Truth About Talent


Truth About Talent

I have been reading some wonderful articles recently, having email conversations with online quilting friends, and generally thinking about craft, quilting, talent, creativity, and blogging. Everything seems to have reached a point where I think I can coherently articulate a few thoughts, and I welcome you to join in on the discussion through the comments. In fact, these discussion posts are often more rich from the comments than from my blog post alone, so be sure to take some time to read the comments or come back (if you are here early) to see where the discussion leads.

First I want to thank Leanne @Devoted Quilter who pointed me to a very fascinating article a few months ago: The Truth Behind Natural-Born Talent. I agree wholeheartedly with the premise of the article which is laid out right at the beginning:

As it turns out, we are born with very few, if any, natural talents and skills. Excellence is borne not of any particular innate ability, but of practice. In other words, you can be good at whatever you want.

The article just as quickly comes to the crux of the situation.

Whatever you want—therein lies the rub.

There are people who have found there niche and excel and seem genuinely at ease. Whether or not that is the case is a topic for a whole different discussion (!!! as my husband frequently says to me, “Remind me to never be famous.”), but I can think of people as far back as childhood who just seems to intuitively know what they wanted to focus on. I have never had that same sense, and in fact, I believe many of us who are creative types have that feeling.

Which brings me to the next part of the article.

If it’s possible for anyone to acquire any skill, why don’t more people do it?

The first answer, of course, is that it’s difficult, much harder than people realize, and requires an incredible amount of discipline. It just takes time and effort, which most people don’t have or aren’t willing to give.

But the second answer, the one I don’t hear researchers or psychologists address nearly enough, is one of motivation. That’s the other side of the issue. If I can do anything, what makes me choose one pursuit over another? It has to come down to desire, to passion, to what truly motivates you.

There are actually many more reasons and excuses not to do any particular thing (we all have our unique and creative methods of self-sabotage), but the fear of a difficult journey and lack of passion definitely resonated with me as major roadblocks that come up over and over in conversation.

In fact, I just heard an interesting version of that recently. A friend mentioned that she heard (in her own words):

…one famous quilter’s advice to “not read blogs as a way to not be indirectly influenced by what someone else is doing.”

I personally see that as a form of fear related to a difficult journey. I hope you know that I am crazy passionate about the quilting community, especially the online community, and I just do not see the logic in this thought process. We are all influenced daily by what we see, the people we interact with, and the world we live in.

I applaud anyone who knows their limits and carefully controls on the time they spend online so that they can be more attentive and attuned in their real lift. But choosing to not read blogs to avoid influence? I would much rather turn off the TV (which I do). I know there is a risk to being influenced and creating work without giving credit, but I expect everyone to kindly hold my feet to the fire and not burn me at the stake for any inadvertent credit misunderstanding. We are all only human, and I will openly air my foibles and correct my mistakes as I learn more and will strive to do my best. And I certainly cannot ask more of anyone else.

Which leads me to another thought: even blogging itself is a skill that requires dedication and time to hone. I think that when it comes to quilting, we all understand that it can be approached as a lifetime learning process. The article recommends:

  1. Find something you love.
  2. Do it until you can become good, hopefully even great, at it. And don’t worry if you’re not that good yet. This is what practice is for.
  3. Share your gift in a way that helps other people. If you do this, you actually can get paid to do what you love. Otherwise, it will only ever be a hobby.

This is true for so much more, though. So I want to also wrap this back around to the 2016 New Quilt Bloggers who are just getting a footing and establishing blogging routines. Blogging takes time and effort, and your reasons for blogging will probably very well change over time (it has for me!), but it is a journey that I feel has richly enhanced and supported my quilting journey and an integral part of helping me evolve as a quilter, designer, and friend.


  • I have to take exception to this train of thought because I have come to believe, over many years of observation of friends, family and strangers, that we do have natural, inborn talents that may thrive even without nourishment or grow and flourish with appropriate practice. It’s not that I think we are limited in what we can learn, but that we may have a head start in some areas. I’ve always been good at spelling, grammar, writing, and reading, and never had to struggle to improve; it’s my natural bent. I don’t take credit for the accomplishment–it’s genetic! My parents and my children have the same talents. Of course practice helps anyone improve, but for some things for some–lucky?–people it’s not required in order to attain excellence.

