The Important Role of Hard Work in Talented People

Of course, being in a creative environment, we like to think that having talent plays a big role in the work we produce. The notion of talent is in some ways linked directly to us, our personality, and our idiosyncrasies. We like to think that our work could not have been done by anyone else and that somehow we were chosen to do a certain job because of our talents; because of the things we think we’re good at.

Being talented seems to be a more personal distinction and, in a way, a glimpse into what makes us different from one another.

But, is talent an illusion? I ask this because it seems that what we fail to acknowledge in most discussions regarding talent — or so-called talented individuals — is the actual hard work that goes into nurturing our aptitudes and inclinations in order for that talent to manifest.

When people label someone as talented or as having talent, somehow that distinction gives them an air of mystery; of being other-worldly or superhuman as though talented work is some sort of magic trick that only the magician knows how to do. We forget that, like the magician who pulls the rabbit out of his hat, a so-called talented individual had to work at being talented, practicing and honing his skills.

When I first started illustrating and designing, I paid close attention to the work of some people whose work I admired. At the time, my inexperience pointed me towards the conclusion that the people whose work I reveled in were just way better than me at what they do (which is true to this day). Their skills seemed so out of this world that my first inclination was to think that they were better and more gifted; that their jobs and the work they’ve produced just flowed out of them as though guided by some higher power that I would never understand.

Were they really more adept? Were they really better than all of us? The short answer is yes.

However, all modesty aside, I admired their work because I felt I had something in common with them. Like them, I always thought I was adept at drawing and my skills were above average or — at the very least — on par with those of my peers. It felt natural for me to think that I might one day be good enough to be as renowned as they were. Surely, I wasn’t wasting my time pursuing it, right?

Then I started to produce actual work. Work beyond the margins of my class notebooks, beyond the scattered sketches I’ve collected over the years. This is when I realized something terribly obvious about working at your craft. I realized that talent — not skill — takes pain, sacrifice, and an unrelenting resolve. I realized, rather harshly, that anyone can be skilled at anything given the right amount of time and training.

I was not special or unique (at least not in the way I had hoped). Being special was going to take a lot more time and energy than I ever thought.

Most of the artists whose work I admire started developing their work at a very young age or their work was some kind of precondition to their life as though without it, they would have nothing else.

Like me, they probably knew they were skilful enough and were creatively inclined. But unlike me, it was almost as if they had no choice in the matter.

I, on the other hand, entered into this field because I realized rather late into my adolescence that there was nothing else that held my focus other than being “creative.” However, it became blaringly obvious that I wasn’t going to produce any great work just based on my aptitude or level of skill for it. The truth is that most of us have even a modicum of skill to boast about.

Therefore, beyond all the amazing, mind-boggling skill that some people might possess, actually producing talented work takes something simpler and more basic to achieve: It takes hard work.

Those with skill and who choose to (or are able to) cultivate it have to live their jobs in order to produce truly magnificent work. Great musicians, artists, designers, photographers effectively become — or are consumed by — their work.

You’ll notice that most great bands, painters, writers don’t work at anything else part-time. The process they went through to produce good work and become as “talented” as they are is their life. That’s what they do. That’s who they are. Andy Warhol didn’t do people’s taxes when he wasn’t working on his cans of soup.

Most people’s conception of talent is that it is this mystical, unknowable thing that only those who have it can understand. However, it’s much simpler than that. The truth is, the aptitude for something doesn’t necessarily make you useful for a certain activity, especially when it comes to creative endeavors where a lot of people are skilled at what they do.

Anyone can pick up a paintbrush, sit down at a piano, or write a novel. And they can become quite good at it. However, to be truly talented, one has to work and prove oneself worthy of that distinction. And judging by the truly talented people out in the world already, getting there isn’t as easy as simply being good at something. You have to put in the hard work to be great.

What are you views on talent? What about those individuals whose work isn’t appreciated by everyone else? Does talent necessarily equate value?

  • Nice article ! great work !

  • Short and full of truth article. Thomas Edison already said “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

  • Great article! I loved reading your take on talent. To have a natural inclination is one thing, but to really hone your skill is quite another. Good stuff 😀

  • really nice read.

  • Very good read. There’s no substitute for hard work!

  • We say someone is talented because we don’t know the process behind it. We don’t know how many hours he/she spend to create it. We don’t know how many references he/she used. So, we simplify it by saying “Wow, he has talent”.

  • Actually, I think you’ve stated it quite clearly, when you said :

    “I, on the other hand, entered into this field because I realized rather late into my adolescence that there was nothing else that held my focus other than being ‘creative.’ ”

    That is the statement that most successful artists, I know, have said… Because when you actually separate yourself from your ‘day job’ you’ve made the sacrifice (which is only the 1st part) to become more than the parts that make you, it’s an expression, it’s a statement. Lovin’ this post, brought me back to where I started in the beginning…

  • rob

    great read. I definitely think “talented” people inspire me to work harder.

  • christine

    I really loved this article. You made several great points that I’ve always thought about. Sometimes I feel a twinge of disparagement when people say to me, “You’re so talented”, because it feels like it negates all the hard work I’ve put into something. I’d rather the hard work be acknowledged than the talent.

  • It is as if you have properly “dissected the frog”! I hope to see more write-ups like this. You inspire me!

  • I know exactly what you mean about that “twinge.” That’s actually what prompted me to write this piece. I think it’s a feeling to which a lot of artists a creative professionals can relate.

    In a way, the hard work is the talent. I don’t think I have to tell anyone that it’s so easy to “put down the pencil,” so to speak, in various creative fields. I’ve noticed that the ones who refuse to do so are always the ones producing great work.

  • Great article and well said, really digging this one.

  • I really like the way you put this up! Reminded me of many hours of learning and reading to know how stuff works, this is straight from the heart.
    Thanks for this article!

  • You can have 5% of talent but you really need 95% of hard work in order to be able of doing awesome things.

  • Moreno

    Great article : ) For my own part, I’ve discovered over time that when you’re passionately seeking a successful career in a creative field like design or illustration, it will often become as much of a lifestyle to you as e.g. music is for musicians. The downside is that it’s hard to separate work from hobby; the upside is that your hobby becomes your work – and you’ll be doing what you love doing. Succeeding in any creative field is definately hard work, though – ask any musician or artist and they’ll confirm, I’m sure : )

  • Byron V. Houwens

    True stuff in this article. Very cool. It’s good for creative people to remember this, especially when you see some amazingly skilled work. Of course, I think it’s better to make a client or non-creative person believe that it is talent, since it lends that air of mysticism and power, like you said.

  • Manish

    Wow really great article…i really appriciate u…..nt thnx..

  • Mzwakhe Mnguni

    Great article… if everyone in the world knew this, I guess we’d all be good at what we do. Thanx

  • Christophe PAUL

    Beautiful reading, it reminds me a lady who paint on Silk, I met years ago. When some one were asking her how long time it takes to do such beautiful but small silk scarf, she answer:25 years

    Sorry for my english

  • G. MC QUEEN

    HMMMM…I ALWAyS WONDERED HOW I GOT THIS WAY. BEAUTIFUL AND INSIGHTFUL ARTICLE. FORMER CREATIVE DIRECTOR, NYC. AGENCY.