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Talent Versus Skill: What Separates the Good from the Great

I have often wondered what it takes to be successful as a media artist / filmmaker / freelancer / entrepreneur. I’ve questioned whether specializing or expanding a skill set leads to more success. It’s a battle I struggle with everyday and I continually wonder if I would be at a different point in my career if I was to have specialized from the start.

Up until this point, I have focused on expanding my skill set and have been doing this since the start of my 3 minute short project which was inspired by the 10,000 hour rule introduced by Malcolm Gladwell. One debate that resides at the centre of this battle for me is the differentiation between talent and skill. As such, what I want to do with this post is talk about the difference between the two and do so by using a set of case studies based on my experiences since my start as a full time freelancer in November 2011.

Defining Success

Success is dependent of four key elements:

  1. Dedication
  2. Hard work
  3. Passion
  4. Vision

No matter how much experience you have in a given field, dedication and hard work are imperative. It is key that you put in the time and are committed to your craft. Even if you have been honing your craft for a long time, you are only as good as your last job.

Passion is also important. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, you will not be able to accomplish what you hope to accomplish. Passion allows you to overcome the challenges and the obstacles that inevitably occur. Being able to accept the bad with the good is key.

The last element you need to consider is vision. No matter how much dedication, handwork and passion you have, vision is what will separate you from the crowd. You are not alone in your quest for success. There are others that are also trying to accomplish what you are and some may already be doing it. However, what will separate you from the others is staying true to yourself and maintaining your vision.

Now the question is, do these four things apply to the main thesis? To answer this, I will look at how each element effects these items. First off, let’s define the difference between talent and skill.

Talent vs Skill

In it’s simplest definition, a ‘skill’ can be learned through guidance. These skills are then refined through an external motivator. By applying yourself to the task at hand, you will be able to hone your skills. These skills evolve as you make mistakes and grow as an artist and with each job, you will improve.

However, when one looks at the definition of ‘talent’, the answers vary. Many believe that talent is something you are born with but is that actually true? I personally believe that talent is what you make of it. No matter what you are doing, if you are happy and fulfilled and able to make living performing these tasks, you are talented.

shutterstock_37628497-300x281Now many people may be asking, what then defines talent? Some may believe that someone who is passionate about drinking beer isn’t necessarily talented at the task at hand. Maybe they are drunk after one beer. Does that make them talented at drinking beer or at getting drunk? I’d say the answer is dependent on who is defining the given talent.

Personally I believe that talent does not need a definition and should be open to interpretation. Because the line is grey when defining talent, it is key that the definition remains open. Another example can be seen with the arts. Who defines an artist as talented? What separates artists from other professions? Would you ever classify an accountant or engineer as talented or skilled? No one is ever born with the talent to be a lawyer. This is a skill that is learned. Would one then classify talent as an artists endeavor – with the classification residing only in the arts? Personally, I think that’s unreasonable.

How do you know whether it’s really a talent and not just a skill you are good at?

It is clear through the points above that both talent and skill go hand in hand. A skill can be easily learned through dedication and hard work. One can learn to do a skill however, if this task is done without talent, your task will not be unique and as a result, you will continue to live in mediocrity. Where the grey area resides is in people’s perception of what their ‘talent’ really is. It usually takes external observations or opinions that will help guide one towards what they are truly talented at.

From a young age, my parents instilled in me the importance of hard work and dedication. Along the way I have made mistakes and even changed the direction I wanted to go with my career. Out of high school, I wanted to pursue a career as an optometrist but soon realized in my first year of university that my heart wasn’t in it. At this point I decided to switch directions and do something I was passionate about. From a young age, I had a passion for the arts and after doing some research, settled on a four year media program. At no point in this journey was I extremely passionate about filmmaking but allowed myself to fall in love with it.

I knew it was imperative to give it my all so while in my fourth year in the program, I started to do a film a day project. Through hard work and dedication I was slowly able to establish myself as a creative in the industry. Throughout the current journey that I am on, I have made mistakes and have grown from these mistakes. The key is that I have stayed motivated and have continued to work towards what is important to me.

Conclusion

I believe that, in it’s simplest form, a skill is something that you are good at and a talent is something that you are passionate about. This may be inaccurate but it is truly how I see it and how I base my decisions. I think it is really unfair to tell someone that they can’t do something. I think the only unrealistic goals are the ones that you believe are unrealistic and base these thoughts off of the law of attraction. This law states that, “focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results. People and their thoughts are both made from pure energy, and like energy attracts like energy”. If one focuses on success, the chances of success are great. For me, this is what keeps me going – knowing that if I continue to work hard, great things will come.

Comments

Since posting this, I have had great discussions about this topic. Out of these conversations, I have included one perspective below:

From Christopher Du’Mont:

I just read your post on skill vs talent. It’s a great post and a fantastic debate. I totally agree with you on skill but have to disagree on talent (mixing with passion).

For me, we all have RAW “talents”. Most of us will never know what they are or probably not have the opportunity to discover them. Some people are more lucky and stumble on them along their journey. What I mean is this. Usain Bolt was born with the talent to be the fastest sprinter on the planet, it is an external talent in the sense of his bodies makeup but still a talent. I would never win the 100m sprint in the Olympics no matter how hard I trained and big my passion was as I’m just no built like that. Lets not get mistaken though that this is just a RAW talent. Nothing more. For the talent to mature and reach its true potential, that’s where the 10000 hours of work comes in. Usain Bolt has the body and legs, now he has to train all his life to get him to the top in his case. Other people have talents that are not external but internal. For example… An actor. There are people out there that act with RAW talent, they go to drama school and that talent is refined, tuned etc. Then emerges a well rounded actor (RAW talent is also extremely exciting – the lead girl of FISH TANK) I forget her name, they found her on he streets arguing with her boyfriend.) Finally, looking at a lawyer to get away from the arts, for me a lawyers talent is not the law they have studied or the level they are etc, that’s mainly attributed to their skills and a lot of luck. Their talent for me (which again is a RAW talent) in perhaps commanding the attention of the courtroom, making the jury listen in a human way as they try to align their decision towards the lawyers cause. For me that’s talent….. I have realized that this has gone on for ages but I find it an exciting discussion and welcome your opinion on what I have said.

Very valid points that makes me think even further about this discussion!