There is No Talent Without Effort

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If you believe that the skills you have today are from raw, natural, talent. I’m about to burst your bubble. The harsh truth is that you weren’t born with any gifts, and you didn’t get where you are today by just existing. You may have been born with tendencies, but true talent is earned.

Sure, you might have a natural passion for something, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have talent for it. Jimi Hendrix was an incredibly talented musician, and an especially talented guitarist. But Hendrix didn’t just pick up a guitar and play like a rock star. He used his natural passion for the music to develop his talent.

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The word “talented” gets thrown around a lot in sales circles. “He’s a naturally talented closer,” or “She’s a naturally talented networker.” It’s a convenient way to put mental distance between the achievement of others and where we currently are at the moment. But the pure definition of talent is one of those root definitions that we’ve gradually lost touch with over the centuries.

Talent actually comes from the medieval Latin root talenta, which means “inclination, will, or desire.” Talent itself isn’t a born trait; it’s developed and created through sheer will and desire. And all you need to do to confirm this as the truth is to look at the anatomy of your brain.

Different people might be born with slightly more natural ability in a specific area, but science shows that effort always overcomes genetics. When you see an Olympic athlete breaking the world sprinting record, or a math whizz mentally creating multi-digit calculations, it’s easy to assume they’re just blessed with skills beyond our own. It’s also easy to rationalize their success as nothing more than winners in a genetic lottery. When you do this, you give up your own ability to ever reach that level. You’re giving up your own agency. That doesn’t mean you’ll ever run as fast as Usain Bolt, or go to the moon like Buzz Aldrin. But it also doesn’t mean you won’t.

The truth is that there is scientifically almost no connection between a person’s “natural” talent and their capacity for success. Multiple studies bear this truth out. Someone might be born with natural speed, but someone born with zero natural speed will surpass them if they out-train them. In a way, everyone is born with natural talent, it just depends on how you grow it.

Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code proved that effort creates talent, not the other way around. When you stress the wiring in your brain with repetition, it builds up something called myelin in your brain. This is the coating that wraps around your neural pathways. The more you do something, the more myelin you build up around that wire. And the more myelin you build up, the faster the signal moves across those wires and the better you are at something.

But you aren’t born with these strong myelin connections, they don’t just grow on their own. You create them.

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Like anything else, sales is an industry built on repetition and process. I’ve seen trainers claim that selling ability is something you’re born with, which is a dangerous idea. For one, that releases people from this idea of creating their own talent. The meaning of your communication isn’t what you say, it’s the response it provokes. Throwing your hands up and saying, “I’m not a born salesperson” is the result of programming that says that talent comes from genetics, not repetition. And as you now know, that simply isn’t true.

Take me, for example. Early in my professional speaking career, someone told me that I would never become a professional speaker. I didn’t have the talent, he said. I was too awkward in front of crowds, my delivery wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have enough natural stage presence. That lit a fire underneath my motivation. What if I could prove him wrong? So I doubled down on training, and I eventually became the youngest ever member of the National Speaker Association’s Million Dollar Speaker Group. Pretty good for someone with no talent, right?

Developing your talent in sales is the same as learning to play guitar. Both are full of soaring successes and difficult setbacks.

When you first start playing guitar, your fingers begin to feel numb as you perfect the basic chords. You finally move on and start form callouses on your fingertips as you pick up the pace. And just when you think you’ll be an Eric Clapton in no time, you get stuck on a tricky chord and become tempted to smash your guitar against your wall. But imagine if Jimi Hendrix threw away his guitar just because he got frustrated during the learning process.

Developing your talent can be a frustrating process. I’ve been there. But I’ve found that the talent development process is a lot less frustrating when I study someone who has the level of talent that I desire. A mantra I've carried with me is, “become the best by studying the best.” I believe that no matter how great you are at something, there’s always someone out there who can do it better. Rather than letting this reality discourage you, use it to your advantage.

Your talent comes from your effort. And your effort comes from your ability to grow through setbacks. Setbacks are no longer soul-crushing, because you know they’re valuable learning tools that drive you to succeed at a level you didn’t think was possible. The key is repetition, reflection, and resolution.