Hard Work, Grit, or Natural Talent? (Podcast)

Season 1, Episode 6: Hard work, grit, or talent?

Season 1, Episode 6 Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity

Hey everybody, Blake here I am. Once again, home alone with my dogs and a microphone. So I wanted to hop on and record another episode of the Finding Fulfillment podcast. As per usual, a thought struck me while I was at the gym, and I couldn't help but play around with it.

I was doing cardio and doing my best to avoid looking at the TVs. At the time that I'm recording this it's just before the 2020 election. And so the TVs at the gym are showing essentially nothing but political ads. And I voted weeks ago, none of the ads are going to change my mind or my vote. They can't. But also even if I had not yet voted, I am a very... let's go with decided voter.

I, I really had no question as to who I was going to vote for in this election. And at this point I find political ads to just be the most obnoxious thing to exist in human culture. They're all atrocious. None of them are productive and none of them really explore candidates' platforms, which you would think would be a major point of those ads.

But Hey, what the hell American politics, it's just degraded into something entirely nonproductive. That said avoiding the TVs and using that cardio time to just do some thinking and listening to some good music got me to think a bit about talent. In particular, when I talk about talent, I'm, we're speaking about it in terms of innate ability.

This is, I think that's often how we conceptualize and understand talent. The thought comes to me quite often at the gym that some of the people who I work out with on a regular basis must be innately more athletic or more physically capable than I am. I'll see people coming into the gym who, as far as I know, as far as I've seen them, haven't had extensively more time working out than me.

in particular, let's say I see someone new come to the gym. They become a regular and I can see their progress over time. And some people, I see them two months in the past, they come in, they're just scrawny and looking around all nervously and all of a sudden I see them again at the gym and they're ripped-- like visible veins, visible musculature, no body fat.

And a part of me just goes, "shit, it must be great to have those genetics." Because I work out all the time. And I think the likelihood of me having like extreme vascular muscles and low body fat like that.. We'll see if that ever happens. My guess is it won't because genetically, I'm just not inclined to looking like that.

I also have a really elongated frame. And so my muscles, while strong tend to be stretched out and not as thick, which gives that appearance of, being muscular. So it's that thought of, "dammit wish I had those genes" that was  something I really wanted to tease out tonight while I was at the gym. The more I thought about it, the more I kept going back to some of the content of Angela Duckworth's book, Grit, which I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in a past episode, but it's one of my favorite books .

In Grit, one of the topics that she explores is this distinction between talent and effort. And she, she explains that when you're looking at accomplishment, effort counts twice. There's a set of equations that she's created as a part of her theory on grit, which if I'm recalling correctly, I believe that the way that she phrases it is that talent times effort equals skill and then skill times effort equals accomplishment or results.

One of the things that she really looks at is that as a culture, we often consciously choose to say that we value hard work and effort. If you ask a hiring manager, you have two candidates that are similar in background, one is a natural talent, a prodigy, the other one has worked super hard to get where they are, oftentimes the conscious answer will be to go towards the hard worker. But at the same time, unconscious bias often prefers innate talent or what we perceive to be innate talent.

There've been quite a few studies such as one in which, and I cannot remember the researcher's name for the life of me, and I sincerely apologize for that, but, a researcher was studying folks who were divided up into two groups at random, and they were both told about  a fictional entrepreneur. One of whom they described in a way as being an incredibly hard worker and someone who has, really worked their way up in the world. And then the other fictional person is described as someone who's just innately talented in the realm of business. And then these groups were presented with identical business proposals. What she found was that people tended to think more highly of the prodigies business proposal as opposed to the hard workers business proposal.

So we have people saying on the one hand that they value the hard worker, but when they don't realize that they're comparing hard work with talent, they tend to gravitate towards talent. And, thinking through this, I, I...actually went back and listened to part of Duckworth's book, Grit.

I paused my music at the gym. I had the audio book on my phone and pulled it up and just wanted to try and relisten to that chapter because I could not shake that thought of comparison, the enters the picture, especially when there's something that we really enjoy or want to do, but may not be the most talented in that field.

Which for example, in my life, that is the gym. I love working out. If you haven't picked that up yet. I talked about it constantly, but I love lifting. I love exercising. I love sweating. I love challenging myself. I love building more muscle. And yet that's not really something I'm naturally inclined toward.

As a kid I was never an athlete. I, as a kindergartner-- this was as close as I came to athleticism as a kindergartener-- I played soccer. But they made me the goalie, not because I was good at goalkeeping, but because I would get too winded while running in any other position and I had head lice. And so I would just stand in the goal, scratching my head for the entire duration of a soccer game.

Okay. That was as close as I ever got to being an athlete. And,  so now as an adult who loves to exercise and who loves going to the gym, I still often find myself saying," I'm not really an athlete. This it doesn't come naturally to me." As an example, another example of how this doesn't come, particularly naturally to me, there are some people who they just show up at the gym seeming to know what to do.

Maybe they have a background in sports or they had a parent who took them to the gym, or, maybe they just had a really good, P E education. Regardless, they show up to the gym and they seem like immediate gym pros. They know how to use all the machinery. They know so many ways to use free weights and barbells and body weight exercise, and they're doing plyometrics and they're doing calisthenics, and it's crazy to me that someone could go into the gym and just know what to do.

