I ran across an intriguing title today in the news entitled, “How to be Great: Rising Above the Talent Myth.” The you-can-be-anything citations are pervasive. They create an economy of self-help seminars, books, academies, and certainly generate a lot of revenue in leadership coaching arenas.
It confirmed that I’ve adopted a different point of view, based on conversations with coaching colleagues. Consider the talent myth not as a myth but as a capacity FACT. This quote illustrates the problem and myth: “…what’s great about these findings is that we can apply them to all areas of our life. Almost any skill is improvable. Giving presentations. Sports. Negotiating. Whatever it is that you do with a passion, you can improve and become truly great — if you are willing to put in the work, that is.” From Litemind: The Talent Myth
…the you-can-be-anything viewpoint, is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness.
As a counterpoint, as I DON’T agree with the talent myth article, I have adopted the view that Blank Slate, the you-can-be-anything viewpoint, is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness. This belief interferes with making smart choices for engaging your strength for happiness and success.
When you work outside your strengths, are you able to FLOW? This is not “go with the flow,” rather it is the aspect of being transformed as in “in the zone, on fire, in tune, centered, or singularly focused,” as described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, using a positive psychology term, FLOW.
It’s about being so absorbed in your work that you may forget to eat, drink or use the restroom until you body can take it no more and cries out to you. Though I don’t recommend this as a typical state, it IS an indicator that you are making good use of your natural strengths. It’s feedback to inform your choices and path in life.
Regarding the Talent Myth, it seems what the author intended was about success, perhaps monetary, but not necessarily happiness AND success. The two together are more likely to happen with a focus on our natural capacity and talents ~ nature over nuture.
Your strengths are as individualized as your fingerprints.
The Talent Myths: Most people just do not have the arm to be professional baseball pitchers, no matter how long they practice. Most people do not have the pipes to be world-famous operatic stars. The first citation is from a personal and professional blog post by Manya Arond Thomas, a Harvard trained physician and healer as well as a leadership coach:
Even if we’re pretty good at a lot of things, we will never get the same result, or bang for the buck, if we aren’t naturally wired for that strength, that is, if it isn’t coded into our DNA. The truth is that everything about who we are and what our potential is, is in our blueprint. Source: Manya’s full blog post here.
Regarding the Charlie Parker example in the Talent Myth article, perhaps Charlie was a late bloomer. He certainly had the desire.
“Wealth, like happiness, is never attained when sought after directly. It comes as a by-product of providing a useful service.”
~ Henry Ford
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” was said by Henry Ford. Guided by desire and data, including multiple setbacks, Ford found success in the auto industry.
His prowess of innovation, inventing the middle class with his decision to give a major salary increase to his workers to combat turnover goes with his quote, “Wealth, like happiness, is never attained when sought after directly. It comes as a by-product of providing a useful service.”
These types of findings are fairly pervasive. They create an economy of self-help seminars, books, academies, and generate a lot of revenue in leadership coaching arenas.
Another citation that supports innate talent and finding a good match is from the controversial work of Elliot Jacques as written by Herb Koplowitz. In a nutshell, it is about understanding and assigning people to places in organizations where they can best succeed based on their capacity, including the capacity for planning into the future. The reference is here based on a strata framework.
Working toward capacity and strengths, vs. the blank slate approach – will show results in better work life effectiveness as well as being joyful, energizing, and just plain fun!
When you flow within your strengths, do you amaze yourself at what you can accomplish? Have you experienced FLOW and presence within yourself?
For more about Presence, see our overview of Theory U.
As always, thanks for visiting!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.
9 thoughts on “The Pervasive Talent Myths Meet FLOW, Using Your Strengths”
I often wonder if blank slate really isn’t as bad as we are led to believe. I understand and agree with you and…
I think that most people know that they can’t do anything and everything – that it would never occur to them to be a world class pitcher or opera singer if they don’t have the talent or inclination. When they see a black man become president of the United States do all black people believe they can do the same? Highly unlikely. But, do they gain hope in believing that in some way, by being responsible and dedicated to who they are, to what is important to them, to following a dream that sits within their soul, that they too can be live fuller and happier lives?
I think what we are calling blank slate is simply a message to people that positive thinking will bring us further than negative. That loving ourselves will enhance our lives and is more effective than beating ourselves up. New tools in finding out who we are – self knowledge and awareness – will always benefit us. There is room for it all – and people will be drawn to what works for them vs. being told yet again what they are doing is wrong and ‘this’ is the new and ‘right’ way. That would be ego talking…
I like your …and…Pat! There really was a deeper sense of the freedom that using the Blank Slate label led me to believe, but it may take a bit of discussion to tease it out. For example, there are some religious practices that have been suggested as “Blank Slate” practices. If you can only meditate in just the right way, learn just the right types of disciplines – you can attain enlightenment or be fully realized, individuated person. This calls into question, are you really wired — and are most people wired/gifted in a way to attain these higher states? Or are these higher states of consciousness/enlightenment really reserved for the pitchers, opera singers, and especially the gurus (some who really know marketing) who’ve invested the many hours and discipline required / as well as having the gifts allowing this to happen?
