The other day I saw a video of a woman lifting tables using her legs. She was lying on the floor, facing up and with her legs perpendicular to the floor, holding a dining table with her feet. The best part is when she starts to rotate the table and makes some crazy acrobatics with it only using her feet. Is it a talent? I mean, IS IT? If it is, how do we even find out you have that “talent”?
Or even worse. Some people can squirt milk from their eyes or can put fire into their mouths (called fire eating). This leads to some fundamental questions: what is a talent, and where does it come from?
Talent is a skill you have to carry out some activity and that not many people are good at. Let’s take a common example: singing. Have you ever sang along believing that you sound exactly like the singer and just for an instant you have that sudden singing confidence? Yep, that was me, believing that I have singing skills until my friends said that I clearly did not (also my music teacher said that so it must be true).
So why do musicians have that talent and the rest not? Let’s consider Einstein’s quote: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
The first conclusion that comes into my mind is that everyone has no initial talent. No one is extremely good at singing, cooking, dancing, etc. So at first, we are just plain human beings with no skills that stand us out from others. We all know about comedy, sports and art, but nobody does considerably better so nobody becomes famous because, of course, nobody is good enough to stand out. It’s being “passionately curious” that makes us have talents, famous or not. Indeed, as Albert Einstein said, we have “no special talent”, it’s purely the product of our curiosity.
Hold on. “Passionately curious”… passion and curiosity… You can be curious about the stars and the Universe, but that doesn’t make you a good astronomer. You can be passionate about Italian food, but that doesn’t make you a good cook (I wish it was that way). Curiosity gets you started and passion gets you going. Therefore, when you have both, you have the power to master anything. If you master something, that can be considered a talent (as long as it’s considerably better than what most people can do or as long as it is considered impressive).
Passion + Curiosity – Laziness = Talent
Nevertheless, some people believe that there is a difference between talent and skill. A talent can be considered as a natural aptitude, according to Google, or an ability that you are born with. Skill is the ability to do something well. This can be affected by various aspects: biological, physical, physiological, geographical, etc. A singer should have a nice natural voice. A basketball player is preferably tall and with a fit body. A comedian has an extroverted and humorous personality. And so on.
These people were born with these qualities, which ended up being talents. There is no curiosity element, just pure luck. Maybe Einstein was born with very high IQ and found complicated things easier than normal people. He might have been curious, but probably his natural intelligence played a big part. Probably that was it. In other words, Einstein was being modest when writing this quote.
But… what if he wasn’t being modest? What if he actually didn’t have any talent and was just curious? In that scenario, Einstein was an average kid in high school that had average grades, a girlfriend and a nice group of friends. One summer, his parents went to Switzerland to visit their friends but didn’t have much money, so Albert and his sister Maja stayed with their aunt. Albert’s friends were all away, his aunt was working all day at the hair salon and his sister spent the day with friends or reading a novel by Jules Verne. It was a quiet town, and even quieter in the summer. The first days of summer were extremely boring and hot. Why did the sun have to be so bright? Boring days were bearable, but why did they need to be annoyingly hot? Albert got really upset, and started to wonder about the sun. Would it always be there the whole summer to torture him? Why did it always come back at 6am and go at 9pm? Where did it go? And most importantly, why did it stay there and leave him alone with the fresh temperature of the night? Tired of these questions, he started to seek answers. The library was the only source he had. Without thinking twice, Albert ran to the library and took every book related to the sun. He found out that the sun was actually a star, like the ones at night, and, according to the heliocentric model, we orbit around it. Day by day, he learned more about astronomy and the principles of physics. Then he wondered about the whole universe. About its limits. About time. About everything. Curiosity took over him and a passion for physics began to strike him. But that wasn’t limited only to that summer. Albert was so passionate that he continued to study physics for the next years. Who would have thought that a boy like him would at the end develop the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics?
The moral of this made-up story is that no one actually chooses what to be curious about, and with enough passion you can build up a strength, a skill, from that curiosity, possibly leading to a new talent (even if you are not born with it).
Another point is what you consider to be a talent. Would you consider Einstein’s intelligence an actual talent? I would. But, for example, would you consider being able to solve a Rubik’s Cube a talent? I wouldn’t. It’s quite an impressive skill, but I wouldn’t call it a talent. Would you say a salesman is talented if it had incredibly good persuasive skills and made lots of sales? Yes, I would. So it really depends on your definition of talent.
To wrap up everything, Einstein was quite right on his quote. Talents may be the result of curiosity and passion. Curiosity may be the thing that distinguish us from others, as we can not control what are we curious about. Therefore, we do not control the talents we have, specially if you were born with one, or none. However, we can try to develop our skills to turn them into a talent. Next time consider if what you see is a talent, a skill or just vocation. Because you will know when you see passion. Passion is the source of many things. So I will leave you with one question:
Is your curiosity passionate enough?