For the longest time, I would just go to the machines that were really obvious, or I would watch other people from a distance and try and emulate what they did,  preferably after they were gone, not like walking in their shadow, doing things they did, but it has taken me such a long time to feel comfortable just navigating all the machinery and all the exercises available to me.

In my journey of getting into better shape and improving my strength, I even I've wanted to enhance that knowledge so much that I've even enrolled in a personal training program, To have a fully structured curriculum, to learn more about functional strength and exercise. That is how not natural it is for me to go into the gym.

I might not be a naturally talented athlete. I can guarantee you I'm not a naturally talented athlete. If you were to ask the people closest to me what it was I'm talented at, athleticism, sport, lifting would not be on their list. Probably not in the top 15 or 20 things that they listed. If I even have that many talents.

But I am a hard worker. I am a bit tenacious. I will latch onto something and just do it because I want to. There's an entire subculture and an entire market, I guess I should say, of apparel and products that are geared towards gym-goers. And one of the most common slogans you can find on a t-shirt, geared towards gym-goers is something along the lines of, "hardest worker in the room" or "last one to quit" or something like that along the lines of "may not be the strongest, but definitely the hardest worker." And it's such a cliche. I always have to roll my eyes when I see those shirts.

But thinking about it in terms of talent and ability and effort, I have to say that the horribly designed shirts make a lot of sense. If you're looking for progress and for growth in a particular area, often effort will outdo talent. If you're consistent and continue to work at it and constantly put in the work needed to improve, and most importantly, when you challenge yourself on a consistent basis-- and  that's something Duckworth really talks a lot about when she explains that effort counts twice, in her formula for attainment effort counts twice.

And as I was extrapolating that idea out on, on my stationary bike, getting in my pedaling and doing my thinking, as I was extrapolating that idea out, I realized that it's not just in exercise where that's super visible and so plain to see. One of the other, hobbies of mine that popped into my mind as I was thinking through it, it was like, this is actually really similar to a lot of video games that I play.

And what I mean by that is if you've ever played a Pokemon game, let's go with Pokemon because it's at this point, it's a universal media, almost. It's a common language we share. If you're playing Pokemon, you know that some of the Pokemon you can catch are innately stronger than others.

They have a higher base stat total. So the stats that comprise their combat ability and their resistances, some have just a higher base stat total than others. Some of them have more, practical typings there's like this entire, rock, paper, scissor, framework for the types of Pokemon where, for example, you might have a fairly tight right. Only weak to still employ season. Then you have grass type, which is everything, even though it's my favorite type. Shh. It's a secret.

And so oftentimes when you're playing one of those games, you tend to gravitate toward talent. You want to catch the Pokemon with the highest base stat total and the best typings because why wouldn't you?

We perceive them as being innately better. But one of the things that we can turn into a metaphor and take away as a lesson from the Pokemon games is that you don't have to catch the strongest to still win the game. Oftentimes with Pokemon, if you're playing one of those video games, it doesn't really matter what you catch, as long as you're willing to train whatever it is that you do catch, right?

So again, similar to this dichotomy of talent and effort. Sure. You could have a Dragonite and just easily blow through everything, or you could get a Sunkern and train that sucker until it can fight its way through everything. It may not be great at the beginning. May not be great by any standard at the end. But if you put in the work, it can get the job done.

And one of the things that I found most significant about the video game metaphor that takes it a little bit farther than the gym metaphor is that with video games, often, when you do have to put in a significant amount of effort and not just breeze through everything, that's often where the fun is.

That's often the most rewarding part of the experience. The, Dark Souls and Bloodborne franchise, they are notoriously difficult games. They are meant to be hard. No one is expected to pick up a controller and play one of those games and do well. In fact, the expectation is that you're going to die a lot while you're playing those games and figuring out how they work.

And yet there are some of the most successful, profit-driving video games on the market. People love them. They have such a strong cult following of people who play these games for hours and learn to memorize enemy attack patterns and, different fighting styles, different equipment layouts.

There are people who are freakin' religious when it comes to those games, because putting in the work, putting in that effort is something that it's rewarding for them. And when they do finally beat the game, it feels like they've overcome a major challenge. Honestly, the same thing is true if you want to go for games are notoriously difficult, like Pokemon again, or my personal favorite, the Elder Scrolls games.

People, in games that aren't innately challenging,will look for ways to make them more challenging so that they can get more fun out of playing them. For example, in Pokemon, you have the Nuzlocke playing style, which has a full set of rules and criteria that are meant to make the games more challenging. With games like the Elder Scrolls, there's an entire sub genre of content out there on the internet, especially on YouTube, of people who do challenges with open-world games, where they'll say, "can you beat Skyrim using only a fork?"And, they'll play through the entire game where their only weapon the entire time is a fork. And they do this to challenge themselves and to go through that rewarding process of beating the game in spite of the odds.

In all of these situations, it's about the effort, not the talent.