Separating from ego-centric and blocking, defensive, non-growth behaviors seems to be a healthy discipline for just about everyone. Having a positive focus – well that could also be a personality tendency, so the jury could be out on that one. Meditation as a practice has great benefits and the research to prove it for just about anyone, regardless of positive or negative outlook.
The question is those self-help seminars that claim to be able to remold you, when going against your mold, or encoded DNA blueprint is exactly this issue. Why not tailor your develop to your natural gifts, and find a way to release them in enliven them more fully using techniques based in assessments that help build your talents? I’m sure that’s preaching to the choir, in your case Pat – but for anyone else reading these couple of comments, it would be good to get your perspective on how developmental work tied to your OWN gifts can build powerful growth and help you be fully successful.
I agree – and…. 🙂 There are so many ‘ways’ to meditate, some more strict that than others – some in silence, some guided, etc. I would hope that meditation isn’t included in blank slate system given that it’s thousands of years old. There is enough science to prove it works.
To become an expert in anything it is suggested one must do 10,000 hrs of X. Why wouldn’t this apply to meditation? Are there those who simply aren’t interested or have a belief system that says they can’t? Of course. Some people are sports oriented, some are ‘nerds. Some people feel it’s important to get degree after degree and others have life skills no amount of ‘formal’ education could give them. Gurus – so called successful ones – are good at marketing. Others don’t care how well known they are as long as they are doing what they love. That of course is something we can all apply to our lives if and when we give ourselves permission to do so. And even then probably have to change belief systems that says we can…
The basic premise of blank slate is in all faiths, and in Buddhism and A Course in Miracles (not a religion). Most religions are thousands of years old and at their core they are all similar saying we manifest what we believe, and that we must love ourselves and in doing so love others. I don’t know who labeled blank slate as blank slate – probably someone who has something else or new to sell that works well if followed to the letter – not unlike what blank slate proponents will suggest for what they are selling.
I have a problem with one solution being THE way. We each find a recipe that works for us, those who are interested in the making, the ingredients that work best for them, manipulating the proportions until we create something that sits well in our guts and nourishes us. It’s the nourishing part that is important. We all want to feel approval, acceptance, safe, and loved. Even those who appear not to be interested, are feeding themselves what they feel best nourishes them. It isn’t up to us to judge. (Although we do!)
I absolutely agree that it is important to find out who we are – assessments, research, reading, seminars, whatever turns your crank and IF you so inclined. You will know what is working and what isn’t – and that in itself is learning more about yourself. And having said that – it’s important to those of us who want or need to change. There are those who simply aren’t interested or better yet, can accept themselves fully for who they are which I admit is rare. What bothers me these days is being told I’m not good enough as I am. Almost everywhere we turn that is the message. Wouldn’t it be better if we would reprogram ourselves to hear the love within
‘Those’ self-help seminars are stepping stones. No matter what path we take the work must be done. Are there newer or other self-help seminars that make claims to change our DNA? Can they be effective? Yes – and you still have to do the work and of course, like all others, pay out money and usually lots of it to facilitate the changes you seek. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that these new gurus have yet to integrate all that of which they speak.
The bottom line in much of this is that most people are looking for quick solutions when no matter what path we take – it’s all in the time and effort we are prepared to invest, emotionally, physically, spiritually – and sometimes, financially – to travel and investigate this journey of ours.
Yes, Pat. Great dialog!. Restating, you’ve laid out some thoughts about how developmental work tied to your OWN gifts can build powerful growth and help you be fully successful.
Self- assessment — Frameworks for growth within your capacity/strengths. I always did like the phrase, “to reach your fullest potential.”
Whether or not “Blank Slate” is the category killer, the label does allow us to shift perspective and test things. From the BCoach training and from my coaching clients, that is a prime example of the value of having someone simply ask good questions. I’m in the role, from time to time, of speaking truth to power. It is valued for the same reason. I think that is an aspect of the “Blank Slate” labeling. If it fits, something is learned. If it is incorrect, then the use of it is refined, also learning. Also, regardless on what someone else might label meditation, if it helps you be fully effective, more able to reach your goals and be successful, isn’t that the point?
Yep on that desire to see immediate results. Managing emotions and desire is a life task, along with developing good judgment. Maturity brings the patience as well as the “seeing systems” nuances of working across all our various domains – personal, professional, financial, network — as you know the RCAP model. (For other readers, if you do a search on RCAP, you can locate the model – tool on this website.) Increasing maturity brings awareness of capacity and better ways to to set and manage boundaries effectively, in order to be more fully alive and working within your strengths and dealing with the human needs we all share, as you’ve stated above.
