I’ve recently started taking part in live blues-jams down at a local pub. My previous music project fell apart but I didn’t want to stop performing. When I stumbled upon this local jam-night it felt like the perfect thing to get involved with.
I decided that I was going to check the night out before joining in. I wanted to talk to the organisers, see what the skill-level of all the musicians was like and whether they we’re open to having beginners join in. But once I was at the pub I got talking to the house-band, and when they asked if I wanted to play that night I thought to myself: ‘Why not?’. An hour later I was up on stage doing my best to keep up.
In the past I would have probably declined and taken some time to practise more and psych myself up for the performance. But I’ve managed to change my approach to these kinds of situations somewhat over the past few years.
I used to be quite a cautious person, often worrying about things that could go wrong rather than focusing on all the things that can go right. And I would feel the need to practice and prepare for far too long.
But I’m slowly curbing my need to prepare indefinitely and these days I’m much more likely to get stuck in and learn on the go. I just accept that I’m going to suck at any new endeavour and that it’s the only way to really improve.
I guess it’s common sense but it’s just not how I was operating for a long time. My acceptance that learning a new skill involves putting myself in these kinds of situations is related to what I’ve learned about talent. It doesn’t exist.
The idea that people have any innate talent for any skill (I’m not talking about physical advantages such as height for basketball players) is something I no longer believe in. When I see another guitar player on stage playing a brilliant solo I no longer envy their talent. I just admire their hard-work and their ability to perform authentically.
Time and time again it’s been shown that individuals that are thought to possess innate talent just practise a lot more than everyone else. Think Mozart was particularly talented? No, he just practised playing piano for thousands of hours from a young age. He didn’t write any noteworthy music until he had been composing for 10 years. Was Tiger Woods born to play golf? Not really, he was just lucky enough to be born to father who put a golf-club in his hands as soon as he could walk. (Check out the book Bounce for more examples of how practice trumps talent).
The only luck people like that have is that they are born into an environment that supports and pushes them to become better in a particular field from a young age. They’re lucky to have had a head-start but that doesn’t mean you can’t decide for yourself to put 10,000 hours of practice into something in order to become really good (See the 10,000 hours rule in Outliers).
I think the the idea of ‘talent’ is in fact quite damaging. From a young age people are told that they are innately good at some things and not so good at others. It is false and completely warps their sense of reality and what it is possible for them to achieve.
When I was younger I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was good at and what my place in the world was. In my opinion that’s the result of growing up in a world where people are described as having innate talents. In school these ideas are ingrained by things like aptitude tests. The reality is that you can be great at pretty much anything if you put enough practice in. It sounds cheesy but it’s the truth.
What do you think, is there such a thing as talent? Do you think you have a talent for something or are naturally inclined for some activities? Is there anything you have decided you want to become really good at?