    • There is something to what you say. My husband has Synesthesia (, and for some it is a creative boost. For him, it is sensory overload when it comes to reading, writing, and spelling. Conversely, I think it make his spacial awareness skills really amazing.

      So… yes, he has some “natural talent” as well as natural weaknesses but the weaknesses never held him back. He was fortunate to have an amazingly supportive family and did not know about these issues until he entered college because he was home schooled. I think if he had been in the public education system he would have been treated differently and the outcome would not have been the same.

      • I agree that there are aptitudes we can be born with, but think that on the whole they are general not specific: you might have a strong colour sense, or great natural rhythm, or a facility with numbers, but what you do with that is another matter and comes down to personal inclination, opportunity, and hard work.

  • My parents always taught me that I could do or be whatever I wanted to do or be in terms of my career or hobbies or activities and I truly believe that but the key and they emphasized this was a huge lot of hard work which was ok because it was what you wanted. I think it is the same concept you are talking about. It’s the passion that makes you great, whatever your natural talent or gifts.

  • Excellent Yvonne! You’ve put into words a lot of what I’ve learned in the past few years about talent vs. desire/persistence and just plain doing what I love. I quilt because I love to sew – always have since I was a child – not because I have any true inherent talent. My one talent might be recognizing color and using it creatively. Over my 10 years as a passionate quilter (some say obsessed LOL), I have become very skilled in many techniques and often win ribbons for my quilts. As a teacher/lecturer, I’m often asked to share what I know about color, and it is hard to do because it just comes naturally. But when I am asked about the skills I have honed through education and practice, now that I can share. I am not an artist in the sense of being able to draw or paint, no matter how much I practice, but I can sew pieces of color together and make something that makes my world more beautiful.

    I have occasionally been worried that I quilt too much, that I am giving too much of my life to a “hobby.” But my husband is more wise! He often tells me that quilting is my passion, and that I work harder at quilting than he does at his job. He respects my “hobby” as something more, an expression of myself that is valuable and important, and he finds ways to ensure that I am able to quilt as often as I like. Perhaps we all need that someone to walk with us and remind us of the value of our creative effort. What I do may not be driven by any great talent, but with persistence, determination and much practice, I am a blessed with a very rich creative life.

    • I think you have a wonderfully supportive husband, and that sounds awesome.

      You touched upon something else that niggles at me – and that is the fact that there seems to be less value placed on creative efforts in our society today than in ages past. I am thinking of the beautiful tapestries, stained glass, art, and architectural wonders of old. One quilt at a time, one day at a time, I hope to refine my thoughts on that enough to have a conversation about that as well.

  • Hi Yvonne, I had to reread this post a few times. Not only because reading can be a challenge for me, but because it is DEEP! lol Motivation, passion, and desire burn strong within me. The fear of failure tends to be my extinguisher. Reading blogs has been a great inspiration to me with lots of lessons learned. I always love reading the comments as a bonus (although it makes me feel like a stalker! Bahaha!)

  • I agree and disagree with this topic. I do think if you apply enough time and effort you can master just about anything. But I also believe you have natural talents that can make learning some thing easier and more enjoyable. But in both cases if you want to master something you have to put the time and effort into it to master it. I’m pretty sure Rembrandt’s first painting wasn’t a master piece, but his last one was.

  • Very interesting. I believe there are those who are born with a natural talent and build upon that throughout their life. While the talent is there, where someone goes with it is entirely up to them. I, on the other hand, was not born with one iota of a talent! But what I lack in that department I have made up with dedication and the willingness to learn. Passion plays a big part in that as well. Through the years the ‘talent’ changes as we change. The more we learn, the more we see, the more we read…is always an inspiration and in one way or another changes or shapes our talents!

    • I don’t disagree that some of us are born with some kind of pre-disposition for something and a passion that catches when that something is found. I do think that the passion and hard work are what takes something mediocre and shines it into amazing. And life has a funny way of keeping things in balance. Maybe I need more inspiration than others so I am passionate about community, and maybe others are bursting over with ideas and limit themselves. I love that we all come at things differently.

  • I so enjoyed your post today Yvonne. I’ve always had a creative outlet. It’s part of my personality. When I was a young mother is was scrapbooking and as an empty nester: quilting. I’d be lost without it!! I find blogging to be my virtual guild, especially since I live in a small, rural area. I’m so inspired by my quilty/blogging friends and so appreciate their support and friendships!

