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Learning at its Best

The great LIE

Have you ever told your child, a friend, your student, or anyone that they could be whatever they wanted to be? If you have, then you are guilty of spreading one of the greatest lies ever told. Not that I am advocating you killing someone’s dream, but the reality is that no amount of hard work or time spent can make up for natural talent. If it ain’t in you innately, it aint’t gonna happen. You can’t manufacture it. It’s time we start telling the truth about the importance and necessity of talent in one achieving success.

We should all follow our passions and pursue careers that ignite a fire in our souls. However, that must be aligned with our strengths (talent). Two great examples are Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Both of them played in the NBA. Did you know that? Yes, they made it to the NBA but as players they were average. Yet as coaches, they have won 17 NBA championships between them.

They didn’t walk away from their passion for professional basketball. They ran toward their strengths for coaching. By doing so, they have lived their best professional lives. That is what we all really want, right?

Who here wants to live a life, professional or otherwise, of mediocrity? Who wants to go to work and hate every minute of it? Who here wants to bust their humps and not see the reward in it? Well, that is a certainty if one isn’t working from one’s strengths.

Check out this video of Marcus Buckingham speaking:

About peoplegogy

Will Deyamport, III, MSEd is a social media strategist and frustrated filmmaker. A former intern at, he is now the Chief Social Strategist for StrengthsFactors – a career development resource company. Will has a B.A. Film Production, a B.S. in Child and Family Studies and an MSEd in Professional Studies in Education. He is also the founder of PEOPLEGOGY – a blog focusing on life and career developments, and he is currently working on an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership and Management from Capella University


11 thoughts on “The great LIE

  1. If your goal is to be a performer (that’s what paid athletes are, right?), then you’re right. The jobs are scarce, and talent weighs in along with desire and hard work. But I see the opposite problem. So many people think being good at math is about some inborn talent, and it’s much more about a love for the subject. That love got some of us working/playing hard, and our ‘talent’ was eventually impressive to others. One of the reasons some other countries have better results with math education is that the people in those countries know that hard work pays off.

    The easiest way to work hard is to love what you’re doing. I was definitely not a good writer when I was in college. I’ve worked hard at it over the years, because I love it. (Don’t always love the process, but the power of a good piece of writing is such a pleasure.) I am usually a good writer now, I think.

    Some people have more natural talent working a crowd than I do, and eased into that part of teaching more easily. I will keep working hard at improving all my teaching skills, because I love this work.

    Check out the people who’ve written about 10,00 hours being what it takes to achieve real mastery. I think I’ve come close to that in teaching, writing and doing math – all things I love.

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | February 23, 2011, 3:32 pm
  2. I read Gladwell’s book. There is some merit to the 10k hour rule. However, if the talent isn’t there, one could work 20k hours and not be great or successful at something. The point of my article is that we can’t just live by the idea that hard work is all we need. That is simply not true. One also has to have the talent and the passion for something.

    Posted by peoplegogy | February 23, 2011, 4:56 pm
  3. If we do not dream big, we do not dream at all. I have been a recent convert to the idea that individuals can be whatever they want. Using talent as a way to divide individuals, never is helpful for the success of all people. The reality is that not everyone is talented enough to play in the NBA, but this is not to suggest that people can not dream big.

    We must hold onto our dreams, they are the only thing that sustain us in the darker times. It is only through the realization of those dreams realized or not, that we can then critically examine ourselves, our world and adjust our philosophy and actions in it.

    If we dream small, we will continue to remain small. This sounds like the idea of, “well I’ll expect the worst, so taht if it happens, I won’t be too heartbroken about it, and if great things happen, I will be pleasently surprised.” I don’t buy it. This is a jadded way to hold others down.

    “reach for the moon, even if you miss you will fall among the stars”

    Negative educational philosophy only amounts to more negative educational philosophy. We are all talented, finding that talent, finding that self, is the goal…not comparing one specific area and then blanketing the entire idea of “be what we want to be” because our talent doesn’t fit that one specificity. If I did not believer in the talents of my fellow man, this world would be a lonely place, filled with spitefull individuals who do not collaborate, who do not innovate and who do not support one another. I trust in the talents in others, because they trust in mine.

