Passion Vs. Talent

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I can’t say I’ve had very many “deep” thoughts this summer. Recuperating from Semester at Sea and working three clients and studying the prior fall has rendered my desire to exert effort in pondering anything pretty close to nil. But recently I was leading a seminar session about career goals, and one of the attendees asked if you should follow your talent or your passion. This question has stuck with me for the last few weeks. I’m not pondering a career change personally, but it got me to thinking about hobbies, weaknesses, strengths and how we spend our time and money.

What are you passionate about? What are you talented at? What are your hobbies/activies that you spend your time/money on?

I think I am good at what I do, very good in fact, but I don’t possess the ego to believe that someone else out there can’t (and indeed probably is) doing what I do professionally, better. The fact that I have a passion for the intersection of business and education, the belief that I have a talent for interpersonal communication and motivation lead me to believe that it takes little effort for me to be very good at what I do, but someone who lacked those things could probably do them just as well with a lot more dedicated focus or energy.

I’m passionate about cooking for example, but I wouldn’t consider myself talented in that arena AT ALL. And I believe I’m a pretty good cook. I possess a talent for writing (perhaps a minor one, but you get the idea) but I don’t have a passion for writing in the way that someone driven to write a book or who dedicates a career to producing original fiction does. At the same time, I seriously believe that if I wanted to/set the goal to write a book/novel, that I could do it. And again, because I don’t have an ego about this sort of thing, I fully believe that you could too.

I believe what separates the very good/great from the merely good, is simply effort. I don’t put 110% into everything, or even most things now that I’m old enough to calculate (albeit subjective) return on investment of my time/money. But I quite simply belive that: There are thousands smarter than you, hundreds prettier than you, dozens upon dozens with more resources than you, but nobody can outwork you if it is something you really want.

In this way, passion vs. talent isn’t really the question, it is what is the role of effort in achieving greatness? I think most people haven’t figured out what they are passionate about and what they are talented at. And yes I believe you can be both passionate about and talented at the same thing: Tiger Woods (golf); Steve Jobs (technology); Alan Greenspan (Finance); Will Smith (entertainment); and the list goes on when you throw in the countless educators, lawyers, doctors, etc. I also believe that just as you can be passionate and low on talent (me and cooking), you can be talented and low performing, i.e. those with talent still have to practice their craft relentlessly in order to perform at a high level and not lose their ability. Thus, it really is effort that makes the difference between good and great.

9 thoughts on “Passion Vs. Talent”

  1. Thank you. I have not yet found something that I am passionate about. I would like to work at something I both enjoy and could make a good living. Thus far, I have found neither, LOL.

    Things are going alright for me. The closest passion I have is blogging and creating stuff with audio and video. Once I figure out how to earn a living doing those, maybe I’ll match my talents with my passions.

    In any case, this is a great post.

  2. awesome post. definitely got me thinking. personally, i’m too caught up in what i’m supposed to be doing to give much thought to what i want to be doing. i’m beginning to think that this may not be the best strategy. especially since i rarely want to do what i feel like i should be doing. i’m very adept at willing myself to act, but rarely on my own behalf. i suppose it’s the whole “to whom much is given, much is expected” complex. my consciousness and sense of responsibility interfere with whatever latent passions lie within me. perhaps i merely lack the courage to act, or perhaps, like you, i lack ego. personal development requires inward focus. external impact requires a strong sense of self. but i’m convinced that if i turn my focus inward, i’ll lose my sense of purpose. i don’t think i can do both. self-sacrifice for the greatest good. that is my only passion. but isn’t that the ultimate ego trip? around in circles i go…

  3. Hey Dia… 🙂
    Your post is a thought-provoking one, but to me, I think the answer is easy.
    I say follow one’s passion. I could be a talented singer, but if I dislike doing it, what good is it? It would make me miserable. Following one’s passion makes a person happy at the end of the day and I believe if you are passionate enough about something then success will be sure to follow (ie. monetary success and being able to support yourself). If I’m talented in doing something I dislike, I may have tons of wealth from that talent, but ultimately, I won’t be innately happy.

  4. I’m 100% behind you on the whole percentage of effort needed to succeed…I rarely give 110% or even 100% to any endeavor or idea…maybe its my Achilles heel or maybe its a gift from God that allows me to keep everything in perspective when everyone else zooms past me in the “rat race” concerned with cars, expensive houses, and name brand clothing…I can’t be bothered with those things and choose to focus my workday on planning short weekend trips and pondering questions like “where can I set up my portable hammock?” without getting much completed in the way of professional duties (the good news is that I work in a huge bureaucracy so I can do that) …I think that although I’m nowhere near being a workaholic I could/would become one if my profession coincided with my passion.

  5. Shaine: Thanks for the shout out!

    Lboogs: I think it takes a lot of courage to break from tradition and follow your own path, complicated by familial duty, being the eldest, etc. its not easy. You’ll find your stride in time!

    Jen: I agree with you, the best is when your passion and your talents mesh, but my premise is that most people don’t know what their passion(s) is/are and most of us are scared to truly jump out their and do something “non-traditional”

    S: We’ve talked about this before, you’re so talented in a general sense that you could do almost anything so you’ll always suffer from “The Paradox of Choice”.

    Great Comments!

  6. [Shameless blog-plug alert] Wow, I recently wrote an entry about this very same question (, in which my central thesis posits that I—and, I think, an awful lot of us—am not so much unaware of where my basic talents lie as I am too often disdainful of those things I do particularly well, existing instead in this state of want for the talents that most elude me.

    Do you think cheetahs ever tire of the whole “fast” thing and wish they were better swimmers?

  7. Scout: You are hilarious, great post. Maybe your post got this marinating and combined with the conversation was what got me to put it on paper (so to speak).

  8. So what if you don’t know what your talented at? I have passion for certain things and the odd person says im talented but that doesn’t make it so.

    Confused, I took some of the better, more professional career/talent tests with the 12 page self evaluations and they don’t really explain what your talents are based on any kind of performance, but rather they pinpoint what your leaning to based on interest.


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