Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Overthinking: What is talent, really?

Thursday, August 18, 2022
Graphic by Emma Kratky

How much of being great at something do you think is natural talent?

I once asked that to someone whose opinion I value highly, and they said 10%. At the time, that seemed way too low, but the more I think about it, the more Iím not sure.

When I was in high school, our schoolís most notoriously challenging math teacher had a board which ranked the top one through five students with the highest grade in the class, and many of my good friends frequented that board. I donít think I was resentful, as much as I was disillusioned ó I took classes with that teacher. I had a taste of what success would be like, but not success itself. And that bothered me.

Something I didnít think nearly as much about was how much work they put into it. I had neither the desire nor discipline to be really good at math, and the idea of spending hours a day doing calculus made ó and still makes ó me involuntarily cringe.

But maybe I can relate to that experience on some level. Iíve played piano for almost 12 years now, and was in lessons for approximately 10 of those years. I can confidently say my experience taking lessons was a constant uphill battle. I considered quitting more times than I can count. I frequently came completely unprepared. I endured countless humiliations and near breakdowns in front of teachers for being what I considered resoundingly inadequate.

But somehow, I stuck with it. I grew out of feeling lost every time I played a piece. I got over my extreme self doubt. In high school, I played pieces with our schoolís Wind Ensemble that challenged me and changed my understanding of what music can be and what I am capable of. It took years, but I saw the fruits of my labor.

Still, over the years, in response to any compliments about my piano abilities, Iím filled with the overwhelming urge to shake the complimenter by the shoulders and assure them I am not good and I donít have any real talent. I was very bad for a very long time, and the only reason for any skills I have today is the head-spinning amount of hours Iíve put into practicing.

I think about that compared to my math friends in high school, and to be frank, Iím struggling to see a substantial difference between the two.

Iím not trying at all to suggest that some people donít have more of a natural proclivity for some things than others. Not to mention, upbringing surely has a huge impact as well ó my favorite author right now was raised by PHD scholar parents who read the encyclopedia to him and his siblings for fun, and wow, you can tell.

I myself was very lucky to be raised by parents who instilled a love of reading and music in me, and had the time to give me attention and the money to pay for music lessons and extracurriculars and all that. Iím also a naturally driven and stubborn person in terms of achieving thingsóI get that from my mom. In factóyou know what, I take back what I said at the beginning. I think if you take a good, long look at my life, what Iíve done and why I do things the way I do, I think 10% sounds pretty good to me.

So considering this is the start of a new school year, I have a proposition for you all. This year, try something, and really, really try at it. Donít put so much effort in at the beginning that you burn out, and see if you can set some kind of consistent schedule. If you keep working at it over the period of weeks, months, and years, I almost guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised by your results.

Good luck out there, readers, and be kind to each other.