    Posted by Casey Caronna | February 23, 2011, 6:53 pm
  4. I have to disagree! (I am sick in bed checking emails on my phone and your post made me feel I’ve got to comment) 😉

    I read Outliers from Gladwell too … while I am not religiously proclaiming Gladwell is right, I am a data geek and the data says most hockey players in the leagues quoted by Gladwell are born in the first months after the cutoff date for schools … how do you explain that? … I tend to agree with Gladwell when he says they get chosen by their coaches because they appear bigger and stronger, having lived up to a year longer than those born in the months at the end of the cutoff

    I recommend The Element from Sir Ken Robinson … it is discussing what truly makes one happy with what they do, even if they’re not successful in that by certain standards and may take a lot of years before they see results … or they never do but they’re still happy to do it.

    While I understand that you propose both “talent” (whatever one wants to define the meaning of it) and hard work are needed, I think referring to talent is dangerous as it carries the weight of innate abilities as a way to split people into groups. I think talent is more complex than that and it is better to use passion, natural curiosity, interest to explore and similar if we’re to allow nurture to come into a supportive role … nurturing talent in its common meaning requires pre-selection as in the way it is done with athletes … nurturing passion and curiosity is an entirely different game as mistakes are less costly and even desired to some level as the goal is learning and discovery

    Telling our kids they can be whatever they want may not be an effective way to grow minds that can combine passion with hard work, but telling them stories of other passionate, successful and inspiring people — or even better wearing our own passions on our sleeves and letting the kids see them can go a long way, IMHO!

    Posted by kima | February 23, 2011, 7:22 pm
  5. Well, while I’m waiting for Marcus Buckingham to stream, may I just say that I’ve spent about a decade interviewing people who didn’t think they were good at things, thought they were stupid or lazy or broken in some way, and discovered, through a variety of fortunate experiences, that they actually had/have much greater capability in many areas than they ever imagined. I am convinced by the brain’s plasticity, by our capacity to do things we don’t think we are capable of, if we are highly motivated, passionate, have serious reasons to do them, and get the right kind of help at the right moment.

    So I put the question back to you. What attracts you to this argument? Who are you “saving” or serving by your describing great capacity as “one of the greatest lies ever told?” Really wonder about that.

    Buckingham still trapped in about-to-charm midsentence…

    Posted by Kirsten | February 23, 2011, 9:55 pm
  6. I’ve read the article, but not watched the video, so I have an idea of what is going on.

    Reading the comments below and the responses to it have also gotten me thinking, too. I think it would be worth it to put my two cents in and help peoplegogy out with a comment of my own.

    I have a blended view. First, let me say that whatever we wish to become, talented or not, we have to work hard in order to achieve success. This much is a given. If you follow Asian work ethics, it is the classic concept of “hard work triumphs over talent” and in our culture, “slow and steady wins the race”. I agree with that very much. There are things that I am talented at, but I had to work in order for those talents to flourish as they have.

    Second, let me say that being concerned about talent separating people is a bit on the silly side. Talent doesn’t divide people anymore than departments divide corporations. People are good at different things. They have differing types of intelligence. Differing types of learners. Differing types of a lot of things and those differences working together creates beautiful things. There is nothing wrong with pointing that out. Everyone is not good at everything. Everyone *can’t* be good at everything. Not even at most things. Most people have 3-5 things that they are talented toward. Pushing them to broaden horizons? Perfectly good thing to do, but this cannot be confused with telling them “You can be absolutely excellent in anything you choose to do”; I have a friend that doesn’t do math well. I cannot in good conscience tell him to apply to NASA to be a rocket scientist.

    Ultimately people divide themselves by trying to be important and superior rather than simply loving people. Encouraging people to believe that they can do anything at all just because we are afraid of dividing people into categories is silly. I think the correct response would be to teach and demonstrate humility.

    As an anecdote to tie these things together:

    In college, there was a young man that lived on my hall that was pursuing a ministry major, but wanted to sing in his church choir as the lead singer. I listened to him sing. It was terrible. Absolutely terrible. At the time, I was in a school choir and one of the top students in the class, I know what a singing voice sounds like and this he did not have. He did have a compassionate heart for people and he did have an unique way of communicating with others.

    He looked at me and asked me what I thought about his singing voice and I explained to him that while I can understand his desire to sing and admired his reasons for wishing to do so, that I believed that it simply was not his thing and that — read this next piece carefully — rather than wasting time trying to develop this particular thing he was not good at he should pursue preaching or missionary work. He had a gift for it that was easy for people around him to recognize. He did occasionally trip over a word here or there, but you could see the spark in him for that.