  • What you’ve written here is very inspiring Yvonne. I agree about how working hard at something will make you better and better. But…the quote about being born with very few natural talents and skills is a stumbler for me. If they mean fully developed skills then well, of course not. I think we all are born with certain predispositions to be great at some things and to have to work extra hard if we want to get even halfway decent at others. It’s the old nature versus nurture argument and i’ve always felt that it involves a little of both. I’ve worked with infants and also I taught art and crafts to both children and adults for many years and it has been a constant observation that some people are just “naturals” at certain things.

  • I love reading my blogs. They motivate me if I haven’t sewn in a few days. They talk about new fabric lines,books and patterns that I don’t get at my local quilt shops. I am not a blogger myself but sure enjoy what the bloggers I have signed onto have to say.

  • Good Morning Yvonne! This is a very interesting topic and I have enjoyed reading your post entirely and each of the comments also. I sort of feel like I am in my own corner of the world in so many issues that everyone faces, because although I face those same issues, I face them entirely differently than anyone else…aside from the few individuals who have also suffered the same physical and mental condition that I do.

    I know that I have shared with you Yvonne, the information of my brain trauma injury in the memory section of my brain which has taken from all memories of my childhood from the age of 15 back, scar tissue now is taking memories of every memory since that time up to the present. Plus, we are now facing severe pain issues that could eventually cripple me completely. I mention these because they play a giant part in how I live and think every moment of every day.

    My parents tell me I was a straight A student but that I did struggle in math. I did not begin quilting until about 10 years ago. Finding quilting has helped to change my life so much. Only, I really can not tell you in what way or how. My husband supports me 100% and more, my family also supports me 100% and more. I know that it frustrated me for a long time that my seams were not perfect and the fabrics did not always look that great together and so forth. Then I would get really upset. My husband sat me down and then asked me why I continued to sew all of those pieces together and just glow when they were made into a block and finally into a quilt and I would be beaming and telling him who it was going to be for. Then pretty soon I would start really looking at it and the negatives would come and the tears would come. He just did not understand how I could get so much joy out of the whole process and then turn around and cry. I would point out all of my mistakes to him. He shook his head and said that those mistakes were there when I was making the row, then the block and onto the whole quilt with not a tear one, just total excitement and pure joy that I was actually able to do something with all of my memory problems that cause so many problems that I can no longer hold down a job, can no longer live alone and have to have someone help with cooking a meal and taking my medications plus so much more. But, I can put together some of the most beautiful quilts without anyone helping me! I had to make a choice….either accept them as they are or never do another one, because they were causing to much pain and stress that always lead to migraines and seizures. I thought about it and chose to accept them.

    Since then I have learned so many more techniques, met so many people online and even had less seizures and migraines from using my brain power with my hobby than ever before! So yes, I do think that if we take the time and work at really try to learn what we aim to become better at we can all do it. It does take commitment and will power, plus support from family and friends is a big help.

    Sorry I got carried away with my writing, I have a tongue that just does not know when to quit. LOL.

    Thank You for bringing up this wonderful post and sharing your thoughts and letting others share theirs. A great way to run a blog and meet new people, plus learn more about the followers you have. Have a fantastic creative day!

    • Your journey is truly amazing and inspiring, Brenda. Thank you so much for feeling like you could share so much of what you go through daily, it is an honor and trust that I hope that I (and my other blog readers) will honor and hold sacred for you.

      I am so very grateful that you have such a wonderfully supportive husband and family, and it made me so happy to hear the way they help you to see your beautiful creativeness through quilting.

      • Thank you Yvonne! I am truly honored to be your friend and with friends we can share more personal items of our lives. It truly has surprised each and everyone I know how much quilting has changed my life for the better.
        Thank You again for posting such an interesting topic! Brenda

  • I was just laughing with a friend the other day about wanting to have my fingers in quite a few pots. I’ve always been a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ sort of person. I love learning and trying new things. A couple have stuck with me past the learning stage, thanks to the passion you were talking about. If something is fun, it is a heck of a lot easier to put in hard work than if it feels like a chore.

