10 Traits That Are More Important Than Talent

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Very few people are born as child prodigies or with such exceptional talent that everything comes easily to them.

From time to time, we hear of some pianist or gymnast or mathematician who completely stands out from everyone else.

But the large majority of people don’t land on the planet with extraordinary talent. In fact, some of us may have pretty slim pickings when it comes to natural skill.

And yet, when we combine determination to do something with a lot of hard work and passion, along with a great deal of time, we can usually begin to see a degree of growth.

For example, my oldest loves to play basketball. He started when he was nine years old and in fourth grade. He could hardly dribble a ball without it bouncing off his shoes. He rarely caught a pass without letting it slip through his fingers. And he struggled to get the ball to the rim, much less actually make a basket.

Needless to say, he didn’t get to play much that first year. As I watched faithfully from the sidelines, I despaired that his experience would discourage him and make him want to quit basketball altogether. Compared to some of the other boys his age on the team, he was thin, asthmatic, and slow. He didn’t appear to have an ounce of talent. He was a bright boy with giftings in other areas—particularly academics. But during those first couple of years of basketball, we didn’t see much ability when it came to sports.

To my surprise, my son didn’t give up on basketball. He enjoyed it. He loved being a part of a team and hanging out with his friends. And he liked the challenge that came with the game. So he stuck with it.

Not only did he stick with it, he worked his tail off over the past five years. He participated in summer basketball camps. He did daily ball handling and shooting workouts, and eventually added in lifting weights, running, and jumping rope.

During this past school year, he started each game, was a versatile player with good statistics, and was one of the tallest and best shooters. Perhaps he wasn’t the most aggressive player. But he’d come a LONG way from that gangly fourth grader.

So what’s my point?

Talent is over-rated. Sure it may help to have a little bit of inborn gifting to help you get going on something. Talent may help you progress a little faster and easier.

But . . . talent isn’t necessary to succeed. 

In fact, very little talent is required. Just look at my son and how far he’s come with his basketball-playing ability.

There are some qualities that will get us further than talent. Whether in basketball or writing or anything, here are the traits that helped my son—ten qualities that can help us all:

1. Stay determined. Decide you want to do it. Then make up your mind to stay the course.

2. Don’t get discouraged (at least not for long). Don’t listen to the naysayers who don’t think you have what it takes (especially if that naysayer is yourself!). And if you are discouraged, let it push you to try all the harder.

3. Don’t give up too soon. Stick with it even when you know you’re not all that good yet. Remember that most don’t start out as super stars, that they have to work hard for years before honing their skills.

4. Surround yourself with friends who share and understand the passion. They enrich the experience.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others. While I may have compared my son to others, he didn’t. He always focused on what he needed to do and never worried about how he measured up to others.

6. Work your tail off. Go at it until you sweat and feel pain.

7. Practice daily (or at least regularly). Come up with a routine. Have a checklist (my son did).

8. Continually push yourself to improve. Once you’ve mastered something, then learn something new.

9. Keep the vision of what you can become. Always see the product of what you will accomplish if you work hard enough.

10. Most of all enjoy it. Find pleasure in the process itself, even when it’s hard.

These are the traits my son employed with basketball. This summer if you were to visit our house, you’d see him out in the driveway shooting hoops and doing his drills. He’s still working hard every day.

And because of that, he’s developed an ability to play basketball.
(I'm pleased to say that exactly 15 years ago, I had the blessing of holding him in my arms for the very first time! Happy birthday, son! I'm proud of you.)

How about you? Have you put too much stock in talent? Which of the above 10 traits do you need to work on the most?



  1. I also, am blessed with very little (if any) athletic talent. Ten years ago, after a car accident, I decided that I had let that be an excuse for too long and decided to do a marathon.

    I didn't run (at all), my first "run" consisted of walking to one telephone pole and then walk/shuffle to the next. I would say 95% of the population have more natural running affinity that short little me with midget legs!

    Six months later, I was no more talented, nor was I even a good runner. But all that completing a marathon requires is doing the hard training yards, putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to give up. That I could do :)

    Writing is like that too. For every sentence I find that sings, ten are rubbish. For every scene that is good, ten have to be cut or extensively rewritten. But if I just keep plonking one word down after another, eventually something that may eventually turn into a book emerges.

    You can do something with 90,000 words that need a huge amount of work, you can't do anything with none!

    I'm sure there are lots of uber talented writers out there who could write a far better manuscript than me first time around, but they don't. Just like there are lots of talented runners who could run a marathon far faster than me but they never do :)

  2. Excellent post! I've always believed -- and always tell my kids -- that success in life is about hard work and never giving up and going after what you want. I have this debate with my husband all the time -- talent versus hard work -- and while I believe it's a combination of both that makes one truly successful, if I had to pick one, hard work would trump talent every time.

  3. Jody!
    Happy birthday to your son,you have every reason to be a proud mama!
    I enjoyed reading this post, thank you. I practically try to remember these things in everything that I do.

    Bless you, Jody!


  4. Basketball was my sport, too, and your son's story resonated. I worked hard and became the greatest shooter in the history of Parkman Junior High. I actually played a year at the college level. I enjoyed the game and enjoyed the work ethic.

    Writing, for me, same thing. I write in Plot & Structure about being sold the Big Lie that you can't learn to write fiction. I'm not naturally gifted like a Stephen King (who, I think, was writing in the womb). But I learned you really could learn this if you work hard at it, and 30 novels later I think that's been proved.

