The Secret to Discovering Your Talent

An outstanding book about the last years of Ernest Hemmingway’s life is: “Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost.”  It’s a terrific read, and in the book, writer Paul Hendrickson tells a story about Hemingway mentoring a younger writer. In the middle of their exchanges, he gave the young writer some interesting advice. He told him the most important thing is to write, and talent (if you have it) will come later.

It’s a great point for any serious artist. Don’t wait until you feel confident. Don’t wait for affirmation from others. Don’t wait until you feel you have enough talent. Just start, and the talent comes later.  I was with a young couple recently who told me they really wanted to have children, but they decided to wait until they were more stable and had a better income. My response was that they’ll never feel stable enough or well off enough to have kids. You just have to go ahead and start.

Writing, filmmaking, ministry, business, and everything else is covered by Hemingway’s rule. Start writing, filming, singing, creating – whatever it is, just start.  Then, if you have it, talent will come.

Get back to your desk and start.

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  1. “80 percent of success is just showing up”  — Woody Allen

    There’s always more to do, but if you don’t start you can’t finish. Great column.

  2. This is total BS. Sorry Phil. Talent is extremely subjective and is weighed differently by people at different levels of business, sports, politics and education. Talent back self discipline, passion, and skill becomes something extraordinary to watch. Colosseum are packed every night in this country because of great talent, self discipline, passion and skill. Hemingway was out on a boat at sea! Thats where this thought needs to remain.

    1. I Dave, I assume your recommendation isn’t to start working, but wait for your talent to show up first? Of course I’m not sure how you’d recognize talent if you’re not creating something in the process…

      1. Phil is correct. While attempting my first invention, I had no idea what I was doing. But I just kept after it. For years. Now I can take a concept to functioning form in relatively little time and know how to assess and navigate its market. Had I not taken the initial steps, the knowledge and skills would have never developed.

    2. How can you disregard all the years of work it took for those Colosseum performers to get there? Dave, I think your thinking is typical of those who can’t imagine that they have one big thing that they could accomplish if they just started moving towards it. But if it’s not possible for you, then I can see how you’d think Phil’s concept is not accessible. Why limit your world?

  3. Phil not only speaks the truth, but this opinion dovetails with something I heard the great economist Paul Zane Pilzer say in a speech 20 years ago. I’m paraphrasing here, but essentially
    Pilzer said that the traditional American company with 100’s of employees sitting at desks in large concrete and glass buildings would largely disappear, and employees would become specialists, providing the industry (and even their
    own former company) with information and consulting services based on their unique skills. He actually compared it to the historical way communities started, with the carpenter, the mason, the tinker, the cooper, the blacksmith, and many other skilled tradesmen all playing their individual roles in community development.

    In 2002, after my company was sold for the 2nd time in 5 years, I decided to become a consultant to my industry, which is the transit industry (buses, limos, paratransit for disabled & elderly, taxicabs, shuttles, etc.) My industry colleagues told me I would fail, as they felt there was little demand for what I wanted to do, which was to help private companies increase revenues while improving service quality. Some “friends” simply told me to forget it, that I was wasting my time, but I knew that I had something to offer my industry that no one else was offering.

    Ten years, 350 published articles, and 180 industry speeches later, I am living my dream. My office is
    built next to my house, and I am writing this in my pajamas at 10:00 AM. I work when I want, as much or as little as I want, and with whom I want. And I earn twice as much money as I did in my best year as an executive.

    People- you need to listen to Phil!!!! And buy his book! He is not wrong on this point, and I am proof.

  4. This is absolutely true. I was most productive when I was 16 and just discovered my passion for writing poetry. I was so excited about this new gift I thought I would lose the ability if I didn’t write a poem a day, but I just poured my heart into it and just enjoyed creating something that gave me pure joy.

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