Talent and Passion: A Collision of Myths

Did you see Tony Schwartz’s recent post? He starts with a personal story about a game he loves, tennis, and how he believed he’d never be the player he longed to be.  He describes:

“For most of my adult life, I’ve accepted the incredibly durable myth that some people are born with special talents and gifts, and that the potential to truly excel in any given pursuit is largely determined by our genetic inheritance.”

This is the talent myth. One you might subscribe to as well. I did too, until I read Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated. Myth = busted. But I had a niggly, which Tony’s article sparked again. His first key to achieving excellence is to pursue what you love. I hadn’t quite reconciled the non-innate aspect of talent with passion. Isn’t passion somewhat innate? (You don’t choose who or what you love, right?) Then isn’t some part of talent innate? Enter Cal Newport who wrote a guest post for Zen Habits about cultivating passion. Turns out finding your passion takes some deliberate practice too:

“In other words, discovering passion requires a dedication to unstructured exploration. You have to leave large swathes of free time in your schedule (a technique I call underscheduling), and fill this time with the exploration of things that might be interesting. Of equal importance, when something catches your attention you must leverage your free time to aggressively follow up.”

I love how these two myths – passion and talent – collided to retire my niggle. Turns out that great quote “We are what we repeatedly do” is just as much about cultivating our passion as it is about being great.

Has dedication and practice helped you find your passion? And are you still longing to be great, believing you don’t have the talent to excel? Shhh… I think I hear deliberate practice calling your name.