Is Talent Overrated?

Meera was in class 4 when a teacher called out her name for an audition for the play “Peter Rabbit”. She was short and slightly plump with red cheeks and a glint of naughtiness in her eyes. By the looks of it, she seemed cut out for the role. And well, luckily, it landed in her lap without much effort. She was going to play the protagonist at the young age of nine. It was indeed a huge opportunity and her first instinct was to cram up the dialogue at the earliest. And so, she did!


The first rehearsal or rather the first reading of the play was held before a senior nun of the school, who also happened to be composing music for it. Meera had memorized the dialogue and tried to emote well. At the end of the reading, she thought she had managed reasonably if not phenomenally well.

However, the very next day she was in for a big surprise. A friend, whose mother happened to be a teacher in the school, informed her that the senior nun was not very pleased with her acting skills. She categorically pointed out that Meera had a very strong local accent, which was so unsuited for an English play. But there was a glimmer of hope. Her friend also told her that it had been decided that Meera would be given a week’s time to work on her speech and if all went well, she wouldn’t be replaced.

For someone as young as nine years of age, this was quite demotivating and yet, she wasn’t giving up. For one complete week, her routine comprised of long readings in front of the mirror back home; intently listening to her teacher’s dialogue delivery; taking a mental note of the instructions given and putting them down in a diary, maintained specially for the purpose. It was a week of trying tongue twisters, reading aloud, paying attention to her tone and clarity and even learning to swallow excess saliva!

At the end of that one week, Meera was retained and went on to play the role of Peter Rabbit! On the day of the final performance, the senior nun walked up to her mother and showered praises on her immensely talented daughter. It was a moment of pride for Meera’s mother, who was one of the witnesses to the hard work she had put in.

Thereafter, Meera was a regular participant at school plays, debates, elocution and other public speaking forums. She carried forward her interest to college and then to the university, where she moved backstage to learn the nuances of production and wrote for journals and magazines. Years later, even at her work place, she got ample opportunities to conduct the stage and didn’t mind taking charge.

So, why should Meera be discussed here?

While at school, Meera sometimes experienced an uneasiness among her friends, who thought that it was unfair that she was picked up instantly for stage events. Also, it was a general notion back in college that God had emptied his coffers just for her. But was Meera really exceptionally talented, or, was there more to her?

Have you ever wondered why an acquaintance or a friend, who is probably as talented as you are, gets all the accolades, while you just sit somewhere in the background? There is no dearth of talent in the world. Then why is it that some people go on to win the Nobel Prize while others aren’t even recognized? If you are unique, then so is everyone else. Then why should some people have it all? Is it that they are actually a storehouse of talent?

Well, it might break some hearts, but the answer is a big NO!!

Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated expounds that it is not talent but the amount of time one dedicates to their passion that ensures excellence. It is not so much innate theatrical flair or knack, dear friends, but that one week of consistent hard work, of setting her mind to that task of getting her speech correct that made Meera “Peter Rabbit”.

Yes, hard work is the key. But more than that, it is focusing on that one thing that you want. Ever asked a scientist how many hours they spent in the laboratory before that one breaking discovery? Or ever asked a musician the number of clock hours before dawn that they devoted to their music? Or a writer, who burnt the midnight oil to write five-hundred words, only to burn it all up the next morning? Which reminds me of the great Roald Dahl who supposedly wrote five hundred words every day, only to erase three hundred by the time the sun went down. He would constantly work at a single story for six months to one year sometimes. The catch is, he never gave up in between.

I once had a teacher, who always insisted on wearing blinders like race horses. She believed that blinders helped to focus on what was ahead rather than what was at the side or behind. Of course, disciplined horses don’t require blinders.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Maybe, just maybe, Einstein or Beethoven did have those genes, but had it not been for their crazy devoutness to their cause, they may have settled for an ordinary life.

Once again, I do not think that the ordinary is profane. By no means! In fact, success is a very subjective term. It depends on what brings fulfillment to an individual. It is pursued for different reasons. Therefore, it comes to each one at a different time and in a different way, and it would be unfair to compare. And if not practicing your talent is a deal with you, there is no harm in it. For as John Milton had once said, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’

What I wish to assert is that if you ever wonder what happened to your innate talent, then let me tell you that there is no one lucky person who is born with a special gift. It is just that the longer you take to fizz out, the more sustainable your talent is! So, maybe, you just decided to fizz out wee bit early. For those who decided not to give up anytime soon, well, that’s how they wrote those “talent(ed)” columns.

And if you ask me, the columns were surely overrated!

9 thoughts on “Is Talent Overrated?”

  1. I enjoyed your thought-provoking post. I agree that innate talent won’t get anyone very far without a great deal of hard work. As far as success goes, particularly in the arts, I think there is a certain amount of luck and chance involved in addition to hard work.

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