    Several years later, he is a missionary and a youth pastor and — more important — an EXCELLENT one because I decided not to tell him “Well, I think you might need to improve that, but you’ll get it. Keep working at it. You can do anything you put your mind toward.” He had told me that I was the first person to say the things I said to him and what’s more, he thanked me for telling him that.

    I am not a proponent of squashing dreams, nor have I ever been and I will never be, but I am a very big fan of honesty. I’m the first one to encourage someone to explore, to discover, to try, but if someone is trying to do something they do not have that “spark” for, then I’m going to tell them so and try to give them another avenue to pursue.

    ….oh, and before you bring this into the equation: no, I do not believe that anything I said is a reason to tell someone not to learn to read, write or learn basic math. Survival depends on those things. I am talking about careers paths and life choices that have large sweeping effects and cannot be transferred to other types of skill sets or vocations; reading, writing, and basic math are needed for everything.

    Posted by omochan | February 24, 2011, 11:57 am
  7. A very interesting line of conversation. It has me thinking of the children that I teach and the messages that I explicitly and implicitly communicate to them. It also has me thinking about my own story and how I was convinced (by myself and others) that I wasn’t really good at anything.

    In that personal story, my beliefs about what I could do weren’t determined by what I was good at, or even what I was passionate about. They were largely determined by a sense of how I fit in with a certain definition of success. It’s a long story and, as kima has suggested, very complex. But powerful for me and the decisions that I ended up making. But it has strengthed in me the power of the adage:

    “I’m not who I think I am;
    I’m not who you think I am,
    but I am who I think you think I am”

    But the point that I would really like to introduce here has to do with the thread of the success narrative that is so focused on what we “do”. The strengths movement has many important things to say to us, but I think that we also need to broaden our conception of, not only what success means, but where to look for success.

    For many, a job is a job, even though it may be elevated in our minds by calling it a career. For most of the world, work is necessary to meet basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

    But in our culture, we’ve tied so much into the work that we do and the happiness we measure in our lives. Our talents and passions don’t always need to be part of the work we do. In fact, I like hearing about people who work at something that would be considered rather unimpressive so that, in the rest of their life, they can do what they really want to do. The connection between success and work is so much a part of our language that it often gets hidden among the other assumptions we make about what it means to be happy.

    Gosh, there is so much to talk about in all of this, but I’m going to go off and get ready for my career! Thanks so much for starting this thread.

    As always…

    Posted by Stephen Hurley | February 25, 2011, 6:42 am
  8. Will – it’s wonderful to join you here! Thank you!

    I’ve read your post and it’s sent me back through my life as a person trying to do good, rather than back through my career as a teacher.

    I was a selfish person for a long time, perfectly wiling to bully my way through a class discussion in high school and college, and perfectly willing to be defensive and me-first as a teacher early in my career.

    When my attitudes finally ran into students who needed much more than a traditional teacher, and with the help of mentors and my own willingness to reflect, I became a better servant to my students’ needs for trust and learning.

    I was not nature-nurtured into being a giving person. I followed the rules and met expectations and used buzz words and threw some novel twists into old assignments and had friends and worked hard for approval, but I was not concerned with being good, per se, in a moral or ethical sense for over twenty-years. It has been difficult, but supremely important and rejuvenating, to become a more progressive, alternative educator, even though I had no talent or ambition for it until recently. I’m still not great at being good, but my desire to be someone who does good things at school informs my work like never before.

    In your opinion, is it more likely that I had a strength for being good that I ignored or suppressed for a few decades, or that I have been able to become more good by working hard despite my weakness at it?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | February 25, 2011, 7:20 am
  9. C,

    It’s good to be here. What you describe in your response isn’t about talent and hard work; it’s about being good and giving vs. selfish and insular. What you talk about is the essence or core of the kind of person you want to be vs. the kind of person who used to be.

    Posted by peoplegogy | February 25, 2011, 10:22 am
    • I think we both may be right here. I definitely had to work and practice new behaviors and scripts, and let go of old ones, to approve. It was a process of goal-setting and problem-solving as much as it was a kind of philosophical and pedagogical awakening.


      Posted by Chad Sansing | February 25, 2011, 1:45 pm

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