The Burden of Talent at a Young Age

I’ve seen this scenario a thousand times:

Gifted kid in high school… good looking… smart… athletic…

Never had to study because he “was a good test taker…”

Able to charm his way out of late homework…

Probably voted “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Most Popular” in the senior yearbook.

But did he succeed?

Whether or not the fallout started in college or the real world was probably an indicator of how talented he actually was… but the shortcuts eventually caught up; leaving him with a false sense of entitlement and an empty wallet.

You see, in the real world, talent isn’t rewarded… production is.

In other words, you don’t get paid for being able to solve problems… you get paid for actually solving them; which often takes time, effort, and “the grind.” That’s why you often see the less talented, but hard working, high school kid sneak up on the studs and become successful in life. They never had a large enough ego to convince them that they didn’t need to do the hard work.

“The Grind”

“The Grind” is a term used to describe the boring, tedious, painful little actions that need to be done to accomplish a result. I’ve been in about a dozen career fields in my lifetime and every single one of them required “the grind” to get ahead… at least at first.

When I was a kid mowing lawns… I had to knock on doors and get rejected ten times before I picked up a client.

When I was building my bulk candy vending business… I had to get rejected by ten store owners before one would take my gumball machine.

When I was in film production… I had to get coffee and make copies for bosses ten years younger than me before I was promoted.

Now, when we buy investment houses…we have to talk to twenty home sellers before we find a deal that works.

If you’ve chosen the right career field, a lot of hard work in “the grind” can lead to easier and easier ways to make money as you build wealth or get promoted, but the principle remains that it’s all about production… not talent.

It’s All About the Ratios

The science behind the grind is that production is a ratio of energy exerted. The best examples I can think of are in sales (which you may not think apply to you; but sales permeates everything in life from closing a house to negotiating which movie to watch with your spouse.)

In sales, everyone is familiar with the term “close ratio.”

For example: a store that sells kettle corn might advertise free kid-size bags of corn in the local entertainment paper. The ad attracts 100 moms with kids, 50 of which just take their free popcorn and run.

The remaining 50 buy larger bags to take home, and 20 of those sign up for the “flavor of the week” program where they pay $20 a month to get a free bag of kettle corn each week.

This particular store had a 50% close ratio on regular corn and a 20% close ratio on the monthly program. The salesperson behind the counter had to be rejected by 50 people to get 50 regular sales, and by 80 people to get 20 “flavor of the month” sales.

No matter how talented you are, only a portion of your effort will be rewarded in life. More talented people might have higher “close ratios”, but it doesn’t matter if they are not participating in “the grind” to begin with.

“The Grind Doesn’t Apply to Me”

I write with such contempt for talent-waste because it started to happen to me before I realized what was going on.

I breezed through junior high and high school (with honors) without ever taking my mother seriously when she told me to finish my homework before I go out to play. In college I boasted a self-proclaimed “highest GPA to attendance ratio in university history.”

(I had a 3.5 GPA, which meant the ratio was probably close to 10.0!)

I was clearly skating by on my talents and I thought that I had schmoozed all the teachers into loving me until I ran into an old high school friend at my 10 year reunion. It was great to see her for the first time in many years and I learned that she had become a teacher at our hometown junior high.

The funny thing was: most of my old teachers still worked there and she gossiped with them every day in the teacher’s lounge. I started to feel a little uncomfortable under the collar as the expression on her face turned into an evil grin.

“They had a nickname for you…. Do you want to know what it was?”

Before I could spit out “no”, she blurted out in laughter, “Doesn’t Apply To Me Lee!

My heart sunk. I pictured myself as the model student; but clearly, the teachers
were smart enough to know my skating ways (even if they were complicit by enabling me).

New Beginnings

The experience made me reflect and realize that my talents had handicapped my progress in the real world. Skipping “the grind” was all I knew in high school and college… why wouldn’t I carry that over to my career?

That’s when I started to force myself to knock on doors to place gumball machines, even if i didn’t like it.

Now, it seems obvious. Success is a combination of “the grind” and talent… with a strong lean towards “the grind”. The good news is: if less talented people are succeeding at “the grind,” imagine how successful a more talented person would be if he just worked harder.

The Higher Levels

The highest paid jobs in our society are for creative problem solving. People that can use their heads to create new products, systems, plans, etc. stand to make a lot of money.

Talent is definitely a much higher factor in these jobs, the problem is: you have to go through the grind to get there. You have to know what it’s like to be in sales before you can be the CEO.

Types of Talent

We’ve mainly been talking about intelligence: the type where you can ace a high school test without studying; but the bottom line is that any major advantage you have over others at an early age might come back to bite you.

A good example is attractiveness.

Extremely attractive people have an advantage over others starting at an early age. They’re more popular, they get away with more bad behavior, and people coddle to their needs more than their less-attractive peers. This can lead to the same false-sense of entitlement as extremely intelligent people.

Someone who is born into wealth can face the same issue. Not having to work as hard to get what you want can “soften you up” in your later years.

Awareness

The key is to be aware of falling into the trap. If you are a person to whom things come easily, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at your choices and habits. The difference between a great life and a good life might just be a little bit of “the grind” to get you started.