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.

How Talent Can Hold You Back

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.


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86 Responses to “How Talent Can Hold You Back”

  1. jack foley September 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm //

    you cant beat hard graft…

    its not how good you are but how badly you want it..

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  2. Raymond Cubeta October 24, 2011 at 2:07 am //

    Hey, great post. I received a lot of great value from this it.

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  3. Embellished Minds November 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm //

    Great article!

    We are infinite beings with untapped powers and knowledge.
    The only thing that is holding us back from success is ourselves.
    Learn how to live consciously and change our “limiting beliefs”
    and the world will be our playground.

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  4. Upgradify November 24, 2011 at 10:19 am //

    I don’t think that talent is negative. Even if talented people can’t produce results at first, they are able to learn the skills needed in work. Sure it might be that untalented people can provide results some times but generally they don’t know either how to provide results.

    Thank you for the post.

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  5. Sandrine January 27, 2012 at 9:33 am //

    Thanks a lot for article, means a lot of support.
    Unfair world, is it not?
    Bit frustrating, to say the least…

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  6. Maui February 6, 2012 at 1:41 am //

    Thanks for this article! :-)

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  7. Christopher Burt February 17, 2012 at 9:16 am //

    Interesting read, this definitely sums me up. Currently breezing through college without applying myself that much. I will take this article into consideration from now on.

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  8. Digman March 22, 2012 at 9:13 am //

    Stole this quote from someone on Facebook. Fitting though. Great Post.
    “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”

    thanks Facebook person

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  9. GP Hintz March 24, 2012 at 10:58 am //

    Great stuff! I like how you turn it upside down. Many people think that talent is the thing that is going to get you there, but often it can be the one thing that is stopping you. I think the key is a balanced life, career and family. Balance trumps talent and allows for great synergy in every aspect of our lives. “Awareness” is SO IMPORTANT. Like Socrates said… “Know Thyself”. An endeavor that we all need to pursue a little more.

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  10. Andrew Liongosari April 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm //

    Thanks a lot! I just realized the real deal is to DO things, not to be ABLE to do them. And when we think we could easily, we tend not to. This is just one of the reasons effort is more important than talent…

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  11. Lorii Abela April 24, 2012 at 6:02 am //

    Great article. I have learned a lot from these. Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Joseph Perrotta April 24, 2012 at 11:23 am //

    While I agree with most comments in this post, I think that success breeds success.

    What I mean by that is while it is probably true that those who were gifted at a young age and didn’t have to work as hard were at an inherent disadvantage in the real world, the fact that they USED to be successful gives them a better chance of BEING successful.

    Why? If you are used to being great at something, and suddenly are not, it sucks. Do you think that person would continue on that route, or would they change whatever they are doing to become great again? I vote the latter.

    For those who were always mediocre, they don’t know anything different, and are more likely to stay on the same path.

    There are of course deviations from both paths, but I do not believe that being gifted at a young age leads to a permanent disadvantage later in life, but rather a temporary setback that can be overcome with a bit of hard work.

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  13. Stephen Marden September 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm //

    I can relate to this so much.

    I had plenty of creative talent growing up and used it to skate through my early years.

    Talent alone got me nowhere.

    It took many years and lots of tough life lessons to learn how to put action behind the talent. However, once you put it all together….life can get quite wonderful.

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  14. Tony September 30, 2012 at 10:08 pm //

    Awesome Stuff, and this is so true. Great Post

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  15. moyo October 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm //

    Too many times we hear of the child prodigy who does great things….but somehow over the years, we don’t hear anything about the person. Talent is overrated on the quest for success. Rather, diligence and character are what’s key! Good one…

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  16. Colin November 19, 2012 at 8:58 pm //

    I’ve always been extremely talented, but I never new it for awhile till my mother started pointing it out to me. She enabled it for some time. I hit a wall, and for a long time I’ve been afraid to be good at things. As soon as someone pointed out to me my talents I started self sabotaging myself. For example I picked up golf quick, within weeks I had a 300 yard drive. It was pointed out to me and I started having horrible drives. I work hard at first, and I know thats why I get good. I put all my attention on something and only stop till someone points it out. That’s why it’s been important to me to find people moving at the same speed as myself, because I’m afraid of someone falling behind and going “hey, you’re further than me”. I don’t like knowing I’m good at things. I’m afraid to be good at things, and I don’t really know why. I hide my talents. I think it has to do with a fear of being taken advantage of, as I feel I have been in the past. If I over think it, I think I’m also afraid of taking advantage of others, the situation, or really of my talents and being left out to dry once they run out.

