Ugo Cei. Fabrizia Costa. Talent is overrated. A conversation about talent and self-worth

Talent is Overrated. A Conversation with Fabrizia Costa

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The subject of today’s podcast is a little pet-peeve of mine, the myth of talent, something about which I already ranted in the past. This topic was brought to my mind again by reading a blog post by my friend Fabrizia Costa.

Fabrizia mentions that someone left her a comment saying basically that talent is necessary to get anywhere in photography and her reply is as follows:

“This is the view held by many photographers, and to some extent it’s true but I believe that talent is overrated. Yes, you do need something special to be exceptional, there’s no doubt about that, but you don’t need that to be a success in this world.

We all have some talent, every single one of us, and the issue here is that many have not yet found out what their talent is and how to use it. In reality, hidden talent will emerge when we get down to work, take action, commit, learn, train, and put hours into it.

They say that if you do something for 10,000 hours you become an expert. And that’s probably true, in terms of learning a skill and gaining specific knowledge about something, but that’s only about 50% of what we need to succeed in our business. The other 50% is what goes on in your head, what you believe you can and cannot do, and being open to receive. We’re so bad at receiving, we self-sabotage a lot. Negative talk in our heads will undermine all the work we do, but if we do the work and keep those voices down, there’s really no limit to what we can achieve.

We all know wonderful talented people who are struggling to make ends meet, or who can’t make a living out of their art and have to work a 9-5 job to survive. So is talent the defining factor? It’s quite clearly not the case!

Success is not just for the talented, it’s for everyone who’s willing to step further and put themselves out there and dare to be great. Your talent will emerge, grow and shine as you do the work, but your ability to generate wealth, or whatever your idea of success may be, lies much deeper than what you’re good at doing.

Whether you feel you’re talented or not, be aware it’s not the deciding factor in a successful business and life. Some even use that as an excuse to hold back! For years I didn’t even try to do things that I wanted to do because I kept saying I’m not good at them. And while I may still not be very good at them now (you don’t want to hear me sing), if I invested time and I trained with a teacher I would definitely become better… and eventually maybe even good!”

So, as this is an issue about which I am passionate, I picked up the phone to call Fabrizia and ask her a few more questions about it. You can listen to the recording of our conversation above, or read the transcript below. If you do, I would love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment here, no matter if you agree with us or if you think we are completely nuts!

Ugo: The other day you wrote a beautiful post on your Facebook group “Outside the Box”, titled “Talent is overrated”. Your words immediately resonated with me. A few years ago I wrote a post on my blog titled “The Myth of Talent” and I swear you could have written mine and I could have written yours. What prompted you to write that post?

Fabrizia: Well the day before it was actually the day of the ladies’ final at Wimbledon so I wrote a post about crucial moments. Really it was about a tennis match: sometimes there is a ball that is a really important ball and it’s worth a lot more than just that point. Because from that point on, if you get it, you could win; if you lose it, you could fall apart. That’s exactly what happened to Serena Williams: she lost two balls and that was the end of the match. She lost the match, after that she fell apart. But this happens so much in tennis. And it made me think that in business we also have a lot of opportunities where we can take a risk or we don’t take the risk and if we take risks we have a chance of winning big things. And some people just don’t do it and we lose some crucial moments that can take us ahead.

And then there was a comment on that, somebody saying: “Yeah that’s all good and well but you need talent to go further in photography.” And so that made me think that’s the way a lot of people think. But to me talent is overrated. And so that’s why I wrote the post because, like you said in your own post, it’s a myth that you need talent to get anywhere in in photography and in business. There was then a comment on this post saying: “To be out of this world, you need a lot of talent.” Yes. But we’re not talking about being Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

We’re talking about running a successful business. You don’t have to be exceptional to do that. You can do the work and get where you need to be and be very successful. There’s a ton of people that make a lot of money have great successful businesses and you don’t know who they are. They’re not famous but they do it right. So that’s why I post that. It’s a bit of a long story.

U: It’s really true. I completely agree. But every time I mention this topic, I am amazed at the amount of negative reactions I get. It compares to backlash I get when I say the Golden Section is a myth. It looks like people are really fond of the notion that you have to have innate talent to succeed, even though they cannot justify in any other way than by saying it is self-evident. Why do you think it’s so?

F: Absolutely. And this opens up a whole big can of worms because it’s an easy way to justify your lack of success. So it’s very easy to say “I don’t have enough talent and therefore I cannot be successful” or “it’s not working for me because I don’t have much talent as a photographer. I’m not good enough.” That’s what it means: “I’m not good enough.” And that goes back into the whole issue of self value which is a huge thing and it’s at the bottom of all this argument, because that is everybody’s problem. Lack of self value and what we believe we cannot do because we’re not good enough. It will affect our communication, our connection with clients, our prices that we set, the products that we offer, the way we run our business, the way we do not really believe that we can do it and therefore we’re not going to do it right.

