Natural Talent or Focused Determination?

What do we choose and what does it teach us?

Source: Andre Morgan on Pexels.

If the end-goal is absolute greatness, then one without the other is not sufficient.

I have a story about one of my best friends, Greg.

We both ran Track & Field and Cross Country.

Over four years of high school, we probably ran around 10,000 miles together.

When we were in Cross Country season, it was easy for me to run 100-mile weeks and do high-volume speed work. I could outrun Greg. On speed days, I could outpace him.

When I first started running, I could hardly run a 12-minute mile. Within two years, I sustained several injuries, including runner’s knee and Sciatica.

By the end of my fourth year in high school, I could nearly run a 4-minute mile.

When we entered Track season, everything changed. Greg changed. The entire game changed.

Greg wasn’t a lazy person. Not by any stretch, but, for some reason, that determination didn’t exist during Cross Country season.

When Track began, the 800 meter was his event. He was untouchable. We were in a Division 1 school in the most difficult region in California.

Greg could beat every single kid in this event. At 17 years old, he was the second-fastest 800-meter runner for the year.

The fastest 800-meter runner was another kid just 7 miles across town.

On the day of the 800 meter State Championship, these were the results.

Image for post
Image for post
800-meter state championship results.

They are two of the fastest kids to run the event in the last 20 years.

In that event, they are unmatched in both natural talent and determination.

Greatness is both, otherwise natural talent would have been sufficient for either Sean or Greg to run equally fast in Cross Country — or even at distances greater than 800 meters.

If we went up to the 3200-meter race, I could outrun both of them with ease. And my ability would be nothing other than determination. There was very little talent involved with my success.

If I was forced to go back and choose, I would choose the same thing: Focused determination.

Here’s why:

  1. Appreciation for what you’ve done and the lessons in working hard. This is no small value since running thousands and thousands of miles teach you a few things about life that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
  2. Natural talent is specific. Greg had the 800 meter. Sean had the 800 meter. Outside that event, the talent doesn’t measure. Hard work pays off across the grid, not solely in a singular area.
  3. If you have natural talent, the fall hurts worse because it’s foreign. When you’re determined, you fail. When you fail consistently, you get used to the habit of moving forward regardless of the result. The fall doesn’t hurt you because it doesn’t matter. Greg was fast from the first year. He worked hard, but when he would fail in events outside the 800 meter he would fall apart. He had the talent to run those events with extraordinary results, but his mental state wasn’t there. He stuck to the event he had massive strength in and worked on it. He didn’t have to, though. He had extraordinary power that stayed locked up until the final day of his running career. Hard work breeds mental toughness.
  4. Natural talent is an extremely rare occurrence in a select few individuals. With consistent determination, you’ll always know you stand in the highest echelon with or without the most talented people. It’s a good feeling to know that you are on a level playing field with everybody else and you’ve worked your way up.
  5. Natural talent runs out. If you don’t have preparation for failure, like in point 3, then that first failure might arrive too late in life. I’ve seen many talented students and athletes fade away because they experienced failure for the first time as grown adults. Their inability to rebound sealed their fate.

Written by

UC Berkeley, mathematics. Los Angeles. Long-time runner. Top writer on Quora, 100M+ total content views. New to Medium. Inquiries:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store