Some of the well known phrases capture it simply: fences make good neighbors, test your boundaries, set appropriate boundaries, know your limits, work with your strengths — along with trying something new — finding FLOW. It can be quite freeing and help produce success and happiness…empowered by what you’ve stated above — including being intentional about what you manifest.
I’ll be in touch soon. Hmmm, I sense a guest blog post coming…. We’ll have to talk.
I agree – and…. 🙂 Regarding meditation – I’m sure there are those who have included meditation as blank slate and it doesn’t surprise me as I think it might help their agenda – which is fine as long as we remember none of it is the ‘truth’. When we look at how long meditation has been around we have to wonder if just perhaps there is some validity to developing some kind of practice that best suits us individually. There are so many options available – traditional, guided, walking, breathing, yoga and so many more. Not to mention as you suggest, the scientific proof of it’s benefits. I think we are all wired to attain a higher level of consciousness – in our own way – and to the degree we choose to commit to. It takes time as in all things. Isn’t it said that to develop expertise in X we must put 10,000 hours of time? I don’t believe it’s a gift to meditate – except to yourself. 🙂 It isn’t meant to be something to perfect – simply do – simply be in the moment excusing ourselves from the business of living when we miss so much because we have not developed the presence of mind to see a flower bloom and show it’s miraculous colour, smell it’s aroma, touch it’s softness, hear a leaf blow in the wind, or a tree sway – all this can be and is meditation.
Certainly separating ourselves from our limitations and focusing on our strengths is a good thing! Learning what our strengths are through whatever means are available to us can only enhance our lives. Becoming aware of our limitations, without judgement, from self or others, is also important so that we can develop ways to live with them without their being at the expense of our strengths.
Having a positive focus is most certainly a personality tendency as is being negative – and if I understand it correctly- being negative is simply the process in which they need to go through before accessing the positive. (I’m probably over simplifying this but I hope you get my point.)
I knew deep in my being at age 12 that I must do all I can to better my Self, my life, spiritually (a word not my vocabulary for another 25 years) and emotionally – that what I knew to be the norm was not good enough. Of course, I also felt I was not enough. Now that was my journey, my purpose. It wasn’t and isn’t necessarily true for others. I have made it my life’s purpose to find out who I am, how to live a happier more fulfilling life – and I can tell you it’s been one hell of a journey. I’ve done the assessments, taking more seminars and courses than I can count, meditated, done yoga, gone to retreats, studied, read, received diplomas, done volunteer work, founded organizations, owned my own businesses, – and one thing I know for sure – we can only learn what we learn when we are ready. And we are ready when we are ready. So we can take all the assessments, seminars, DNA reprinting and what not we want. Unless we are ready, willing and able and fit – that’s all, folks! And whether we like it or not – maturing counts. Or why would we get older if not to learn more…become wiser. What I know now in my soul, was only a thought, a flicker in my awareness 50+ years ago. It’ll be amazing to see, hear, and feel what I will be like 20 years from now!
Success is a state of mind – and one I continue to develop and reinforce every day. And that is all we can do – if we choose to.
I hadn’t intended to send 11:17 reply. The redo was the one I sent at 4:22> 🙂
Something else I’ve come to understand and is most important. Until we can accept ourselves as we are, changing is likely unattainable. How did I figure this out?
A few months ago I was preparing a 3 hour workshop on manifesting your goals/outcomes. As I looked through some of my training material I found a list I made in 1991 of the things I wanted to change in my life. The list included about 12 things – of which about 9 were still on my list!!!
Self-acceptance. Self-love. Self-approval. And feeling safe being who we are, now. When we can attain these we wont’ be looking so hard to be what we aren’t. We we can attain these, the list disappears. When we attain these, any changes we want to make will come from a place of I’m OK vs. I’m not good enough and success is most likely quite attainable.
Now I see myself very differently – and am much more accepting of myself knowing that I am perfectly safe being who I am in this moment.
I’m glad to hear the source of this insight, Pat! The journey IS in, not up or out. Insecurities create interference as well as negative behaviors directed elsewhere and leak away precious energy. If only we can redirect that energy, it turns into happiness + success, something you and I have talked about many a time.
You comments remind me why I am enamored of many of the aspects of Open Space, an organic large group method, as well as Theory U, a complex, but also elegantly simple model of letting go to let come, which is about presencing, being in the moment.
Pat, I think this is what I hear in you saying “being perfectly safe who you are in the moment,” that it includes ANY of the range of emotions, is OK! It has a purpose. It CAN contribute to emotional intelligence. Trusting yourself is the biggest learning moment of any and all.