Advice From My Younger Sister That Changed My Life

There is no such thing as talent.

Why Brains Hate Advice - Brilliance Inc.

It felt weird listening to my younger sister talk.

I was used to being the one giving advice.

Yet, what she was saying was deep, profound, and insightful. I guess our three-year-old gap is slowly bridging with time. I am now learning from her as much as she is from me.

And I certainly learned a lot from our 30-minute Facetime conversation.

My sister is an artist.

In the most literal sense: she paints, dances, designs, draws. And unlike me, she was doing it her whole life.

I am more of a business person crossed with an artist – that’s who I am, and I am learning to accept that – but she’s not.

She’s a pure creative force. She doesn’t care about achievement, and, unlike me, she views her life as a process rather than a project.

And yet, we have similar genes.

She likes to think about life and reflect and find patterns as much as I do.

And that’s what helps her come up with thought-provoking ideas that you can keep mulling over days after you’ve heard them.

We were chatting via Facetime (it was still post-COVID and we couldn’t travel to see each other) and she said,

“I don’t think there’s such thing as talent. There’s only desire. Interest. Curiosity. Skills. But not talent.

When you think of yourself as talented, you put too much weight and expectation on yourself.

But if you tell yourself, ‘Let me just try this. It might not work. But let me try it anyway, see how it goes and improve along the way.’ – things become way easier.”

She then went on to tell me about how people often asked her whether she has any drawing talent.

She felt terrible every time she heard that question.

  1. If she has a drawing talent – then she better be producing masterpieces. Working becomes hard because there’s so much pressure to prove something.

  2. If she doesn’t have a talent, then why the hell is she wasting her time drawing anyway?

Instead of calling yourself “talented” or even wondering about whether you have it in the first place, it’s much better to go from interest.

Are you interested in what you’re doing?

Yes? Good. Then keep doing it, keep trying, keep experimenting.

The minute you decide you’re talented or that you possess some magical way of producing good art, you create room for Resistance.

It’s much harder to produce shit when you’re talented. You don’t allow yourself to do it. But because the nature of creative work is such that 99% of anything you do is shit, you end up producing nothing.

When you think in terms of “talent,” it’s very easy to become blocked. The block is nothing but fear, and you’re afraid of just one thing: fail to meet expectations.

When you think of yourself as a “writer” or “creator” or that you’re talented, there’s too much pressure to create.

Instead, be interested. Do what’s interesting. Solely for that purpose. See where it gets you.

You can’t experiment when you think you’re talented.


But hearing my sister talk about talent in this way made me think about the general nature of talent in the creative spheres.

Is talent that necessary? And is there such a thing?

I think no.

I once heard Seth Godin say that there is no such thing as a passion – only passionate people. It’s the same with talent.

If Shakespeare was born today, he would have still been successful. I am pretty sure about that. He would have been a blogger, a YouTuber, a movie director – someone.

If Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos were born 500 years ago, they would have found a way to turn their drive to do something worthwhile with their lives.

There are no talents – only talented people.

Chances are, you’re talented at something. Perhaps you don’t know what it is. You probably don’t. As John Gardener famously said, we die with 90% of our potentialities undiscovered, untried.

There’s much more creative force in you that has ever been tapped.

But don’t call it talent. Call it skill.

I am good at swimming. When I was 10, I won the local championships. I won them when I was 12 too. But then I stopped swimming (and winning). Now I swim better than the average person (my muscles remember technique), but I am not talented at swimming.

I am also pretty good at writing. Better than the average person, again. When I started to write on Medium last October (2019), I wrote like an idiot. English is my second language, so that made sense. I wrote every day for almost a year, and now I write better, more freely. Am I a talented writer? I have no idea. Probably not. Again, there’s no such thing.

But there is such a thing as skill. It’s merely the by-product of the time – those impactful, creative hours – that you put into something.

I had a friend with whom we were swimming together. Back when I was 12, I was better than him, faster. Now he’s the best swimmer in the country. He just put more time into it.

Some people say you need 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Others say it’s horseshit. It’s also probably different for every sphere.

Whatever the truth is, there is some number of hours you have to hit to become good at something. Not just good, but “so good they can’t ignore you.”

When you become that, people will look at you and say, “Gosh. You’re such an overnight success. It’s probably because you’re talented.”

And you’re going to look at them with a smile because words will be pointless.

And then you’ll get back to work.

In case you’ve missed:

Leave a comment