Talent is defined as natural ability or skill. Synonyms include gift, aptitude, ability, and genius. The definition and synonyms can lead the reader to believe that talent is something with which a person is born. Either you have it, or you don’t.
For those who “don’t have it”, there is little motivation to put the time and effort into that which is genetically impossible to get. The logical question is “Why bother?”
It is important to “bother” because the message … the myth … that genetics determines talent is wrong as noted in the book “The Genius in All of Us.” David Shenk, the author, writes “Talent is not a thing; it’s a process,” (p.8).
It is important to “bother” so that our children realize that they, too, can achieve greatness.
One example that talent is not a thing, but a process is Ted Williams (The Kid), one of the greatest Major League Baseball (MLB) hitters. People referred to him as “… a ‘superman’ endowed with a collection of innate physical gifts … ” A Hall of Fame MLB player said, “Ted just had that natural ability,” (p. 5).
Williams had a different perspective on how he achieved greatness: ” ‘Nothing except practice, practice, practice will bring out that ability,’ ” (p. 5).
“At San Diego’s old North Park field … friends recall Williams [as a boy] hitting baseballs every waking hour of every day, year after year after year. They describe him slugging balls until their outer shells literally wore off, swinging even splintered bats for hours upon hours with blisters on his fingers and blood dripping down his wrists.”
“Williams’s first season with the minor league San Diego Padres, coach Frank Shelenback noticed that this new recruit was always the first to show up for practice in the morning and the last to leave at night. And something more curious: after each game, Williams would ask the coach for the used game balls.”
And what did Williams do with those balls? Williams said, ” ‘I use them for a little extra hitting practice after supper.’ ”
Coach Shellenback had a hard time believing Williams’s response knowing how tough it can be to practice and play baseball. So, ” ‘I piled into my car after supper [one night] and rode to Williams’s neighborhood. There was a playground near his home, and sure enough, I say The Kid driving those two battered baseballs all over the field … The stitching was already falling apart on the baseballs I had [just] given him.’ ”
People looking at Williams’s abilities did not see the countless hours of relentless practice and mistakenly called it natural talent.
Today, children can and do make the same error: mistakenly identify the foundation – practice, practice, practice – of greatness as natural talent.
The unfortunate consequence of that mistake is that some children do not pursue greatness because they believe they do not have the natural talent for it, when, in fact, the opposite is true: “no one is genetically designed into greatness and few are biologically restricted from attaining it.”
Our children can achieve greatness.
The third blog in this series, Genius in All of Us (III): Dynamic Development, explores the idea that “[genetic differences] aren’t straightjackets holding us in place; they are bungee cords waiting to be stretched and stretched,” (p. 39).