Move beyond talent
Chances are, you came across several articles titled: “10 Things That Require ZERO Talent” to be successful. The subject is not without controversy, though. Is talent necessary to be relevant and successful? Is talent essential but not sufficient? Or is it just a plus? Overall, If you don’t feel up to par, what can you do about it?
What is special about this list is that it covers behaviours and habits you can control versus things you cannot control. If you focus on managing things, you don’t need to hope or rely upon exceptional “talents” or “personal gifts”. The school of thought behind this list is clear: remove any excuse and embrace individual responsibility. Don’t complain about what you don’t have. Instead, focus on what you can do. To a large extent, the future is in your hands: “hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard”.
Jeff Bezos made a historical graduation address at Princeton University along these lines. He pointed out there is a big difference between gifts (talents) and choices:
Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Gifts are easy — they’re given after all. Choices can be hard. You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful, and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.[…] As a civilization, we will have so many gifts, just as you as individuals have so many individual gifts as you sit before me. How will you use these gifts? And will you take pride in your gifts or pride in your choices? […] Our character is reflected not in the gifts we’re endowed with at birth, but by the choices we make over the course of a lifetime.
Let’s check out this list of 10 practical and successful habits and choices that don’t require raw talent:
1. Being on time. Punctuality is a keystone habit that requires organization and planning, considering the margin of error, external hazards, etc. It is essential to recall how Arriving late is a way of saying that your own time is more valuable than the time of the person who waited for you. In many cultures being on time is being 10 minutes early. Being on time is a skill that will typically serve you very well as you move forward in your career and personal life. Being on time takes zero talent and shows discipline. It gives an excellent first impression and makes the best use of everyone time and energy.
2. Work ethic. It is the discipline of showing up consistently and making the best decisions that lead to peak performance. Cutting corners may seem like the easy way out, but it always leads to dead-ends. Don’t fall for life’s hacks and business hacks: “If you added up all the time wasted searching for shortcuts and trying to cheat the process, the hard work could have already been done by now.” (James Clear).
3. Effort. “Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get from the work you didn’t do.” Taking credit for others’ ideas, not taking responsibility for your mistakes, inappropriate delegating — these are all ways to alienate people in the office and your personal life. If you find that you are avoiding work, do some self-reflection. “Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill. According to research, it takes about 10,000 hours to be an expert in any field. This is clearly the opposite of instant results. Do you want to learn to play an instrument? Start practising and put the time and energy into it! Want to be fit? Same approach. Do you want to learn new business skills? You know the drill: time and effort. Just do it. As long as you are doing the right thing, in the right direction, things will happen. You are making progress and moving forward. Quality of results requires the quantity of effort.
4. Body language. How you move and express yourself around others shapes who you are and how you are perceived. Anyone can improve, and here’s a TED talk that explains why and how. “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker. Do you walk into the office hunched over, walking slowly with a sad look on your face? Do you roll your eyes during meetings? Give a sideways glance to your friend when someone says something you don’t agree with? See what happens when you make an effort to be friendly to others. See what happens when you do smile. Not only will you benefit from being positive, but people around you will also benefit.
5. Energy. Everyone has the energy to devote to a goal and the decision of how much to give. Be conscious about where your energy goes. Several quotes mark this point:
1) Exhaustion makes wimps out of all of us. – James Loehr
2) When you focus on yourself, you grow. When you focus on sh#t, sh#t grows“ – Dwayne Johnson
Sleep is incredibly important, and it is part of the equation. Getting enough sleep is vital. Find out how much you need and remember: “your future depends on your dreams. So go to sleep.” Masoud Barzani
6. Attitude. It’s up to you to keep going. No one else can decide that. A great attitude maximizes the talent that you do have and offsets what you lack. After all:
1) Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. Ralph Waldo Emerson
2) A negative attitude is like a flat tyre. You can’t go anywhere until you change it.
At different points in your life, you may have other priorities. In your 20’s, you may not mind working 90 hours/week to establish yourself. As you move into your 30’s, you may value a more flexible schedule that will allow you to spend time with your children. In your 40’s, you may be looking for more meaning in your life. As you approach your 50-60’s, you may be thinking about your legacy, that is, what are you leaving behind? Regardless of your life stage, a positive attitude will help you find your voice, your way in a more effective manner.
You may be the smartest and most efficient person in the company, but if you are difficult to work with, it is a problem. No one is perfect, but having a willing attitude will make a world of difference. We spend so much time at work. No one wants to work with someone who is unhappy and unwilling to do his or her fair share. Be the person others want to work with. You never know how this shift in perspective and attitude will help you and what new paths it will lead you down.
7. Passion. Perhaps the single most important way each one of us can suffocate the fear that keeps us from peak performance. “Working hard for something you don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something you love is called passion.” – Simon Sinek Passion is a double edge sword. From one hand, It can make your life easier. What is something you could do all day and not get tired? On the other hand, make sure your passion leads you to something sustainable. Passions that are not sustainable fall into hobbies.
8. Being coachable. Anyone can become a better listener, learn from feedback, and embrace the success of others.We are all doing the best that we can, so hearing negative feedback can be, at times, quite painful, especially if it hits one of our triggers, which is an experience that we haven’t healed from our past. It can also hurt if the tone is harsh or if the feedback is given publicly. These are all things to consider if you find yourself in a position where you need to give someone negative feedback too.
9. Doing extra. Go the extra mile. The ones who sustained their success were the ones who consistently worked at their craft beyond what was required. Extra work and preparation fosters confidence. We can all learn from this approach and exceed our expectations. “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach. The best employees and performers go above and beyond the call of duty.
10. Being prepared. Only you can give yourself the time and space to be as ready as you can be. Make it a habit, and you will make the most of your talent. There is great truth in the saying: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. As such, “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley
References: Brigette Hyacinth, Helen Godfrey, Jeff Bezos speech at Princeton