  • Great post and inspiring comments. I disagree with the quote about not having natural talents and that we can be good at anything we want just by practice. I believe that people have inborn talents and skills, often genetically inherited. When I was young, I took piano lessons and practiced for many years and never could get the hang of it–it just didn’t make sense. My sister, on the other hand, took lessons and practiced and can play well. My singing voice was appreciated by my kids when they were little but really it is not very good. However, several of them have inherited their father’s talent in that department and sing very well. I am good at working with children and parents: it just seems to come “naturally” even though I was trained in it. I think finding our natural talent and nurturing it is the key to happiness and success

  • Great post, Yvonne! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    I’ve always thought that people could be good at so much, if only they tried, but I have to admit that theory has its limits. No matter how hard I work at it, I will never be musical, lol. I just don’t hear the nuances of music the way my husband and oldest son do and I can’t grasp how the notes go together to create something beautiful. Somehow they can translate what they hear into what their fingers do on piano, guitar or drums. I can’t do that!

    I think that maybe we have many little seeds of talents, things that could be developed if we have the interest, but we’ll never really know about them until we try. A lot of the time, people tend to assume they’re not good at something, so they don’t really try, especially if it’s not easy at first. Some things might come easily, others might require effort to get good at them, but if you put in that effort you can become good at many things.

    Also, I can’t imagine not reading quilt blogs because I’m afraid of being influenced!! That’s part of the fun of reading quilt blogs! There are so many great ideas out there and it’s fun to read about how other people are expressing themselves through the medium of fabric and thread. Ideas simmer and swirl around and eventually come back out in my own work, not copies of what others are doing but inspired by the great mix of possibilities.

  • So many thoughts going around my head right now …….. learning, education, nature v nuture, passion, talent, time …… I home school my girls so it was interesting to read your husband was HS aswell. I am honoured to have so many young people in my life and I see them learning all the time – certainly not just behind a desk. As some have mentioned before, I do see children who are more naturally inclined towards a certain topic or art than others. My own daughters have very different talents and truly I do believe some were inbuilt because I have no idea where they have come from.

    For example, when my daughter was 5 we were living in NZ and came back to the UK to visit family for a holiday. My Mum and Dad had a paper delivered every day and in that paper was a quiz section, crossword, code cracker, dingbat etc. There was also Sudoku. I had never done one on my life but I explained the principle to my daughter. That day she did one – and actually didn’t stop and we had to buy her a Sudoku book to take back with us!! Where did that come from? She hadn’t been at school, we didn’t do ‘numbers’ beyond what we came across in every day life …….. And then after almost working her way through the book she just stopped. I asked her why and she said “well I can do them now”!!

    Someone touched on a point that I think is really true – people believe they can’t do certain things. This can stem from a throw away remark as a child or, as is more often the case, someone is marked at below or well below as a child in school and that’s where the remain – they are fulfilling that prophecy. In reality they just aren’t there YET in that certain SUBJECT on that certain DAY. Oh don’t get me started …..

    Talent, creativity, passsion all take time to fulfill – time that for all walks of society these days is quickly dwindling but has to be grabbed back with both hands. Adults need time to play as much as children and we need to give ourselves permission to do what makes us truly happy. I’m sure I will think of more to say on this subject but I better finish now!!!

  • Well this is of course very interesting Yvonne: I read it early in the day and then came back to read comments later in the day. I think people do have different talents and temperaments but that a lot of what we think of as creative talent comes down to working hard. My daughter was the type of kid who if she wanted to do something she worked really hard to become good at it, no matter what it was. When she was in high school I thought she would go to art school because the work she was producing was amazing and she would spend hours and hours bringing that work to fruition…but she doesn’t consider herself to be creative by that meaning that what she was doing wasn’t original. She’s pursuing something different with about the same intensity now. My son on the other hand abandoned things if they didn’t seem to come naturally . Guess which one of us he takes after? Me of course. It’s taken me years to learn to stick to things, to figure out the solution etc.

    Although I don’t think of myself as an artist I feel that I am creative. I know lots of quilters who don’t consider themselves to be creative. But if we put that kind of label on ourselves we stop before we even start.
    It certainly takes a lot of hard work to gain the skills needed to be good at quilting, and you need the skills to move forward creatively. To bring the creative thought to life.
    I think my creative side is being woken up through the challenges I have excepted on line more than anywhere else. It’s given me the confidence to move on with challenges in the guilds I belong to as well.
    I love reading blogs sometimes just to celebrate with others things they love to do and have mastered that aren’t things I wish to master , but also to have people to share in with my journey if we are going in the same direction for a while and yes to gain ideas and inspirations etc.

