How Talent Can Hold You Back

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.


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.

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  1. Davida January 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Great Article… I definitely needed this. There are some goals I need to achieve this year that would definitely require that I knock on 10 or even more doors before I get an answer…

    Wishing you the best the year has to offer!

  2. Miks January 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    this is like material for a book, man! really good points here!

  3. Gordie January 5, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Wow! This is a refreshing and well written post and a topic I haven’t read about before.

    I think I don’t have the problem of being talented, but have a a grind ethic which I know has helped me “surpass” many of my more talented and wealthy school mates who have fallen into drugs, depression and even suicide. I think you’re so right that the grind is going to beat the talented non-grinder.

    Those who are truly blessed are those who are talented grinders. :)

  4. Matt January 5, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    If you want an in-depth discussion of this very concept, with real scientific studies to boot, read the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck:

    It talks all about the difference between having the “Fixed Mindset” (I’m intelligent, good looking, etc.) vs. the “Growth Mindset” (I can do anything if I work hard enough), and how much of a difference it makes in life.

    HIGHLY recommended book, ESPECIALLY if you have smart or good-looking kids. :)


  5. Brian Lee January 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Thanks Gordie! I appreciate your take.

  6. Brian Lee January 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Hey, thanks Miks!

  7. Brian Lee January 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Love the recommendation.. I’ll check it out.

  8. Brian Lee January 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Thank you, and may this be your best year as well!

  9. Robert January 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Great article, I like your formula talent + grind = success.

  10. Dave Bullok January 6, 2011 at 2:46 am #


    I enjoyed your article.
    I am not one of the talented academically.
    I have educated myself by reading and experience.
    I have observed while working in a university
    town at a grocery store,the ones who are appearantly
    smart,but lack maturity.
    I have a brother who is talented,but has a
    difficult time keeping his nose to the grind.
    He has a high I.Q.,but
    psychologically afraid of something.
    I have thought about asking him
    what he is struggling with.
    I would like advice on how to
    encourage him,but pride runs very thick,
    and so do defenses.

    Dave B.

  11. Brian Lee January 6, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    It’s delicate with family… Some of those things are best left alone. I would say the best thing you could do is to be a good listener and there for him as much as you can, and maybe he will come to you one day for advice.

  12. Brian Lee January 6, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Thanks Robert!

  13. David Fisher January 6, 2011 at 10:00 am #


    Good read. I was always the class clown that could get 100 on a test. I was very articulate but never handed in homework. I learned how to play the numbers game to get by in school. For each assignment not turned in you los so many points. I would calculate how much I could slack off and still pass. It took me joining the Air Force to Apply myself. Motivation can not be taught it has to come from within.
    I found my calling I think I will stop at 100 doors. 60 more to go. Then I become a true mentor full time for fun.

  14. Richard Duszczak January 6, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Hi Brian,
    Great article!
    I remember years ago when I started out as a freelance cartoonist. My artwork was total cra*p but my ideas were good. I was really annoyed on numerous occasions when editors said they’d get a ‘proper’ illustrator to redraw my ideas. They’d just pay me for the ideas. But I knuckled down with hard work to improve my style – and here I am nearly 30 years later still working freelance and getting the illustrating part of the job every time. So I agree totally: Talent+grind+action=success!

    Let’s me know what you think to my motivational/sel improvement cartoons at:

    PS. Maybe I could illustrate your next self improvement article!? ; )

  15. Brian Lee January 6, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Love it, David! Seems’ we’ve got more and more in common!

  16. Brian Lee January 6, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Hey, that’s not a bad idea… Keep in contact with me.

  17. Steve Carlson January 6, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    A Really good read…thanks for reminding us to do what works, over and over again until the goal is reached. I have to remind myself every week to do work on basics (the grind as you call it). Sometimes success can cause you to get your eye off the basics so thanks again for the article. – Steve

  18. Brian Lee January 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    Great feedback, Steve

  19. Emil January 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Wow, again great stuff Brian. I think an analogy many of us could relate to is sports. There are so many athletes that have incredible gifts that find it easy at the “amateur” level (high school, even college) that they don’t develop the discipline to continue to get better – so by the time they get to the pros where EVERYONE has that potential, it’s those with the discipline to go through the grind that will succeed.

  20. Emil January 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Actually just another quick thought about sports. One thing one of my coaches in school talked about was that there was no excuse for lack of hustle. Lack of physical gifts and natural gifts could possibly be genetic, but everyone was responsible for their own hustle or lack of hustle. Just another sports analogy that I think works with your article about going through the grind.

  21. Troy L. January 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Awareness is everything.

  22. Douglas Eby January 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Thanks for your helpful perspectives. Another quality related to “grind” is perseverance.