    Great post.

  5. Good morning, everyone! Loving your thoughts this morning! No one needs to be left out or left behind for lack of talent. We all have a fair shot at success if we work hard enough!

  6. All of these are great points and so true about anything we want to be good at. As I read your points, I realized that all of these things also apply to someone who is born with a natural talent. I've been told my whole life I am a talented writer, from family members to college professors to magazine editors, but I can guarantee you that my first draft of my first ms was terrible because, no matter how much talent someone possesses, if they don't know the rules, techniques and philisophies behind the words in a novel, than they are just that: words. I've learned so much from James Scott Bell, Rachelle Gardner, Susan May Warren, you and so many other bloggers - but I have a long, long way to go in developing that talent and passion - and if I don't stay determined, if I don't practice, if I don't discipline myself, if I don't surround myself with other writers, than I won't ammount to much as a writer. And, talent is subjective anyway!

  7. Jody, happy birthday to your son today! What a joy to celebrate! The one thing that stands out on your list is comparison. That is so very lethal to accomplishing just about anything - whether or not you have the natural talent. Comparison swings the emotional gamut from pride down to self-loathing. Setting our face like a flint (as Jesus did towards Jerusalem and the cross) on what God's called us to do makes all the difference and leaves no room for pesky things like comparison.

  8. As a teacher, I often wish our system was designed to allow students more opportunities to follow their aptitude and strengths as opposed to struggling endlessly to improve weak areas. There is certainly something to be said for learning perseverance and persistence, necessary skills in life, but in the long run many people are happiest when they follow their passions.

  9. Jumping in to say I absolutely love the sayings/pictures in this post. PERFECT for Pinterest.

    Question 4 U: How do you make them? Do you just purchase a stock photo and add the quote and your website address?

    Happy bday to your eldest! Great stuff in this post!

  10. Thanks Katie! I've chosen to use free picture sites for my blog. I know some professionals downplay using the free sites because they don't think the quality of the pictures is very good and honestly you don't always have a great selection of pictures to choose from. But that's what I've done so far!

    Katie you may also want to check into my "Likes" on Pinterest or also under my "All About Pinterest" for some more ways to make pins. There's one in particular that is called "Pin a Quote" that I've seen used quite a bit. I haven't tried it myself, but it looks good!

  11. What a great post, Jody! It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize
    how close they were to success when they gave up."

    ~ Thomas Edison ~

    Your son is a fine example and we can all learn from him. Happy Birthday to a true example of determination!

  12. Sweet! I totally will! I'm always so impressed by them and have to resist repinning every one I see. (I don't want you to think I'm pinterest stalking you!)

  13. Awesome post, Jody! Talent is something we have no control over so it's encouraging to be able to improve what we DO have control over. Thanks and kudos to your son!

  14. When I was in 8th grade, my choral teacher Mrs Norman, told me I had the guns to sing better than Nancy Peck, but I had to try. Nancy was somewhat famous in my city, and quite aware of how good she was. But I had more far than faith. By 12th grade, I was starting to maybe think Mrs Norman was on to something. Nancy was a high soprano, a very high soprano. I was very highly scared of failing and killing the ear drums of everyone who heard me.
    In college, everyone had to sing in the choir, 120 of us. Gack! One piece was quite technical and I thought I had it. As we sang, the director cut everyone off and yelled "who was THAT?" I nearly died.
    "It was her" announced some twit next to me.
    "That was good, do it again and do it louder."
    So I did.

    Now , in our humble little church choir, I'm one of the two nuclear powered sopranos. I can hit just about any high note you give me.

    And who's voice do I hear in my head?

    Mrs Francis E Norman saying "you CAN do it!"

    Here's to practice, drills, more drills, warm-ups that sound ridiculous, the love of a good choral piece and Mrs Norman, who believed in me.

  15. Hopefully no one thinks I'm bragging. I can't sing middle C to save my life and I know my 5 good notes are not my own.

  16. Great post! Wandered over here from Twitter, and I'm very glad I did. Thank you for sharing this.

  17. Great post Jody and exactly what I needed to hear right now. Your posts are always an inspiration to stay on track and not give up. You've saved me countless times! Thank you

  18. Love this list! Being born with talent gives us the responsibility to nurture and grow it it. And we should enjoy the process.
    Thanks!(*Happy Belated Bday to your son!)

  19. A great list, Jody! Thank you.

    A tough one for me is not comparing myself to others. I admire that your son figured that out at a young age. :) Happy belated birthday to him.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  20. This comes at a crucial time for me. I am feeling pretty despairing about my writing career. I know I can do it - both fiction and freelance. But I feel this obscure pressure to get back to an office job - which is not really what I want to do. Thanks for the encouragement.

  21. I think too often people confuse hard work and talent. They look at someone who does something good and automatically think that they are a natural or have talent. Sometimes they forget to stop to think about the hundreds and thousands of hours that person has put into developing that “talent.” So I don’t think talent is overrated as much as it is mislabeled and misunderstood.

    Number one and two are the toughest for me because I often feel like I’m doing more struggling than developing of my “talent” that I get discouraged and lose my determination. I am indeed my own biggest critic.

    But that’s when I try to rely on my friends who share the passion, like you say in number four. That part is really important. To have people who understand the struggle and can help you through. And then be there for them to help them through.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Amanda! I like your theory that talent is misunderstood. That's a great way to look at it!

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