The thesis of David Shenk’s book, The Genius in All of Us is that talent is not inborn. Our skills and intelligence are not determined solely by our genes, but by the dynamic interaction of our genes and our environment.
What does this mean for, say, musicians?
Geniuses like Mozart are made, not born. Pick your musical hero – their skills are a combination of the many experiences they had while growing up, including parental support and resources, and the thousands of hours they put into their work.
Sure, some of us may have qualities that are more advantageous for a certain skill. Tall people may have an easier time at basketball, for example, and children who grew up hearing complex tonal languages like Mandarin Chinese may have an easier time attaining perfect pitch.
Similarly, some of us may have qualities that give us a disadvantage. My fear of failure is a result of what my brain learned from interactions with others as a child, and that was an obstacle to my lifelong (yet painfully delayed) goal of singing in a band.
But we are also hard-wired to adapt. If we require our brains to think about songwriting regularly, or if we require our fingers to execute certain exercises on the guitar regularly, our brains PHYSICALLY change in order to better accommodate those repeated actions.
There is hope for all of us. Don’t avoid something because you don’t think you’re good enough. Know that your efforts WILL improve your skills. Every time you work on your craft, push yourself, challenge yourself a little more. Embrace failure and criticism. Have faith and just. Keep. Going!
* Post photo is of Seattle’s incredible Natalie Mai Hall, who wasn’t born with the ability to play cello like a wild creature.