How Many of Us Find Our True Talent?

Throughout my life, a recurring question has occurred to me: “Am I doing the thing that I’d be best at?” By that, I mean are there talents that lay dormant inside us because we never got to exercise them?

Yeah, I’m waxing a little philosophical.

I look at Tiger Woods. Imagine if his father Earl Woods hadn’t gotten him hooked on golf at a young age. And seen the child prodigy with a sweet swing at the age of 3. Suppose his path had been different. Maybe he goes to law school. Would he be some world class lawyer? Maybe. But I expect he’d be more like a great lawyer in a sea of great lawyers. As opposed to the standout golfer he is.

I look at Sergey Brin. Founded and has grown Google. Wow. Suppose he had decided to practice medicine instead?

Donald Trump…instead of real estate, maybe he’d be a golf pro at the local club.

Al Gore could have been a hell of an accountant…

My own theory is that each of have talents that are uniquely strong in us. For some, these talents would put them on the world stage. For most of us, they’d probably vault us to the top of a particular field. And yet I suspect that most of us never hit on those unique talents.


  • Too quick to focus on something at a young age, never trying out other areas
  • No opportunities to surface and develop the hidden talent
  • Practical realities – kids, mortgage, caring for someone who is ill – prevent a move into a different field

Some hypothetical examples: You’re a solid IT manager in your company. But it turns out you have a hidden talent for making exquisite furniture. You’re a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. But you have an unknown talent for designing scalable architectures. You’re the financial controller for your company. But you would have been an amazing, Gretzky-like hockey player.

As I go through my own career, I do wonder about this idea. But even more important to me is thinking about my two kids (4 years old, 19 months old). First priority is their happiness. But if I could help them in figure out the things they are really good at, might they be even happier?

What do you think? Most of us find our “highest and best use”? Or are there opportunities most of us are never aware of?


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About Hutch Carpenter
Chief Scientist Revolution Credit

22 Responses to How Many of Us Find Our True Talent?

  1. Mark Trapp says:

    I’ve been reading some things about Gen Y people, in how they are more apt to change their job every couple of years, which is something unheard of even 15-20 years ago. If that is true, and if it continues, I think you’ll see more and more people finally find jobs they both love and excel at. You don’t know if you like something unless you try it.

  2. eng1ne says:

    I think we all wonder if we unknowingly have prodigious talent that lies untapped. And, sometimes, there are those that do have great talent and find the niche they are best at: The beauty, the Einstein, the violin virtuoso.

    However, even those have to work hard, very hard, to become the best in their field, and with many skills, if an essential component is taken away, they must face the harsh reality that the thing which they are best at they may no longer be able to do, like Football or hand modeling or perfume making.

    For the rest of us, that leaves work, practice and a relentless drive to embetter ourselves. From that perspective, it doesn’t too bad, does it?

  3. Nick says:

    Problem is, focusing single-mindedly on something (preferably from a very young age thanks to a a pushy parent) is a key ingredient for being great at something.

  4. fpettit says:

    I totally agree with this. Many people in our country are very misplaced. Why do you think we have so many college graduates in this country that do not end up in a job in their field of study.

    I really think we could do more with primary and secondary education to help students identify strengths and weaknesses.

    Vocational training is overlooked by most college bound high school students.

    It is a shame for intelligent people to reach adulthood and never find their niche. It would certainly help our society for them to find their purpose.

  5. markdykeman says:

    First: digging the new WP theme!

    Second: most of us don’t find that special calling or talent due to the need to scrape out a living. However, I think there are more possibilities today than there used to be.

  6. @Mark – experimenting a bit while you’re young is a good thing. Perhaps the hardest thing for that age group is to recognize when they’ve actually found something at which they’ll be good. So many choices!

  7. @eng1ne – even if you are lucky enough to find the talent that will really set you apart – hard work will be needed to realize that potential. No question.

  8. @Nick – you’re right about the single-minded devotion. That’s where luck comes into play. Did you focus on the right thing? Big roll of the dice, but if you’re lucky enough to have found one of your superior talents, it pays.

  9. Shey says:

    In all of us lies an X-factor. Something that we are so passionate about that we push ourselves to learn as much as we can about it and have it consume our fantasies and desires. Some never find this hidden potential and others discover it early.

    I would hope at some point in any of our lives that we take a shot at finding it and building on it.

