It’s time to rethink talent. Talents may be artistic or technical, mental or physical, personal or social. You can be a talented introvert or a talented extrovert. Your talents need not be profitable, useful, or conventional, but they will always be your own, a part of what makes you into you. Learning to look for your talents in the right places and building those talents into skills and abilities might take some work, but going about it creatively will let you explore your natural abilities and find your innate talents.
Part 1 of 3: Looking For Talents
- Stop waiting for talents to appear.You can’t know if you’ve got a talent for guitar if you never try and play guitar. Ditto didgeridoo, knitting, badminton, and Tuvan throat singing. Find a talent that seems cool and learn everything you can about it. Find out what it takes and see what you’ve got. If you never try, you’ll never know. You’re not going to find a talent without trying. You can only find your natural abilities, skills, and talents when you test your mettle and actively seek new experiences. Face down obstacles and seek out challenges to see what innate skills and abilities you might be hiding.
- Make it your goal to try something new every week. You might not discover something that you’re super-talented at, but maybe you pick up a guitar one day and find out it feels comfortable in your hands and decide to learn more. Maybe you discover an ability to connect with animals at the shelter, something you’d never experienced before. Maybe you learn you’re an ace at the Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball machine at the Laundromat. That’s the start of talent
- Get outside and scrape your knees. Go on adventures and experience the world in its natural habitat. Try out different sports, outdoor hobbies like fishing, hiking, and climbing to see if you’ve got an untapped natural ability or an instinct for it.
- Try things that are easy.What comes naturally to you? What do you do without thinking? What do you love? Look to your obsessions and your interests for the possibility of talent. If you love to spend all day doodling, reading, or dancing, there’s no point in wasting time wishing you had a talent for baking. Focus on the talents you do have by focusing on what comes easiest to you.
- If you’re in school, what homework comes most easily to you? What worries you the least? That might clue you in to natural talents.
- Pay attention to what other people might have noted about you. It’s common that others might have a keener sense of what you’re good at that you will yourself. Ask your family, your friends, and your teachers to help you figure out what you make look easy.
- Try things that are hard.Does the stage frighten you, or maybe public speaking? Writing a story and finishing it? Grab the mic and put pen to paper. Do what scares you. What would be your bucket list talent? What would you love to be naturally good at, without trying? Face down big challenges and find out what it takes to be good at them.
- Start learning everything you can about different talents and skills to demystify the process. Shredding an electric guitar like Hendrix might look impossible, but if you don’t know a G chord from a flatpick, you don’t really have any clue how hard it is.
- James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader and noted Shakespearean actor with a booming, godlike voice, suffered from terrible stuttering as a child. He was terrified of speaking in class and only learned to speak properly by facing his fear. Now, he’s widely recognized as one of the most talented voice actors in the world.
- Follow your obsessions.What are other people tired of hearing you talk about? What do you have to drag yourself away from? Use the things you’re obsessed with to discover abilities and talents that might be hiding under the surface.
- Even if you’re obsessed with something that’s hard to connect to a talent, like watching television or movies, give yourself some credit. Maybe you have a talent for telling stories, or analyzing narratives. Maybe you have a talent for appreciating camera angles. Every film critic gets a start in the exact same way. Channel that obsession into learning about film history and learning how movies are made.
- Keep track of little successes.If you’re feeling talentless, maybe it’s because you’ve been missing out on your own successes. Try to pay close attention to successes, both little and big, to identify things for which you might have a natural talent. Think creatively about how these little successes might connect to more significant talents and abilities.
- Maybe you’ve just thrown a killer party. Might not sound like a talent, but if you’ve got the people skills, the planning, and the organization abilities necessary to pull it off, celebrate that as a success. Maybe you have leadership talents and managerial skills that will prove useful down the road.
- Ignore the television.Shows like “America’s Got Talent” have very narrow definitions of what it means to be talented. If you’re not an attractive young person with a manufactured sob story and a loud, showy singing voice, these shows all lead people to believe they’re untalented. It’s not true. Being talented doesn’t mean being famous, being attractive, or being some kind of performer. It means dedication, creative thinking, and attention to detail. It means you have an insatiable curiosity to develop some innate abilities into skills. You’ve just got to find them.
Part 2 of 3: Getting Creative
- Take a personality quiz.Personality quizzes are often used in job-finding offices to try and figure out what you might have a natural ability for. It works the same way with talent. Learning more about your natural proclivities for and against certain ideas, attitudes, and behaviors can help you figure out more about your talents. These sorts of tests do not identify talents in and of themselves, but they can lend insights that might provide part of the puzzle.
- Talk to your friends and family.One of the best ways to figure out what hidden talents you might have is to talk to the people who know you best. We tend to look over our skills and cover up our abilities, missing out too often on what makes us great. If you’re lucky enough to have friends and family who care about you, they won’t be so shy about pointing them out.
- Look at both your strengths and your weaknesses for talent possibilities. One way to think about talent is to think about some preternatural ability to do something, to make this thing look easy. Another way to think about it is to think about talent as the ability to overcome some obstacle. Was Blind Willie Johnson a more talented guitar player for having been blinded? Was James Earl Jones a better actor for having stuttered? Was Michael Jordan a better ball player for having been cut from the team?
- Don’t let perceived shortcomings or challenges keep you from trying new things and developing talent. Look at things that someone else might have identified as challenges in your personality or your ability. If you’re a shy person, might it be all the more impressive if you were a great rock ‘n roller singer? If you’re especially short, might you be a great ball player?
4. Define talent for yourself.Some people think Hendrix was the best guitar player of all time, but he couldn’t have played a classic piece on guitar to save his life, because he couldn’t read music. He might have been able to, if he put his mind to it, but a classical musician might well look on Hendrix as a talentless hack. Don’t let other people tell you that being an excellent Razor scooter rider isn’t a “real” talent, or that making a really good grilled cheese doesn’t count.
Part 3 of 3: Building on Talent
- Commit to building your talent into a skill.Ryan Leaf was going to be the next big thing. A great football quarterback, finalist for the Heisman, second-overall pick in the NFL draft. Fast forward a few years, and Leaf is considered one of the biggest busts of all time, having failed to achieve on a high level. Natural talent for playing football doesn’t mean anything if you don’t commit to building it into a skill.
- When you find your talent, think of it like a seed that you’re planting. You’re off to a good start, but you’ve still got to water it, mulch it, and weed around the edges to make sure your seed grows into a big plant. It takes work.
- Find other talented people.As iron sharpens iron, so one talented person sharpens another. If you’ve got a talent for something, or even if you just hope to develop talent in some field, surround yourself with other talented people and model yourself after their behaviors, practice routines, and attitudes about their talent. Learn everything you can from talented people.
- Find a mentorwho’s willing to show you the ropes and coach you in developing your new skills. Blossoming guitar players need good teachers beyond YouTube. Blossoming singers need other people to play music with.
- Respect the complexity of your talent.Developing your talent into a skill and your skill into an ability is going to be hard. The more you learn about a subject, a task, or an ability, the more complicated it becomes. Commit to learning everything you can about your field and challenging yourself to become a master. Turn your talent into something special. Make your talent real.
- Even if you’ve got no talent for the guitar, practicing two hours a day guarantees that you’ll get a lot better. Someone who practices, whether it be sport, art, or any other field, will always end up more talented than someone who never picks up their instrument, picks up their paintbrush, someone who never practices. Hard work outruns ability every time.