Is it natural talent – or is it practice?

Posted by on July 25, 2021

Is it natural talent – or is it practice?

The Olympic athletes make their sports look easy. So easy that we sometimes think:
1. “that doesn’t look so hard; I could do that” OR
2. “that is impossible; you have to be born that way to be good at that”

If you’re a number 1, then I encourage you to go do the thing!

If you’re a number 2, then consider this…

People who are really strong at something may have some natural talent, but more often than not they get great at that thing because they practice. Over and over and over.

We see this with the Olympic athletes. They didn’t become the best in their events just because of natural talent. They ran, swam, rowed, sparred, flipped, balanced, studied and worked out. They showed up and practiced even on the days when they didn’t feel great.

There are a lot of everyday career skills that people often dismiss as being for other folks, too. I hear things like: ”presenting is for natural performers.” Or “networking is for extroverts.”

Well, I’m neither, but I can do both. Because I practiced.

I found the things I was passionate about and wanted to share, and I presented them. At first I was nervous, but now I (mostly) enjoy it. Do I wing it? Never! That’s not my style. What the pros taught me was that if you practice, it frees up your brain to stay in the moment and be in the conversation with your audience – instead of worrying about what you are going to say next. (I love that paradox; you have to practice in order to be natural!)

And working a room? That made this introvert all stinky sweaty. But I did it so often during my fundraising career, I found my style and got comfortable with it. I wouldn’t say I now enjoy working a room, but I can do it reasonably well. And without sweating.

There are so many career tasks we can get better at if we practice: interviewing, listening, giving feedback, etc. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t great immediately. Model the behavior of all those Olympic athletes and practice – even on the days when you’d rather not. Remember, you get out of it what you put into it.

What’s one thing that would benefit you and your career if you practiced it? (Queue the Olympic theme music…)

Happy practicing!

p.s. As always, your comments are welcome on this post at