The Talent of the Lottery Winner

I’ve been frustrated and fascinated by ideas around talent recently.  When it comes to writing and indeed, artists in general, the word is used frequently to denote those who are good at what they do.  We say, “They are talented.”  But the idea and myth of talent are what drive me crazy.  There’s a prevalent belief that talent is innate.  With that, loosely associated with natural born talent, is the implication that only the natural-born are the truly talented ones.

Of course, that’s not true, but that’s the myth that lies in the back of our minds.  Who would be shocked if we heard a story of a person writing their very first novel only to find enormous success?  We like to believe such stories, and indeed, they market quite well.  It’s the lottery winner story.  Someone wins, every week, that’s why we play.  Similarly, if someone can, with never having done so before, write a novel and create a bestseller and make huge money from their first novel, then it’s possible for us to do so as well if we were only but talented.

It’s horseshit.  My son had a college English class a few years back with a professor who I would challenge had an actual English degree.  My son worked incredibly hard on his papers for that class.  Being my son, he knows the power of editing.  Being dyslexic, the necessity of editing is something that he will always have to do.  As he was frustrated one day, and I helped him turn an idea into a nicely worded sentence, I mentioned to him that there’s no such thing as great writing, there’s great editing.  Obviously, that’s as one-sided as the opposite belief, but it’s far better to paint the picture of reality than to fill the heads of our youths with unreasonable expectations.  The point was, even a dyslexic can create well-written work.  It just may take more work than others, but the truth is, that’s where the great stuff comes from anyway.

My son, while in class some days later, mirrored my thoughts when his professor discussed great writing.  She vehemently disagreed with him, and he rightly backs off and keeps his mouth shut.  When he comes home and tells me, I feel like I’ve lost him a little, and I do make a comment about her probably not having a real English degree.   I can’t imagine anyone teaching English not feeling that hard work and dedication is the way to great work.  Instead, she chose to propagate the myth of the talent fairy.

The truth hurts – and it’s a lot of work

That’s when I realized that we don’t want to believe that truth.  We don’t like the story of the self-made millionaire who worked a steady job and saved his way to prosperity over 30 years.  We don’t like the stories about Olympic athletes who have to spend most of their days working towards their goals.  We’d rather believe in the talent fairy.

I get it, I wish that were the way.  I wish I were successful in my day job because I was just that good, without the 24 years of experience and long, long hours, studying, practicing, failing and adjusting I’ve done.  I wish it were easy.

I wish that I didn’t have to get up at 4:00 every morning to get my writing habit down so I can crank out a million words to find my voice over the next several years.  If I were only but talented, I could avoid all this morning struggle before my normal job.

I wish I could just write a novel and move onto my career in writing.  If I were only but talented.

I wish it were easier, but there’s one thing I know, that most people don’t want to know, don’t want to believe.  That hard work is the way to success.  That showing up every day and working as hard as you can creates momentum.  Repeating that work over years is how success is made.  There are no shortcuts unless you do happen to win the lottery.  And still, all that does is give you the financial backing to stop working a day job and pursue your passions without the immediate need for financial rewards.  It would be nice, but it would not make you talented.

It would make you lucky.

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Photo by David Pennington on Unsplash

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