Grrrr. Talent.

OK, so this is going to be one of those nitpicking ones that maybe you won't think is that big of a deal but, damnit, language matters.

I'm about 20 weeks away from becoming a farther and one of the things I have promised myself I will never do to my child is call him or her "talented". Why? Well, think about what talent is.

Definitions of talent vary but pretty much all of them come down to this: a natural ability or aptitude, especially without being taught. A synonym for talented is gifted.

Now, I don't have any problem with accepting that a large part of what makes a person successful is down to luck. In fact I think the world would be a better place if we accepted this and acted with a little more humility. But that isn't what we think when we call someone talented. When we call someone talented we are praising them for what they are, not what they choose or how they act. We are valuing people for their luck rather than their judgement.

Talent is what you get for free. It's the hand you're dealt. But how you play the game is up to you. Yet we insist on focusing on the part that's just dumb luck. In fact, this goes along with our obsession with naturally talented types and child prodigies. The heroic narrative of the man (usually it's a man) born to greatness, chosen by fate.

Fuck fate.

And I say this as a man who was once a child whom many would call talented. I was a smart kid. And, honestly, I don't think it did me much good. Had I been a less smart kid I might have learned a little more grittiness, maybe I'd have more of it now. If I had to choose between having a super smart kid who glides through school and a kid who has to struggle a bit to get the grades, I'd choose the latter. Because learning how to struggle and choosing to do so is part of what makes someone capable of great things.

Many of my clients work in Talent Development and I have puzzled for a while about what we should call this instead. English doesn't seem to have a word that means earned abilities that would fit into this phrase. Skill Development seems to specific; most would read it as developing a specific skill rather than developing skill in general. Capacity Development? Sounds like you're building an extension on the office.

If you can think of a word, then I would love to hear it. But in the meantime, when you find yourself wanting to talk about talent, pause and instead talk about what you're really talking about. Talk about the struggle, the thousands of hours of work, the gritty, never say die attitude that matters way more than talent.

And praise your kids for what they do, not just for what they happen to be good at.