Graduates: How to Let Your Passion Become Your Talent

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It’s a perfectly acceptable question: How does a trained astrophysicist become a nationally recognized newspaper columnist? The answer, obviously, is by spending three decades working as a registered investment adviser.

OK, OK, maybe this requires some explaining.

Let me begin, however, by talking about you. You and I are very similar. We both want things we can’t have, we’re not “supposed” to have, and we aren’t even at the right station in life to come close to having. And there’s nothing wrong with desiring more – more renown, more wealth, more satisfaction. Don’t ever let someone tell you “You can’t do that.” Dream. Dream big. Never stop dreaming big.


Because such dreams spur you to far greater heights than you can imagine. They possess these three critical components for consistent success: passion, self-direction, and talent.

“Talent?” you say, with an emphasis on the question mark.

Yes, talent. Again, if you’re like me, your talent is not yet aligned with your deepest passion. That’s normal. That’s part of growing up. And – this may sound incredible – you never stop growing up. Remember that part about “never stop dreaming big”? If you truly never stop, you’ll always seek the next mountain to climb. No matter what your age. That means, throughout your life, your passion will remain a step or two ahead of your talent.

Don’t worry. You’re doing things right if you don’t think you (yet) have the talent to accomplish that big dream that’s currently bedazzling your brain.

There’s a more ominous obstacle, though. Look around you. Look all around you. Everyone you see represents a barrier between you and your dream. You’ll immediately spot some of these impediments. Those are the people who want the same thing you want. They’re your competitors. Ironically, the very fact you have competition motivates you more. Competition offers the potential joy of winning. It also provides social proof your dream is worth dreaming.

It’s the barriers you don’t expect that can produce the greatest damage. Naysayers abound, and they often pop up out of nowhere. Even people who genuinely want to encourage you may present a barrier. They “don’t want you to take risks” because they “just want you to be safe.”

And by “safe” I’m not talking about avoiding physically harm, but mental harm as well. They don’t want to see you lose. So they don’t want you to place yourself in a position where you might lose. They truly care about you. And that’s good. But, to realize your lifetime dream, you can’t let another person’s love smother your potential.

How do you overcome these barricades? How do you rise above the competition? How do you confront naysayers? How do you overcome your own lack of talent?

There’s one simple strategy for this that almost always works: baby steps.

Well, baby steps and a cognitive embrace of the critical path within a strategic plan that maps your route to your ultimate goal.

But “baby steps” is a lot easier to digest than that mumbo-jumbo from some management consulting workbook. So “baby steps” it is. Start with the tiniest of tasks. Do the things you know you can do. Begin by picking the low hanging fruit. Rack up a series of accomplishments – no matter how “insignificant.” Because, in the long run, they’re really not insignificant. Remember, you can’t win big if you haven’t figured out how to win small.

The positive reinforcement of these little victories whets your appetite for more. It also sends a signal to your competition and their allies the naysayers. You’re not just telling them you expect to win. You’re showing them you’re already a winner.

These baby steps, these modest feats, also bring something you may not expect. It’s passion that initially launches you down this path. It’s that same passion that drives you to search for a means of success. That search sows the seeds for talent.

Think of this process in terms of baseball. All batters dream of hitting that walk-off home run in the seventh game of the World Series. To hit a home run requires you to swing hard. Swinging hard makes it more difficult to control the bat. What does a young batter do? The ballplayer starts by hitting singles. It’s easier to control the motion of the bat when hitting singles. Once the batter develops the muscle memory of a good batting motion, he can swing harder and have greater control over the bat. In other words, he has developed his talent where none had previously existed.

My column writing didn’t hit home runs when I started nearly thirty years ago. I needed to tally a lot of miniature scores along the way before I could improve my talent level. I started by exploiting the talents I did possess that were marginally related. An aptitude for math allowed me to excel in the field of investments. This produced media opportunities. These appearances led to offers to write for trade industry publications. Each baby step allowed me to improve.

I don’t know where this road will ultimately lead, but I have an idea of where I want it to go. I may be old enough for AARP, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped dreaming big.

Have fun. Let your passion become your talent. And always leave yourself in the position of telling your naysayers “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

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