    “Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

    “What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills.” From NY Times op-ed by David Brooks – in my post Grit and perseverance mean more than talent and high aptitude

  23. Charles January 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    If you love what you do..Then you’ll never work a day in your life..

  24. Omar February 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    Explosive article. You see how life plays out as you mentioned. Those who were incredibly smart become drifters in life and those that were average do exceedingly well. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. But your right a person has to have tenacity and take steps necessary to achieve goals.

  25. Will Edwards February 11, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Some good observations here. I personally believe that problem-solving is just about the most important life skill. Your comment that people don’t get paid for their ability to solve problems, but for actually solving them is spot-on.

    Will :)

  26. Brian Lee February 11, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    Thanks, Will!

  27. Tanya February 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    I have to say I really enjoyed your article, it was really eye opening for me.
    Unfortunately it ended a bit too quickly for me.
    However I now have been pointed in the right direction, which i think was your intention in the first place.
    Thank you.

  28. Brian Lee February 19, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    I’m glad you stumbled upon it!

  29. Matt Goodrich February 21, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    I also agree that this is a great article Brian! Grabbed my attention right away because the guy you were speaking about was me. Recently, I’ve begun to acknowledge the need to keep my nose to the grind. With a lot of sweat equity combined with more education, my time will come. Thanks for the great article and look forward to more. Please let me know how I can find all the great articles you make available. Thanks again.

  30. Ramona Banfield March 10, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Great article. Unfortunately, many people never learn instead they go through life making bad choices then blame everyone else for the consequences and end up going to alcohol and other drugs to try to drown their troubles caused by their wrong choices.

  31. Brian Lee March 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Great point Ramona!

  32. Kuya Otep March 23, 2011 at 4:33 am #

    At first, I always thinking a negative perception that I am not talented enough to write articles for others to read. You really inspire to continue my passion to write. Yours is very helpful points to improve ourselves for the better. Just encountered this new-comer persoanl development blog with great articles posted at . My heartful thanks for this one. Keep it up! God bless

  33. Guido April 4, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Thanks for the great post! I was touched when you talk about your old schoolmate.
    It is often the way that other people open our own eyes. And we need self reflection to grow, happily other people can help us with this.
    thanks again.

  34. Louis | Self Achiever April 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    You saved the best for last. Awareness is being. If we are not aware then even if we grind it out, we get lost in the grind instead of smelling the flowers while on the journey. What you’re describing comes with age, but some never get there. Our culture has catered toward instant gratification, so today grinders are had to come by.

  35. Cassie Lang April 6, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    Thank you for this inspiring post.

    I think we all have a talent, it’s just some of us are willing to recognise what ours is and work hard at being great at it.

    For me, learning, working hard and adapting is what is going to make me good at my ‘talent’. I know a few people, who think success is just going to come to them because they think they deserve it, yet they do very little about making it happen and blame others when things go wrong.

    Thanks again!

  36. Lilian Saum April 8, 2011 at 2:38 am #

    Hi !

    Great post, Brian. However, talent is not genius and yes, often times it works against someone who doesn’t work with tremendous care and application to details. Yet, who knows exactly what’s happening in the mind of a young talented person who seems to win so easily ?
    For one thing what I’ve noticed from people I’ve been following who had this attitude is:
    - up to a certain point their talent was sufficient to sustain their efforts and bring them some successes and achievements
    -they reached a certain point when they mixed with the crowd and whatever sparkle of real genius was there got lost
    - in a way or another, if no effort was done to upgrade they seem to be aware of the loss ( apparent in keeping the same cocky attitude but mixed with hesitation and mockery towards the guy who is really striving for high ideals )
    - overemphasis on the material side of life.
    So as you correctly pointed out ” the grind” may often hide a real genius, or at least one who achieves substantial success (on all facets of life).
    And yes, sometimes extremely attractive people end up losing all their beauty and charm very early because they either take it for granted or put so much value on it, they end up being unaware of other potential gifts.
    in the end success is all about being aware of all you’ve been endowed with and use it 100% and being grateful.

  37. Scissor lift training toronto April 22, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    Great job.I was always the class clown that could get 100 on a test. I was very articulate but never handed in homework. I was really annoyed on numerous occasions when editors said they’d get a ‘proper’ illustrator to redraw my ideas. They’d just pay me for the ideas. 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. . Please let me know how I can find all the great articles you make available. Thanks again.

