Passion, Skill and Talent

By guest contributor Tom Henell (Today’ topic is a hot one in our home  and I would love your thoughts xoxo Monica)


Have you ever watched American Idol, or a similar reality TV show?  You know the early season where they show the excruciating auditions, because they think it is entertaining?  There is inevitably at least one contestant who is terrible, but genuinely doesn’t seem to know it.  The judges, either gently or harshly depending on which show you are watching, will tell them singing (dancing, juggling, comedy, etc.) is not for them and they should pursue another passion.  The contestant storms out and tells the cameraman, “those judges don’t know talent when they see it, I’m going to be famous.”  We cringe and wonder, who ever told them they have talent?  Then we realize it was us!

Our generation has embraced the “you can do anything” mindset.  We tell our children, and ourselves, to pursue our passions, don’t listen to the criticism of others, and persistence will triumph over talent.  But, what if this is not true?  What if we have been telling lies, and have created a shroud of delusion over reality?

I don’t mean to be a cynic.  I believe in pursuing our passions more than the average person.  However, I believe we have confused the differences between passion, skill, and talent. 

Passion is the easiest.  It is the enthusiasm or excitement we have for something, or the act of doing something.  It is our primary instinct that we love something, and although it can be fueled by others, it has to arise out of our inner desires.

Skill is something you earn.  Skill is the physical execution or performance of a task.  Skills can come more naturally to some than others, but is only developed and refined through repetition (practice).  Skill is best exemplified by the “10,000 hour rule”; made famous by Malcom Gladwell in his book, Outliers, and based on a study by Anders Ericsson.  The premise is that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any particular field or study.


John Lavery

Talent is the hardest because it is cannot be earned or faked.  Talent is what we are born with.  It may be a higher lung capacity to run or the delicate coordination required to draw and paint.  It is the natural capability we have to do something better than others.

Now that we understand these three elements, there are certain formulas that can assist us in finding our best paths in life.

Passion does not equate to skill or talent.  The simple fact that we are passionate about something does not mean we can succeed at it.

Skill is required regardless of passion.  It does not matter how much we love something, there are no shortcuts.  It is always required to put our time in and earn the skills for whatever endeavor we are pursuing.  I’ve heard it said, “There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory”.

Finally, success is usually when our passion, skill, and talent align.  We need to understand that sometimes we have talents in areas where we do not have passion.  Simply because we have the talent does not mean that we should pursue something.  Furthermore, often talents go undiscovered as we have not explored those particular areas.

The key is to keep trying. 

Explore different things until you find that you have both the passion and a potential talent.  Then work hard to develop your skill.  It is when these three areas come together that success happens.

My thoughts-The words Passions, Skills and Talents are words we are so closely married to as creatives and it was an interesting when Tom handed me this post. I have a funny (and often uncomfortable) relationship with the word “talent” since it has been assigned to me by my family since I was young. I had always believed that you were not “born” with it but it was something you nurtured which by Tom’s definition might be considered skill. When I read Tom’s definitions below, I immediately thought of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps with his long arms and body made for swimming. What if he had never jumped into a pool? Is there something you have not tired yet? When I have a tough time defining things, I apply it to areas outside of my own genre so I can look at it objectively. Tell me what you think in the comments below! You can read more of Tom posts here.


  • Kell says:

    It is true, we do ( and should) raise our children to believe they can do anything – if they work hard. Once they get a little older and are able to understand things a little more, you have to gently inform them here and there that it isn’t easy, it isn ‘t a shoo-in, not only do they have to work hard, they have to have that skill and talent you mention.

    My son was an superior football player (as well as any other sport he did) – we knew his dream was to be a pro football player, as is most kids. We always encouraged him – I always told him “nothing is impossible” – if you work hard enough, it “might” happen. But understand the odds…” and we’d tell him the odds. That doesn’t mean you give up. If it means anything, you try harder. We also always, ALWAYS told him if he fell short of his dream, he’d fall among the stars. Football (or baseball) could be his ticket to a great college education and then career. Our dear player, leader, captain won the highest New England prep school awards for his position, but alas, he only grew to be 5’ 9″ which reduced his chances more. By then, he long since knew, but he did get a great scholarship to a great engineering school where he played football (on a lousy team, lol), but had a job before he graduated, and 4 years later still has it and makes more money than his dad and I put together. Always encourage, but always be “real” with them.

