There are plenty of people out there who assume that to be successful requires talent, which is innate. You either have it, or you don’t, and if you don’t, you may as well give up. This leads to a lot of people who don’t try because they don’t see any point. They aren’t gifted, they cannot succeed.
Observation of naturally gifted and talented people, and regular people, of people who have succeeded and people who have got nowhere leads me to think the opposite is true. I know far too many naturally gifted and talented people who have squandered that innate skill and never taken it forward, and plenty of people who are not innately talented, and have worked to achieve. The trouble with achievers is we tend to only notice them once they’ve got there, creating an illusion of natural talent.
The trouble with being naturally gifted, is that there’s no great pleasure in the things we get easily. Many of us humans respond better to challenges and actually put more effort into the things we don’t do well. Academically speaking I did better with sciences at school than with art and music. Straining to make any headway at all, it was the art and music I really wanted to do. I think the only thing I have an innate talent for, is learning. I know how to study, I absorb things fast and retain them, I can analyse, theorise, and so forth and that’s always been easy. Everything else has always been graft.
The trouble with talent is that you pick a thing up, and do it well and easily. Everyone praises you, especially if you’re a kid. You wing it, making little effort, and you progress, because you’re talented. One day, somewhere down the line, you hit the limits of that talent. You stop being able to progress effortlessly. You find a thing you cannot do. This can be a big issue for medical students, straight A achievers their whole lives, who in their twenties hit the first things they can’t do easily and really struggle emotionally with the experience. Finding it’s no longer easy can be soul destroying. It can wreck self-belief. And because it’s always been easy, the talented person has no idea how to work at improving, and at this point a lot of innately gifted people quit and walk away. The belief that it is inbuilt talent that matters means that when you run out of that, you think you have nowhere to go. Someone totally passionate about, and devoted to their subject will push through, work out how to learn and graft for progress, and get moving again.
The person who has more determination than talent has always worked for it, and just keeps doing that thing. They make progress. They may be tortoises to the talented hares who overtake them, but twenty years down the line, they’re still plodding away, long after a lot of the hares have given up.
In all things, I think determination is more important than raw ability. The person with determination keeps plugging away at it. The person who is naturally gifted all too often quits when the going gets tough. The magical combination of talent and drive does show up sometimes, or can be instilled in a gifted youngster so that they know not to rely on what’s easy. It’s so useful to find something you are naturally crap at, and do that thing, to learn how to progress by dint of sheer effort and nothing else. It is most certainly not the case that the person who starts out with no obvious talent is doomed always to be mediocre. Sheer determination will take you places nothing else can. If you have the passion, trust that, it does far more work than talent ever has.