    We all dream of doing what we love and getting paid for it, but at the end of the day, if you can’t feed your family and pay your bills, keep it as a hobby.

  10. @fpettit – good thoughts there. Schools play a vital role in exposing kids to different activities. Parents have a role in helping their kids see different opportunities, and in letting them know that things for which kids have talent are OK to pursue.

  11. @Mark – scraping out a living is really a big one. Especially if your family does not have much money, and you’re graduating from college. Pursue something that you’ve got a talent for? Or take the job that let’s starting earning money today?

  12. @Shey – well put. That optimistic spirit is exactly what I’d like to impart to my children. And I will continue on that path as well. I do think the Web is giving a lot of us exposure to a broader world than we used to have when I was a kid. Hopefully that will make it easier for people to figure out what they’re good at and what they love.

  13. gregory says:

    ramana maharshi suggested that everything the body will go through was set in motion at the time the sperm and the egg came together … of course, he didn’t think there was any “i” except the one that observed the whole game …

    the short reply, you are doing just what you are supposed to be doing, and already are whole and complete

  14. Pingback: everybodyknowed » Blog Archive » Finding and discovering is as good as doing.

  15. I can relate to this very well right now as I’m deciding which major in college will cast me down the right path to not only bring out my strongest skills but also cater to how drastic my interests may change with experience. The only way to make progress is by trying all sorts of activities and staying open minded.

  16. Colin Walker says:

    Really thought provoking post Hutch. Mark does indeed hit on perhaps the biggest hurdle; just having to survive the daily grind limits us (and our children) enormously.

    My parents had very little money and we lived in an isolated community (an island) dominated by tourism with little scope for opportunity. Consequently, I left home and moved to the mainland to get a job. I had always thought I wanted to work with computers but fell in to a job with local government because it paid more.

    After 8 years of realising this is NOT what I wanted to be doing I jumped out to IT and started at the bottom.

    Family life etc. meant hard choices. I was not a young, single guy any more so was instantly behind in that respect and the commitments limited my opportunities (don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge my family anything) but because I had spent those 8 years in a field I didn’t want to be in I effectively wasted them as I am now the parent trying to keep food on the table and give my kids more opportunities than I had as a child.

    I have dabbled in different areas (was a decent under-18’s badminton player, and one time upcoming club DJ) but life always gets in the way and at 36 I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.

    We need a degree of luck and opportunity in one form or another or, like most of us, we have to settle for the mediocre life of eeking out an existence.

    Man, that sounds depressing πŸ˜‰

  17. @gregory – thanks for that philosophy from ramana maharshi. I looked him up ( Very interesting man. I like his thinking.

  18. @Julian – when I was undergrad, I could breeze through programming classes, but stuck with finance, my interest going into college. Finance was fine, but I actually no desire to go to New York, the place to DO finance. And now I find myself back in the world of software.

    The ease with which coding came to me (and I enjoyed it) was a signal that I ignored. I had already closed off that path before I started college. In retrospect, I should have looked at that harder.

    This is something I’m going to impart to my kids – don’t close out possibilities too soon.

  19. @Colin – that’s a really good telling of your story. Thank you for that. It actually helps me understand you better. And your story is one that applies to me as well. I didn’t jump into software until I was 32, meaning my first 10 years out of college had little to do with where I am now. And yes, it does put you behind those who knew they wanted to do software right off the bat.

    I do hope to overcome the career delay I’ve given myself. But even if I can’t, as long as I can work and be there for my kids, I’ll still have amounted to something. πŸ˜‰

  20. Ste says:

    I feel like the only person in the world that does not believe in natural talent…. or at least for the sake of argument, that believing in natural talent will do nothing but stop you from archiving your highest potential in things.

    if you work hard and put vast amounts of energy and effort into something you will be successful in it, whether or not you’re good at something just relies on your past experiences and the way you have been taught. people who blame the fact they are just not talented in it are possibly giving up to soon or using it as an excuse to themselves to quit.

    think about what advantage believing in natural talent is giving you when you try new things.

    my main point i guess is, that if tiger woods put the same energy, determination, and effort he put into golf since he was young… into something else…. he would also be one of the best in that field also.

  21. Pingback: Will We Ever Find Our True Talent? Not Likely Says Malcolm Gladwell « I’m Not Actually a Geek

  22. Pingback: How many of us find our true talent? She did. « I’m Not Actually a Geek

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