  • Such an interesting post. I agree with you. People can learn and develop talents if they put forth the effort. I think it goes back to what you said about the gap. You have to keep trying and putting forth the effort.

  • Great post Yvonne. I agree with some of the people who have commented above. You can get better at most things by practice, but some people have natural abilities which will just shine through, and make them that bit better at their chosen art form. This is particularly obvious in music, art, dance and sport. Many Asian parents make their children practice music endlessly, but if they don’t have a natural ability, their performances will still sound forced, and without passion. By contrast, there are people who practice less, but can outperform these people because they perform with passion and really feel the music, and it shows.
    As for blocking out all external influences in the quilting world, I disagree. You will miss out on innovations and where the movement is heading. I believe you should be open to what others are doing, and yet still try to make your own work unique. At the moment that means I use other people’s patterns, but put my own spin on them by using my own combinations of fabrics and colours. When I am ready I will start designing my own quilts.

  • Hi Yvonne, I can really relate to this statement:

    “There are actually many more reasons and excuses not to do any particular thing (we all have our unique and creative methods of self-sabotage), but the fear of a difficult journey and lack of passion definitely resonated with me as major roadblocks that come up over and over in conversation.”

    I think back over all the biographies I’ve read about people who became great at what they do and it did not happen with just natural gifts and talents alone. Oh, sure those things helped start someone in the right direction but the greatness didn’t come without the passion. To be honest, I know that I’ve never really been passionate enough about anything to become truly great, but I found out yesterday how wonderful it feels when someone really loves something I made for them. Now THAT was great!

    Thanks for the very thoughtful post. It seems like perhaps you have a double passion. Quilting and mentoring quilters? I have really enjoyed reading your thoughts and all the responses.

  • When I see other beautiful crafts I think “I could do that” followed closely by “but how many years would it take to develop the skills and experience to make something as nice as that?” For me I figure it’d take 5-7 years, like quilting has. But I don’t want another full time hobby, or to invest in another set of tools and materials, so then I search out makers I like and support them. I think being a devoted quilter has given me a much better perspective on just how much time, love, energy and practice goes into making something beautiful and high quality and I appreciate other’s skills much more.

  • This is another interesting one. I think maybe there’s a difference between skills and talent. I think with both you need that drive and dedication, to put in the time to really master your chosen area. But I think there are some areas of life that no amount of drive, dedication, time, effort, motivation will help you master unless you have inborn talent, some natural ability or pre-dispositiion for it. Maybe I’m thinking more of things like sports here, but I’m sure other areas would also come under this thinking. Some other areas which maybe have a different kind of physical element – like singing perhaps – but also to some extent areas much more purely connected to just the brain. Seeing how incredibly different 4 children are from an unbelievably early age really opens your eyes to the power of genetics! Sam for instance, had such a natural affinity and a love for numbers from an incredibly young age, his brain is definitely wired in a very specific way which gives him a massive head start in maths and forces him to work much harder to acquire certain other skills. He goes to a school which is actually a specialist music school (he hates music!) but also runs a specialist maths course. They are really good there at making sure the whole education they provide is very rounded for the children whilst still encouraging them and providing them with the means to pursue their natural talents if that’s what they want to do. And particularly with the music, there is a complete acceptance and a really strong discipline of needing to practise, practise and practise if you do want to get right to the top of your field. I think it is an incredibly inspiring place for Sam to be part of – he is surrounded by a lot of ridiculously talented, motivated and disciplined people, but happily they’re all children and enjoying life too! I don’t think he quite appreciates that his environment is anything amazingly special at the moment, children just tend to take a lot of things for granted, but I’m sure it is shaping him, and I’m sure he’ll look back on school in later life and realise how amazing it was. So some areas I think need talent and skills, whereas with others it’s skill more than talent which is needed and in these areas I’d definitely agree more with your thinking, the right attitude and effort can generally get you where you want to go, if you want it enough, even though some people do have ‘head starts’. I’m not sure how widespread it is yet but in our particular, local primary school the ‘growth mindset’ ideas are very influential, I would guess that these ideas, and the research behind it all, is becoming much more influential in education generally and reaching a lot of teachers out there. I think this could be really key to changing our world.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)