    I guess it’s the same thing, but I’m really not sure.

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  17. Inspirational Sayings About Life December 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm //

    Throw intelligence into the discussion too. Production is rewarded, not intelligence. And for good reason; I’m not complaining. I just think it’s a shock for smart people that coasted through college and always raised the praise of their professors, to enter the work environment and realize it’s all about what you DO, not what you know.

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  18. Lyn December 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm //

    Thanks for this article. With so much emphasis being given to the law of attraction lately, it’s good to be reminded that the grind is still very necessary to achieve what you desire.

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  19. Pooja July 2, 2013 at 5:47 am //

    You are so right. For some people, life is simply too easy, until the point where they realize that talent alone gets them nowhere. I believe the key is to find your personal talent and then working towards making it big by using that talent. For me, it happened the other way round. It took me many years of working very hard, before I finally realized that my talent lay in a completely different field.

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  20. Grace July 12, 2013 at 11:03 pm //

    This is a nice post! A really good insight into the “talented vs. hardworking” controversy. This article got me really hooked, because I was one of those students who could breeze by with a strong GPA without ever studying. To hear your thoughts and opinions on how those type of people aren’t successful got me really into thinking. I really do agree with you in “the talent isn’t rewarded, production is”. So, I started trying to think of a comeback to say to you, but truth is I have none! What you have explained is totally correct and a strong argument. What I can add, however, is that smarts is also what helps the person to be successful. And if the smart person can achieve more results than the hard-working person, then the smart person wins. So I guess maybe we can rank the people as “talented<hard-working<smart". Meaning, the smart gets more rewarded than the hard-working. And the hard-working gets more rewarded than the talented.

    Then…what if we combine the 3 in one person?!

    Possibilities are endless….!

    Good job on your blog and content. I have a blog myself; feel free to email me if you want to talk about blogging.

    -Grace

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  21. Ragnar August 19, 2013 at 5:04 pm //

    Although I always thought persistence was more important than talent, I must admit I never thought it could actually hold you back… thanks for the new perspective!

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  22. Joaseph Dabon September 26, 2013 at 9:45 pm //

    Agree 100%.I cannot number of people I took in based on their excellent scholastic records only to find that they were complete duds in the work place. Between a street smart guy and a cum laude,I’d go for the street smart anytime.

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  23. Rainer Proksch September 27, 2013 at 6:36 am //

    Thank you for the article. Every one has one or the other talent. Every human being in this world is gifted with a talent. The only thing is that, people sometimes fail to identify their original talent. If we go according to our talent we will enjoy what we do and can be successful in it.

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  24. Escape 38 Hours September 28, 2013 at 4:15 am //

    YOU CAN’T BE SUCCESSFUL ON TALENT ALONE! People are always whining that their talent is being wasted. You become big through dedicating yourself and bettering your talent.

    It’s how you use it, not what you have.

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  25. Aimee@Middle Finger Project October 3, 2013 at 2:53 pm //

    Great post, we sometimes forget how much work gets someone to where they are. We want the success without the work.

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  26. Liem October 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm //

    Talents without practicing and improving regularly will not make you successful. I see many normal people but they work hard on them-self, they develop their talents and become extremely successful. Thanks for the article. Very useful!

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  27. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:11 am //

    Yeah, in fact. Talent can sometimes make you lazy…

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  28. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:13 am //

    I’ve been guilty of that at one time or another…

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  29. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:15 am //

    Word…

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  30. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:16 am //

    I agree with that… Some people think they have “no talent”, but I think they just haven’t discovered theirs yet.

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  31. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:25 am //

    You’re welcome!

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  32. GT November 22, 2013 at 10:26 am //

    It’s kind of an eye-opener, isn’t it…

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  33. GT November 22, 2013 at 10:28 am //

    Isn’t that a son of a gun!

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  34. Joseph Dabon November 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm //

    In my experience, between being bright and being smart, being smart always wins.

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  35. GT November 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm //

    I like that… Meaning that being smart entails taking some sort of action over what your talents are.

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