Natural Talent is Baloney

I do a lot… like, a LOT. I’m balancing a full academic workload of major upper division classes, plus my jobs at UC Merced Extension and UC Merced IT Network, plus my extracurricular positions as the administrator of IrisSec, logistical organizer at HackMerced, and vice president of the Solar Energy Association, and all while continuing to study for my professional certifications and training for my Synack Red Team technical assessment.

I’m busy, and ever since I started college, I’ve always been busy. One of my roommates during my first year of college would joke with obvious over-the-top hyperbole about how I was directly responsible for a crash in the job market by taking all the jobs. We would laugh, and it’s still kinda funny thinking about it now. It kinda reminds me of a similar Onion video: “High Unemployment Rate Linked To One Man With 42,000 Jobs.”

At an executive board meeting with the Solar Energy Association earlier tonight, our faculty advisor, the awesome Dr. Sarah Kurtz, asked me why I put myself in so much stress if I didn’t like to stress. It was honestly such a profound question that I’d never really thought about and never really asked myself: I am the cause of my own stress, so why do I choose to do so much when it clearly puts a lot on my plate?

Most of my peers just think that I have razor sharp motivation – that I’m just some sort of a hyperproductive genius god – but that’s not totally the truth. Sure, I wake up early every morning and I’m busy all the way until late night, somehow miraculously being able to complete the bulk of my workload in small gaps of time in-between appointments, but that’s not because of any kind of natural “genius gene.” Hell, I’d probably consider myself of just average intelligence, and maybe slightly above if I’m feeling particularly narcissistic on a given day.

I’m not “naturally smart.” I’m not a “genius,” and I think that my peers’ uses of those descriptions is not only wrong, but harmful to both myself and to themselves. Let me explain.

The idea of “natural intelligence” and “natural gift” implies that extraordinary skill lies in external factors that we do not have control over. It implies that the ability to do great things is an inherent property of ourselves, not something that we work for, but that we are born with. I disagree with this idea. When you call someone else “naturally smart,” you are implanting an idea in your own mind that people of great ability are born that way and that you, therefore, are either less capable of equal ability because you were not born that way, or that you must work significantly harder to achieve that same ability. When you call someone else “naturally smart,” you are inadvertently discarding and invaliding all the hard work that they put in to reach their ability.

Everyone sees my straight A grades, but nobody sees the thousands of hours I spend studying. Everyone sees a confident and inspiring public speaker, but nobody saw the years I spent with crippling social anxiety and the immense work that I put into overcoming and masking it. Everyone sees my network hacking skills and thinks it’s some kind of unachievable superpower, but nobody saw – nobody sees – the thousands of hours I’ve spent studying, the (probably) hundreds of thousands of pages of books and papers I’ve read, the hundreds of exercises and labs I’ve set up and completed, and so much more.

Natural talent is baloney. Hard work and dedication should be valued. I understand that calling someone “naturally gifted” is well-intentioned, but I move that we should stop using that description due to the underlying implications it perpetuates – that some people are born the way they are as opposed to working for it.

Don’t value natural talent – value hard work. As for the answer to the question that Dr. Kurtz asked me about why I take on such a large workload, well, that’s a post for another time. Until then,

Happy trails.