What criticising a ‘talentless success’ taught me

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A few years ago, I was active in one of my many hobbies and engaging with an online group with the same interest. I noticed a particular person who was really putting herself out there and promoting her work with gusto and it piqued my interest. I’ve been following this person ever since.

Now the interesting thing about this person to me was that their work actually wasn’t very good. I’m a perfectionist and at that time I could be incredibly critical, not only of myself, but of others. If there was something I felt I could do better than someone else, that person may never hear about it, but I would certainly be thinking about it.

I think it’s important to state right now that the reason I have been so critical of this person is that I was jealous of their success. Based on some key misunderstandings of how life works, I often felt that other people tended to merely fall on their success and thus I had missed out on something. Note well; this is NOT how life works.

Several years later, this person has created a successful business around their hobby, but to be honest their work has not improved that much. They blog and have other publications, but their writing isn’t excellent. I’ve always thought to myself, ‘how is this person so successful when their work is so mediocre?’.

Folks, talent is not everything.

In fact, people with little natural talent can still, very successfully, do what they are passionate about. I had been of the mistaken opinion for most of my life that talent was vital. My personal myth about talent was that it was the one thing that you could do better than just about anyone else, the first time you ever tried it. Of course it seemed important; if you could find your personal talent, wouldn’t life just open up to you? Surely if you could find your talent, people would line up to buy whatever you waved your talent wand over and your business would be an effortless success.

Talent is fun to have, and it can certainly help you to find your passions. But rather than looking at talent as some kind of destiny-deciding magic, look at it as a starting point. It doesn’t work like Harry Potter characters being shepherded into their factions by wizardry. It’s just one of several factors in figuring out what your passions are and at which point on the path you will begin. The rest is up to you.

It’s good to remember that there truly is no accounting for taste. If you have a product that you personally believe in, and you stay present and engaged long enough, you will most likely find an interested buyer. In fact, if you’re in it for the long game, you will inevitably build a dedicated following of people who believe that what you do is awesome.

It helps to remember, when being critical, that not everyone has the same tastes as you. What you or I may see as someone with no talent, or a product that is no good, could easily appeal to someone else, perhaps even a large number of people.

Everything holds lessons for us, so instead of asking this in an arrogant and childish way, I decided to turn the question around to reveal what it had to teach me:

How is this person so successful? If what they produce and sell is not very widely appealing and their writing isn’t very good, what qualities have brought them success in their business?

Commitment

It was clear that this person was deeply committed to her own vision. She honoured herself by showing up to her desk daily and working towards her goals. She put hours and hours of work into developing and creating her products, and into her online presence. She spent time interacting with people, building her name within her area of interest, and slowly building a strong following of customers. Gradually she expanded her business to keep it moving forward. She demonstrated great commitment.

Vision

As I observed the development of this person’s business from start to present-day, I could see that she had a clear and defined pathway. Early in her career she had envisioned the position she wanted to be in today, and that is the vision she had steadily worked towards ever since. She’d been meticulous in observing and correcting when veering off the path. Having a vision of where you are headed is key.

Persistence and resilience

One thing this person obviously had was persistence, and plenty of it. As I observed her online, I never saw her give up. I never saw her speak negatively about her own work or get bogged down in imperfection. I always saw an upbeat, energetic, positive, driven representation of her product, goals and beliefs. I know this person received criticism (I gave some of it myself) but she always seemed to just shake it off and keep going. This person was tenacious through everything, including several major life changes and raising children. I never, ever saw her making excuses.

Hard work

This lady proved that she was willing to put the hours in and work hard; putting together websites, creating products, planning the trajectory of the business, advertising, running social media, interacting with her community and customers, or any of a thousand other small daily tasks that are required in running an online-based business. All of these things take time and effort, some much more than you’d ever expect. This person was obviously not afraid of creating a lifestyle of hard work. She showed up to the desk time and time again.

If you want to be successful, you need a clear mental picture of where you’re headed, and then you need to walk, run, climb, fall or stumble along that path until you get there.

The take-home message I want you to hear, and what this lady taught me, is this; talent is merely a starting point on your path. It will not get you to your destination, no matter how much of a head start it gives you. Success is created with vision and the self-disciplines of persistence, hard work and commitment. These are things that anyone has access to and that is why your success or failure rests not in the hands of fate, but in your own capable hands.

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