Monthly Archives: October 2011

They who lack talent expect things to happen without effort. They ascribe failure to a lack of inspiration or ability, or to misfortune, rather than to insufficient application. At the core of every true talent there is an awareness of the difficulties inherent in any achievement, and the confidence that by persistence and patience something worthwhile will be realized. Thus talent is a species of vigor.

—Eric Hoffer

People do not enjoy something because they are talented at it—they become talented at it because they enjoy it.

Talent can only develop where one has an inexhaustible drive for improvement coupled with an infinite tolerance for failure. If you expect to become skilled at a craft, you have to be prepared to fuck up over and over again and then have the patience to keep fucking up until you don’t fuck up so much any more.

It helps if you enjoy whatever it is you’re doing so much that you can do it obsessively, that it doesn’t matter whether you’re fucking up or not because you love doing it.

Being born with good brain parts for music or chess or art or math isn’t even part of the struggle for talent—that’s just a prerequisite. Being born with a good brain only helps to the extent that you learn faster and you enjoy learning because you don’t fuck up quite so much. But growing up so well endowed can also lead to taking one’s abilities for granted, to an oversensitivity to fucking up (any sensitivity at all is too much), and ultimately to laziness. Many gifted people never make much use of their abilities; they’re given a skill they didn’t earn, they take their shortcomings to be just as inborn as their gifts, and they quit.

On the other hand, a person with the right neural predispositions can acquire an unquenchable love for a craft, and then practice becomes effortless. For these people it’s not about creating a perfect product; the act itself is its own purpose—like how the point of (recreational) sex is sex itself and not an orgasm. Fucking up becomes an excuse to try again.

This is why I’m convinced that most of the people we consider geniuses—not those who are simply very intelligent but people with radical, powerful ideas—are actually quite ordinary people. There was just this feedback loop they were able to create, this mental jiu-jitsu move, in which their failures became part of the process that led to their success.

We need incompitence to struggle against in order to sharpen and strengthen our abilities, in order to appreciate the talent we’ve cultivated and understand it, and in order to enjoy using it.

Physics is like sex. Sure you can get some interesting results, but that’s not why we do it.

—attributed to Richard Feynman, possibly fake but still relevant to my point

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