon during her formative years), her creativity came “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” (Lennon). She’s talented, but also works hard to develop her talent. In fact, sometimes on weekends I have to suggest, “Sweetie, why don’t you put down your sketchbook and invite some friends over to eat junk food and stay up too late?”

So, I was surprised when she was deprived of some deserved accolades based on the notion that effort alone trumps natural ability.

We were at the high school awards ceremony held for graduating seniors to announce all their honors, scholarships, etc. Watching your child walk across a stage as her list of accomplishments is read is definitely a parent payday. It almost makes sitting through 2 ½ hours of listening to the accomplishments of other people’s kids bearable. (Couldn’t we divide this assembly into two groups?!)

I’m not going to brag, okay, yes I am, my kid racked up some recognition, especially for her artistic ability. But when the presenter came to the podium to announce the “Art Department Student of the Year” he said, “I don’t believe in talent.” He went on to endorse the merits of muscle as if anybody with enough gumption could get a gig painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, then gave the award to apparently a very hardworking art student.


I’m not poo poo-ing the recipient, the award, or the value of hard work, but to dismiss talent like it’s myth is absurd. The common saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to” isn’t entirely true. We all know of somebody who should’ve put their mind to doing something they were actually good at. It’s usually a relative who’s borrowed money.



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