Why You Are Not Talented

“Ending a sentence with a period closes the door to discussion. Yet, ending with a question mark opens the door to endless possibilities.” ~ M.D. Campbell 

For many artists, musicians, writers, and even inventors, chefs, and professional speakers, their skills seem to come without effort or cost. Have you ever seen a child prodigy who can perform complex movements on the piano? What about an artist with whom even the most whimsical sketch appears masterful? 

For me, I’ve never seen such pure talent. I’m one of those people whose worked his whole life to develop his skill. And then there’s Gary, born without skill, but thrust into a situation where he either learned a specific skill or lose his job. Through sheer determination, he learned the skill enough to keep his job.

In my experiences, I’ve seen three types of people who succeed in creative roles:

  • 1. Inherited or Naturals 
  • 2. Skilled or Learned Persons 
  • 3. Determined or Persistents 

Baby Love

1. Inherited or Naturals 

Inherited or naturals are those rare people genetically predisposed with some sort of creative or athletic ability that is naturally advanced or which advances at an accelerated rate. Words like prodigy, genius, and wunderkind are often used when related to people of this group. 

Some notable naturals would be Pablo Picasso, his father a successful artist, gained national acclaim at age 14. Marie Curie, daughter of two educators, taught herself to read Russian and French, and indulge in mathematics at the age of 4. Mozart, son of a successful composer, crafted his first composition at the age of 5. 

2. Skilled or Learned Persons 

The majority of successful people in the arts, music, athletics, and many other fields achieve their success from developing a rudimentary or basic inherited or natural ability through education, practice, and consistent development.

I’m in this group, drawing and playing music when I was very young, but it never came easy.

This is the group that is credits hard work and dedication for their success. A commitment to their ability, skill, or craft is often enmeshed with a passionate desire to excel in that field, be it for fame, wealth, or personal satisfation. 

3. Determined or Persistents 

Another group are those people born without any indication of inherited or natural skill or ability in a particular field, yet through sheer determination and desire, become versed through intense repetition, routine, observation, and study. 

Remember Gary from the beginning of this story? He was one of these folks. For him and people like him, it is possible to have no ability in music, art, math, or athletics throughout their entire lives, but make a conscious decision to pursue or learn those abilities with the goal to succeed where most people would give up, quit, or simply not bother. 


Unlike those born with a rare, natural talent, most people are born with an ability at a very basic level. Scribbling with Crayons, banging on toy instruments, or being good building with Lego’s, for example. However, if these skills go unpursued or unnurtured, they are typically not realized and fade away. The artist never emerges. The musician is never heard. And the architect never builds. 

For many born without any indication of ability in a specific field, to see someone who did pursue and nurture their abilities, developing them into functional skills, they look on with a heighten impression, often reflecting and comparing against their own abilities or success in that field. 

In example, a successful financial manager looks upon a fine artist in total amazement at their ability to paint. Yet, the painter looks upon the financial manager in total amazement at their ability to generate wealth. 

But, how each defines the other’s ability is where the words become confusing. The most frequent reactions to those successful in fields in which a high level of skill or ability can be measured are comments like talented, fortunate, lucky, or blessed, as with other words like, special, unique, amazing, brilliant, or genius. 

So, what does it mean when someone says, “You are so talented!” or “Your work is amazing?”


When we see an athlete perform at a level that is higher than the average athlete, saying, “amazing” seems appropriate in the sense that the feat they accomplished left us amazed, again, in comparison to the level we or others are able to perform at. 

Saying “blessed” to a musician who has the ability to evoke an emotional reaction from us seems appropriate in recognizing that they have an almost supernatural ability to create music. Or telling an artist how “talented” they are because their ability exceeds the average abilities of other artists seems acceptable in recognizing their skill. 

Again, these words are merely measurements in comparing the level of success of one person to ourselves, another, or a group. However, what these complimentary intentions do not factor in when measuring against others is the amount of work, dedication, and effort that went into acquiring those skills or abilities.


The downside to being told, “you are so lucky to be able to draw so well” or “that story you wrote was brilliant” is that they do not take into account the perspective of the person they’re being said to. For example: 

  • Being told that the results of your work or performance are based on being lucky, blessed, or fortunate do not factor in the hours and years spent developing the skills needed to produce that work. 
  • Being told you’re talented assumes that the years spent immersed in rigorous exercise, committed to excelling, are nothing more than something you were born with. 
  • Being told the work you do is brilliant often over-emphasizes the reality of how good the work actually is, when it may be just good or even average. 

So, then if telling someone they are talented or blessed does not recognize the effort put forth in developing certain skills, and saying their work is amazing or special is an overly dramatic response to average work, then what are we supposed to say? 


Compliments (a polite expression of praise or admiration) 

The best compliments often come in the form of simple statements, like, “I thoroughly enjoyed your story,” “your art inspires me to paint,” or “you played a really good game tonight.” If you examine what the best possible responses to those comment would be, they might be, “thank you,” “I’m happy to hear that,” or “that’s kind of you to say.” 

In contrast, being told “you’re so talented,” might evoke an inner dialogue that they worked hard for their skills, and they were not just born with them. The same with being told “you’re so lucky,” suggesting that hard work and dedication had nothing to do with being skilled and that it was just pure luck. 

Criticism (unfavorable expressions based on perceived fault or error)

Some people consider it acceptable to go beyond a simple compliment and provided criticism. This can be tricky, because sometimes the criticism can often reveal unseen truths that might enlighten or be of benefit to the recipient. However, they can also cause embarrassment or even rejection.

The term “unwelcomed criticism” usually comes when a critique is not warranted or requested, but someone chooses to provide it anyway. And if the criticism comes from someone unversed or only mildly familiar in the subject, it can often be construed as offensive.

Criticism is best delivered when it’s requested and in a manner that is constructive with the intent to positively reinforce the existing level of the recipient while highlighting an area in which their skills may need to be addressed or further developed.

No one wants to hear, “hey, you played a good game tonight, and while I’m no athlete, there’s some things you need to improve on.” But, it’s a wise recipient who is willing to listen and hopefully find a pearl of wisdom that they can leverage to their benefit. 

Objective Responses 

An objective response is a basic response or compliment recognizing the recipient’s work, performance, or effort, that most people would easily agree with. “Your song was easy to dance to” or “your watercolor painting is well done.” These comments typically evoke a common response of “thank you.” 

Subjective Responses 

Subjective responses are often designed to provoke further dialogue beyond a basic compliment. “Your story was really sad – what did you base it on?” These responses can sometimes put the recipient on-the-spot by asking them to reveal information or techniques they may not want to, but it will more often excite them into a more personal, intimate discussion of their skills, mostly because someone was interested enough to ask. 

So, the point of the discussion is not to suggest that paying compliments regarding another person’s skills, achievements, or efforts should be so carefully considered that it comes out insincere, bland, or generic. 

Good work deserves valuable recognition. Praise is the most common way of communicating that recognition. The point is to offer an alternative insight in ways to, perhaps, open wider channels of communication, to bring the recipient of the compliment into a broader dialogue and more informative engagement through a simple effort of recognizing the extent of their efforts and posing questions to help reveal more detail and insight, while offering the potential to share information in both a relevant and supportive, positive discussion. 

As always, thank you so much for reading and I hope this was an enjoyable and perhaps, insightful piece. Cheers!