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?


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