  38. Joe Zimmermann May 2, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Dear Brian,
    I’ve had some problems in school, my (not so smart) psychiatrist believes that I have A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder). The truth is, I just don’t care and I’m bored with everything that we’ve been doing in class so I just don’t try my hardest or end up not turning in the work I’m supposed to be doing.
    Just recently I was in class and we were dividing into group, so I went over to my good friend Emily and asked her is she’d like to be in a group and she said no very quickly. I decided not to pry, I thought if she was mad at me and I pried it would aggravate her further. The next morning I decided to ask her what was the matter.
    “I just didn’t want to be in a group with you because I knew you wouldn’t do the work.” She said. From that, my ego was slightly damaged because I never knew she thought so low of me.
    “So, you think I’m stupid.” I inquired, thinking that’s what she meant.
    “Holy crap no!” She exclaimed. “Joe, I think that your brilliant. Hell, your smarter than me, than anyone I know. The reason is, you just don’t apply yourself. It makes me sad.”
    Then I asked more of my friends if that’s the way that they think of me, and they all said the same exact thing.
    Reading this made me look back on every moment that has passed since I can remember this has been the summary of me. I always thought I had been halfway witful and now I just think that I’m wasted on myself.
    So in summary, thank you so, so bloody much for posting this and helping me better understand what I go through is not all that different from what others have done.
    P.S. Sorry if I’m ranting on, this is the first time I’ve told this story. I’m really sorry to any grievance any one has with this post.

  39. Brian Lee May 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I’m glad you posted, Joe!

  40. Doug | personal development training June 9, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Yes, there are talented and gifted people. But I’ve seen some who became successful in their own niche with efforts and patience. It really depends on the person.

  41. Mario Fanzolato | Life Coach June 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Great post Brian! I think “The Grind”, as you described it, can be applied to every aspect of a person’s life. As an example, I often complain (to myself) about my home office being cluttered and disorganized; I look around and feel claustrophobic, swamped with to-do lists and so forth. But laziness in my physical actions gets the best of me. This definitely hinders my productivity in the long-term. Rushing never did anyone any good. Doing things well, in a straight-forward, structured manner did. But without the grind, without taking the time to properly remove the garbage from your living space, and even from your mind (figuratively speaking of course)… results don’t become a reality. It took me years of waiting for good things to happen (because I also felt I had talent – and should be recognized and compensated for it), before I realized that hard work and perseverance were two of the main factors contributing to success.

  42. Courtney Jones Media June 27, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Hi Brian,

    Its true that there only few peoples who got their desired success. But its not that tough to achieve, they were passionate and hard worker, that’s why they got it. They are human as like us, if they can achieve their goal, then why we can’t? Obviously we will be too. Just have to be a little passionate and hard working. Thanks for your inspiring post. Keep it up.

  43. Dan | Confidence Course June 28, 2011 at 2:53 am #

    I always have a little part of me that resists the idea that you have to work hard to be successful. To me, it’s all about your perspective! I don’t believe that someone who labels the hard work as “the grind” is going to get on as well as someone who gives it a more attractive label! Having a positive focus gives you a sense that you are moving forward… if you get up every day and say, “To be successful, I must go through the grind”, you’re going to have a tough time staying motivated…

    I get up every day and find some way to enjoy every aspect of the work I do… there is joy in even the smallest and seemingly most meaningless task.

    I’m all for massive action, but I’m not for “the grind”.

  44. Rebecca Cheng June 29, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    Brian, after reading and re-reading your article and comments lights kept coming on. And I’ll say this, you are a “Definitely Applies To Me Lee!” Your story so clearly describes the lives of many talented people who simply fall into mediocrity and wonder why.

    There is that perseverence for success that all those successful stories of people do achieve. It matters not their IQ or that 4.0 GPA. In fact, dig deeper and these super high income success stories will tell you they actually enjoy and love their chosen field. Those whose thoughts are simply at the ball game all day are driving towards mediocrity.

  45. Bodybuilding Diets July 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I definitely agree with you on this– no matter how talented you are, the end result will depend on how productive you are. After all, talent only gets you noticed. In order to stay on top, you will have to show what you’ve got.

  46. Customized Fat Loss July 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Big companies, employ people who have both the IQ and the good study habits. The IQ test shows that you have the brains that they need. And your study habits tells them how hardworking you are, ensuring them that you know how to use your brain. So, to all the geniuses out there, just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean that you can be lazy.

  47. What to Invest In July 30, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Forgive my stupidity, but this post seems like having talent is a bad thing. I know that in the real world, productivity is what matters most. But for those who take their talent and turn it into a job, this does not apply to them…

  48. Brian Lee July 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Talent is not a bad thing… it’s just not a good thing by itself. Talent + hard work is golden…

  49. Bombastic September 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    This is something I had to learn through experience and focused effort to change. I grew up with talent, being able to learn the basics of anything really easily. But that always made me a slacker because I didn`t really HAVE to work hard to do well.

    But that doesn`t translate well into success in the real world.

  50. Ralph September 14, 2011 at 4:11 am #

    Really good stuff! The book “Talent Is Overrated” pointed out something very similar. They are finding that “smart” and “talented” is not a good indicator of who will succeed. They are also finding that many people with higher IQs are more likely to develop a habit of procrastination since they had to work less at getting good grades in school. Its an interesting paradox.


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