If you see someone just pick up a controller, put Skyrim on easy, mod in a dozen things that make them incredibly overpowered and they sweep through the game in 30 minutes... that's not really impressive. Anyone in that situation could do that.

It's like calling someone a successful businessman when they were born into extreme wealth and all of their businesses have had like significant trouble and many have gone bankrupt, and they've really just inherited the money that they do have, and then they have to defraud their taxes to appear wealthy, beyond that... it's not really impressive. It doesn't really show anything about the work they've put in, what they've done to be successful, or give us any reason to believe that they can continue to be successful.

Remember my rant earlier about political advertisements? Oops. Hope that example I gave wasn't too on the nose.

Anyway, really just found myself in the gym, cycling and sweating and breathing and thinking about how I was not naturally good with cardio because of my wonky bones. And yet, I wanted to put the work in any way because I wanted to get better. I want to be faster. I want to be stronger

One of the things that really stood out to me on this reflection of skill and effort and talent and accomplishments that you've just been born into versus those that you've worked for and acquired, one of the things that really stood out to me about the joy of hard work and showing grit is that when you're subjected to challenge, there's often a hardening process that occurs.

So I talked in one of the previous episodes about when you break a bone and it mends, it becomes stronger, or the process for building muscle, right? Where you strain those muscle fibers and it causes microscopic damage that heals and makes the fiber stronger over time.

The same thing happens when we're working towards something we're really passionate about and don't have an easy time of it--  when we're told no, when we get that rejection and we get back up, it makes it easier to do that process again.

When we come up against a boss in a video game that kicks our ass and we just cannot get past it, but we keep coming back, it's a hardening process. We acquire the skills and acquire the resilience needed to overcome that challenge. And when it comes to pursuing fulfillment and creating a really powerful, purpose-driven outlook on our life, it's really important that we take that same mentality of being okay with the hardening process.

I've said it in so many other episodes, sometimes things just suck. Sometimes life is really hard. Those are okay. That's not a negative experience for negative situation to be in. It just means that we have an opportunity to acquire the resilience and acquire the skills to complete those goals and to succeed in so many areas of our life, if we just stick with it and keep coming back to it.

In some ways, I suppose you could say it similar to the weed out courses, if you're familiar with that concept in higher education. Oftentimes with people who go into a really difficult field, let's use premed as an example. Often, a lot of students will enroll in the college with the intention of going into pre-med and then they hit the class like organic chemistry and, anatomy and physiology, and they're in these classes  and they are hard. They will kick your ass. If you've ever seen someone trying to complete an organic class and they're running off of three-day old cold coffee fumes, and one hour of sleep, you know what stress looks like, and that a lot of people end up dropping out of that course.

And by dropping out of that course, they're not able to meet the requirements to be in that pre-professional track. And so that's where the concept of a weed-out course comes in. It shows like if you can't overcome this course, you're not going to do well in the rest of the program.

And I think that when we confront challenges that we can't overcome on our innate talents, that's really where our grit and determination gives us an opportunity to get past those weed-out classes. We might flunk it first. It might kick our ass. We might have to take a fucking gap year, but if we keep coming back and keep working harder to learn from our failures and overcome that challenge, eventually we'll get to where we need to be.

And so with all of that being said, and all of my treadmill fueled ramblings, what I really want to emphasize tonight is that as you're working on finding fulfillment in your own life, there are absolutely going to be times where you see other people getting through situations so much easier than you.

And it seems like their talent, or they were born into a situation, it just makes it so much easier for them. And that observation might make your efforts feel futile. It might feel like, why should I even try if someone else can get that just because they were born in this family or because their body is shaped this way or because they're just naturally inclined towards learning languages, whatever it might be... as you start to make those comparisons, remember, you're like a cliche gym t-shirt.


You may not have that innate talent, but I promise you can work through those challenges and use those challenges to harden and make yourself more resilient. Now, when I use the word harden, I do want to clarify that I'm not talking about stoicism or machismo or, some of those concepts that we often associate with being hard.

Instead I'm talking about, You're you develop an armor, right? Whether that's mental or in the case of if you're, in the gym or whatever, like that could be a physical hardening, but in general, what it means is like you're stronger against subsequent subjections to that particular stimulus, whatever it may be.

I could do an entire episode about emotional hardness and vulnerability. And in fact I'm most likely will do an entire episode on that topic, but I'll save that conversation for now, since we're coming up on the 30 minute mark, and that's usually where I try and shut up and let you get back to your day.

So again, focus on that as you start to come up on different challenges and start comparing yourself to others on your journey to find fulfillment. It doesn't matter if someone else has an advantage due to some innate characteristic, or if you have a disadvantage because of some innate characteristic. Success is just as much about being willing to put in the effort and work your ass all the way off as it does with anything innate.

And your hard work and effort to get to where you want to go in the long run, that's going to be more impressive. It's going to be more rewarding and that's going to get, give you, excuse me, I'm getting tongue tied-- that is what is going to give you the sense of fulfillment that you're looking for.

I'm going to go shower off the gym sweat and force myself to stop thinking about innate talent and grit, because I have grit that I need to wash off of my skin. I smell bad ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary friends. And on that note of my body odor, I bid you adieu for tonight.


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