Thoughts on Talent and Hard Work


‘Oh she is so talented!’ is a word we often hear used in reference to dancers, athletes, artists, and lately that sentence, the sentiment has truly begun to irk me.  A friend of mine has a daughter who is an incredible athlete, a swimmer.   She often beats other swimmers a foot taller than she is, and people have often referred to this young woman as ‘talented’. What irks me about this is that is takes away from the truth. The truth is that this girl and her parents have for the past four years sacrificed sleep, lazy weekends, rest after a long day at the office and school, to drive hundreds of miles for important ‘meets’. That this girl swims to the point of exhaustion just to put in another hour of cardio at the gym or some weight lifting. Her parents, both busy professionals have sacrificed any  ‘me’ time to be there for her. Talent? May be. But mostly incredibly hard work.

A singer I know since our school days together has a wonderful voice. True. But without dedicated practicing, and working, she’d just have a pretty voice. Years of training have given her the ability to use her voice to convey so very much. The children of an online homeschooling friend of mine are wonderful ballet dancers in training. Talent? I am sure a certain body awareness could be considered talent. But I see years of practice, a dedicated set of parents, making costumes, going tirelessly to lessons, rehearsals and performances. A real life friend’s daughter is a dancer too. Surely there is talent, but that takes away the 3-4 hours of practice she does almost every day in addition to the fact that she is a homeschoooled student.

I have several friends who are so ‘talented’ at cooking, painting, or playing the guitar and singing, incredible knitters and crafters. Talent? Could be. But I guarantee that what lies behind the skill you see lies something else entirely.

Next time you are about to use the word ‘talented’ to praise a person’s achievement, hold back a moment and consider. And then be sure to acknowledge the hard work, long hours, and dedication of this individual and his or her support team to make something of that raw talent. Because that is the praiseworthy thing.

These feet attest to years of grueling hard work and dedication.
These feet attest to years of grueling hard work and dedication.


  1. As a child I always felt I had no talents whatsoever and I just felt so discouraged. I wished somebody would have taught me that although you might not become a “star,” most people are able to learn many things just fine. You just need some encouragement and the right teacher so that you can work on becoming better at things. I can see that in my own children now. I encourage them to try different things and when they tell me “Ich kann das nicht.” I tell them to keep on trying. Talent is a good starting point, that’s for sure. But as you said, many talents only blossom because you have to expand them and work at them. I don’t like it when it becomes an obsession, though. There is more to life than just being the best swimmer or dancer.

    I am glad my children’s feet don’t look like the ones above. I don’t know if I would continue to encourage them with their dancing :). Even in pointe shoes we have not had really bad feet. By the way, right now all my dancers are discussing “The Nutcracker.” They all want to audition for the upcoming performance. I never thought of them being talented. My son started ballet because he saw a performance and he liked it. Once he had danced for two years, all the others followed. We never pushed them, but told them to give their best. They work hard, well, the older ones do, and they like to improve their skills, but they are not obsessed. They know that there are many children out there that are much better than they are.

    It is too late for me to be up, I am probably writing a bunch of nonsense :). Time to sleep!

    Good-night and sweet dreams. Flora just mumbled something about the “Mäusekönig” in her dream. Maybe she is obsessed with ballet after all?

    • To some it’s obsession, others call it a passion.

      My point with the little essay was that I often feel that people are pre-occupied with the ‘talent’ part not considering the fact that these artists, dancers, athletes and their support ‘staff’ have invested hundreds of hours in order to give us spectators, viewers, or listeners, something truly wonderful to enjoy. The image of the dancer’s feet were primarily to show the sacrifice that go into honing that raw talent and refining it into a skill. That being said, I think you are so right that we should tell kids that even if they aren’t ‘naturally talented’ at something, they can still get pretty good at it if they practice it, as long as they enjoy it.

      It’s funny isn’t what kids will mumble in their sleep? I’ll never forget when my Missy at age 3 was mumbling about Tom Brokaw, on whom she had a big crush back then.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, and I see this very often in my music classes at school. One child will begin the year, instantly making a decent sound on their new instrument, understanding the music well and generally fitting the “natural talent” category; another will struggle at first, come to grips with the challenge, put in the hours and eventually outshine the former because of their hard work and many hours of practice!

    • Apologies for my tardy reply, you are right. It shows early. I have always had an excellent ear for music (and pitch) and my husband’s enthusiastic but tone-deaf whistling or humming leaves me often (inwardly) cringing. But the arts are for all, and thus I just smile and join him 🙂

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