(Originally posted 03/29/2016; Updated 08/18/2021)
I was first introduced to Geoff Colvin‘s book, Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else, on a first date years ago. It was the afternoon of August 18, 2012, and we were walking toward Hell’s Kitchen, after visiting the Intrepid Museum. My date was a shy English as a Foreign Language (ESL) teacher who had lived in Korea, Germany, and France. He moved to New York City from Norfolk, where he had sung in the Virginia Opera and gave guitar lessons.
I thought, “This man is talented far beyond any of my achievements”, including as a college third baseman and being cut in the first round of the 1996 U.S. Olympic softball team. He told me how his mom claimed he sang jazz scales as a toddler. He humbly dismissed the story’s potential for truth or that it was any indication of some divine talent, even if the story was true. He introduced me to the book, which challenged what I thought I knew about myself and all of the talented people I knew: at the Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) attached to my high school and middle school, on the minor league sports teams where I worked, or in the classrooms, corporate offices, courtrooms, and other places I visited.
This book was confronting. If I was not a top performer in softball after all of my years of practicing and playing on multiple teams simultaneously, could it really be that I didn’t practice deliberately, or the right skills? Yes.
Unlike many of the top performers in Colvin’s book, I played for a variety of reasons: popularity, validation, college application-building, and fun. But being world-class was only on my radar to the extent that it might prove to others that I had value. I didn’t deliberately practice my base running or hitting in the ways Dot Richardson did. I thought I either had the speed and talent, or I didn’t. I never considered that I could do squats, uphill sprints, cross-training, and hitting drills with the focus on results that I now use in my business and post-injury workouts.
To summarize, my top three takeaways from the Talent is Overrated book are:
- We aren’t necessarily born with the talent we think we have. I was good at softball and in school because I started learning with my older sisters at a young age. The top performers Colvin discusses also spent a substantial amount of time developing skills that others labeled talent.
- Most of us can master skills we spend more than 10,000 hours developing. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a similar book detailing this concept–and that I will eventually read and review here.
- Where I am not succeeding, I probably need to be more intentional and focused during the hours I put in. Yes, as Woody Allen said, 80% of success is showing up, but without deliberate action once you’re there, you’ve only mastered showing up.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq. is an employment attorney, mediator, and coach based in New York City. Her holistic approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, plaintiff, and trial attorney. She is trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution by the EEOC, FINRA, and ICERM. She served for two years as ICERM’s Main Representative to the UN. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by the SuperLawyers (ADR, 2018, 2019 & 2020), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Kauffman Foundation, Enterprising Women Magazine, Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In. She is frequently quoted in publications targeting employers, funeral directors, risk managers, and small business owners.