So the value that we place on our work and the value that we place on ourselves is really the core issue. I think it goes down to that. The superficial comment is: “Oh, you need talent.”. In fact the the self-value and all that kind of stuff is really big in the work that nobody wants to do because you need to get down there and you really need to think and you really need to work on yourself and realize the value that you got and bring it out. And that is a different kind of a work and I end up doing this with pretty much every single one of the people that I coach because we always go and we always get to a point when this thing comes out.

So it’s easy to blame it on the lack of talent. In reality it is people not really wanting to deal with their issues and self-worth. And I think that’s what’s come up.

U: I love that we basically reached the same conclusions, but maybe coming from different directions, because my conviction that a talent is largely a myth was inspired by my mentor, Robin Griggs Wood. She said she had missed a lot of opportunities in her life because of the blocks that other people put in her way. They didn’t think enough of her. They didn’t give her opportunities and space and the training to reach her true potential. And the fact that people discount other people because they think they don’t have talent makes her sad. She’s fighting against that. You seem to come from a different direction, where you see the blocks that people themselves put in front of their own path. So not so much the blocks that others put, but I think that these are equally important, equally heavy to lift if not even more so. It’s great that we we see we see the same effect, but coming from different directions.

F: I think there are things that people put in our way and it’s mainly in our childhood and our self value is built up when we are children and teenagers and those are the crucial years. So if we’ve had parents or teachers or figures of authority in our lives that have put us down, we don’t think much or value us, then that’s certainly something that people put in our way, that blocks. Somebody keeps telling you: “You can’t sing, you can’t sing. You know you’re out of tune.” A child will not be listening to music and will not be trying to sing and will not be learning to sing and will be out of tune. It’s just the way it works. If somebody is encouraged to do something, even if they’re mediocre they will become better.

And that’s just the way it works. So there are things that people put in our way, especially when we’re younger, but I think in the end those are the voices in our heads that, even when our parents are gone and all those people are gone, we keep listening to. We replay these and these are all our choice. It’s our own subconscious that keeps telling us the same stuff 10, 20, 30 years later and it’s not the truth. So in a way we are putting that stuff in our way and we use these things as an excuse because to overcome that we need to face it, to face the fact that is not true and that we need to get over ourselves. And it’s a whole lot of work and it can be painful and it can be challenging. And so a lot of people don’t really want to do it. Instead they complain about the lack of talent and just hide.

U: According to you how can people help themselves remove those blocks?

F: Well it’s facing it and realizing that once you see something, like I say in Outside the Box, once you see something you can’t unsee it. Some people get a therapist, some people get a coach. A lot of people work with me and that’s what we do. And some people do self-therapy, journaling and trying to work out what goes on in the head. There’s many ways to remove blocks.

The first thing you do is identify that you have blocks and realize that you have these things and that you’re using some things as excuses not to, because it’s down to fear. You fear showing up. That’s another thing: you need to show up and it’s fearful. Once you’re out there, people are gonna judge you and people don’t like to be judged. And so it’s easier to say I don’t have enough talent to show up and just stay in your own little thing and be a victim and never be successful and complain. But it’s never your fault, it’s because you don’t have talent.

U: Absolutely. I think we could have a long academic discussion and science papers about the relative weight of nurture versus culture and what is in our genes and so on. Of course, if you’re not seven feet tall you can be an NBA center, but aside from those very specific cases, if I can interpret also your your words, what we’re pointing out here is that you should not think that you don’t have talent and therefore something is precluded to you. That you will never be able to reach certain goals, most reasonable ones at least. I cannot pretend to be Roger Federer. At least I could play decent tennis if in my youth I really wanted to do it. Every time somebody says they have no talent for this or that or that somebody else doesn’t have any talent and we don’t amount to much, we should always be ready to point out that it’s a load of crap.

F: I don’t like to discount that as a superficial thing, but anybody can succeed in business, because even people that are not incredibly intelligent have succeeded in business and have run good photography businesses for many years. So there’s no reason why anyone shouldn’t do it. It’s just the fact that you have to believe in what you’re doing and you need to do it hundred percent and put the time and the effort in. But most of all believe it, as if you don’t believe it you’re not going to get it.

U: You mentioned the coaching that you do. Can you just tell my audience how people can find more about your coaching activities, should they want to benefit from them?

F: Yes. I don’t I don’t teach photography so I keep myself out of that because it’s not photographers’ teaching. I teach photography to amateurs locally but I don’t do workshops of photography that much. But I do coach for business and I coach professional photographers only because it’s about business obviously. So I have the group on Facebook called Outside the Box Evolution, one in English one in Italian,so you can go see it and find that. And I run workshops. It’s two-day workshops in different cities. The next one is in Vienna in October and I’m just about to launch an online mastermind group just for 10 photographers who work with me for three to six months. And then I do one-to-one coaching, so there’s different options and journeys that we could do together. I don’t take on many people because I am a photographer and I still work as a photographer and I don’t want to give that up because that’s what I love. I love to do both things. I’m running two jobs at the same time. I couldn’t choose one over the other. Yeah that’s what I do.

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