Dean Wesley Smith had an interesting post over at his blog, talking about "The Myth of Talent." I agree with a lot of it. I think labeling someone as "talented" or "untalented" (especially at an early age) can be incredibly damaging and counterproductive.
However, I do believe in talent, which Dean doesn't.
The Husband and I had a great discussion about this topic last night, which led me to post a comment over at Dean's blog. Here are my thoughts on the subject:
My husband did bring up a good point after I showed him this post. You can say that talent doesn't matter up to a point, but you also have to take into account certain limiting factors. Just as there are physical limitations, like my poor eyesight making it so I will never be a fighter pilot, there are also mental limitations. He reminded me of a couple friends in high school who worked their butts off trying to learn stuff, and could just never wrap their heads around it. Certain maths just didn't make sense to them, no matter how it was explained. And it's not that they weren't trying, but they just couldn't grasp the fundamental concepts needed to improve their skills.
I think hard work can improve anyone. Those friends of mine certainly understood more than they would have without the hard work. But there is a limit, and that limit is different for different people on different subjects, and I think that is what true "talent" is. Talent without hard work will only get you so far, and hard work without talent will only get you so far (although I'd wager that hard work will get you farther than raw talent 99 times out of 100). In the cases where you hit a limit, though, telling those folks that they just aren't trying hard enough is cruel. They haven't discovered a surgery yet that would make my eyesight good enough for me to be a fighter pilot, no matter how hard I worked at learning to fly planes.
Ultimately, I think talent is anything you can't take credit for. I learn things very quickly, much more quickly than most of my peers in school. That's not something I did, and I can't take credit for it. It's a talent, and one I am grateful to have. I exercise and make use of it by always learning about new things, but ultimately, I can't take credit for it. And I think recognizing the talents we do have helps keep us humble. Be grateful for the talents you have, and work your butt off in appreciation to make the most of them. I bristle when people say "well, you can be a published writer because you have talent," because writing IS something I can take credit for. I've worked hard for years to get to the level I'm at now, and I'm going to continue to work hard, hopefully for the rest of my life. There may be some talent there, but it's mostly hours and hours and hours of hard work.
If someone tells me I'm "just talented" at something and it makes me uncomfortable, it's usually because it's something I can't take credit for. That's a talent. If someone tells me I'm "just talented" at something and it pisses me off, that's not talent, that's hard work. And that's how I tell the difference.