    • Monica Lee says:

      I wonder if American’s do the “nothing is impossible” thing with our children more than other cultures because of our history? Hmmmm Always encourage, always be real! i like that!

    • susan says:

      I completely agree with the “be real” component, I think it’s the best service we can offer our kids. My 15 yo son is a talented chef – he’s been cooking since he was old enough to pull a chair over the the stove – he was literally in diapers when he started. He’s developed great skills over the years and his talent for combining flavors and cooking methods is clearly a gift. He has a great interest in cooking, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a passion because over the years we’ve explained to him what the career path of chef is and he’s done enough of his own research to know he’s not interested in that kind of life. Which frankly, I’m relieved, though I’d totally support him if he pursued it. But there are other parts of life he enjoys too much to give up in pursuit of being a chef, which I think precludes calling it a passion. Instead, he’ll make one heck of a husband I’m sure ;). It’s hard as a parent not feeling like a dream-killer (especially since I’m a homeschooling parent, so I’m the guidance counselor too!) but I’d rather my child figure these things out sooner rather than later, as education is a huge (too huge) investment most of the time.

  • I totally agree, that skill needs to be present in order to be successful. Without hours spent honing that skill and learning from failures and triumphs you can not built a solid foundation for whatever dream you follow.

  • Oooh, I so needed to read this. Thank you Monica for another great insight. I am always looking for my personal aesthetics as an artist, but now I understand that even if I have the passion and some talent I need to work more on the skill. I am really far from those 10.000 hours…

  • Sheri D. Maple says:

    This is good post and I think it begins with having an interest in something that a person can have a passion for it. I think we are all born to have talent, but have to discover what that may be. I have a talent for cooking, but it didn't happen until I learned the skill. I started cooking at the age of 11 and through the years build my skill into a talent. I love practice because it through that process I make mistakes, learn and grow.

  • Ronnie says:

    Fantastic post. Aahh, the trifecta of passion, skill and talent! I’ve always felt like a cynic when I have questioned the “if you can dream it, you can do it” platitude. Sure we should all dream of the life we want to live and hopefully in those dreams come a practical path toward success, but just wanting something doesn’t make it so. I was one of those kids labeled as “talented” because I could draw well compared to other kids. But I had to work hard to make those childhood drawings eventually become a career–thankfully my passion for what I was doing sustained me through the rough spots. But you’re right—trying a few things may uncover a hidden talent, so I am off to buy a karaoke machine– catch me on Season 43 of American Idol!

    • Monica Lee says:

      You are a riot-let’s do karaoke together…but maybe on The Voice since I understand there is no age limit….haha!

  • Hi Monica and Tom,
    Great post and oh, so true. Sometimes you also have the passion and the talent but find it hard to put in the hours that lead you to where you are your finest.
    Just back from Europe and a bit jet lagged. Thanks for the post MJ

  • I think we never feel like we have put in enough "time" for the skill part. I do think that fortunately for us-it is NOT an Olympic race and so we can actively avoid the comparison game that always bites us in the bum! haha!

  • Joanne Gilbert says:

    This a a GREAT explanation and something all aspiring creatives need to hear. I would add one more consideration and that is lifestyle. You may have personal passion, skills and talent but do you expect to travel, raise children or work nights to achieve your success and is that possible or out of sync with your other life goals/resources. I have found that affects everything.

  • Tom Henell says:

    That is an excellent point, Lifestyle is an important choice that is a big factor in our life choices.

  • Good one. Exactly what I was thinking lately. thank you, you put it in a very nice way!

  • Katie Keller says:

    Tom and Monica, I enjoyed reading this and I appreciate your blog so much. I believe everyone has a positive call on their life that they are gifted for. I think if someone's passion is in line with the desires of their heart they are in order for nothing but success through grace and faith. Sometimes we can be swayed by trends, popular opinion and what have you but that can be deceptive – you could be giving 100% in something you are just not called or gifted to do but it may feel safe or comfortable because other people are doing it.

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