Overcoming the Talent Ceiling

What happens when our vision and desire to create amazing work reaches further than our ability to actually create that work? How do we handle it when we know we can be better, and we want to do better work, and we know how it should look in the end, but we don’t yet have the skills to meet our goals?

I think most artists and makers live in this state perpetually.

And if we’re fortunate, we’ll stay there. Ideally our talent will never surpass our drive to make things, because if we wake up one day with more skill than drive, we’re probably burnt out.

Though the feeling of lack sucks, it’s also proof that we’re hungry to do better and go farther in our work.

And I think the pain and frustration we feel when we’re confronted with our lack of talent and skill is also the path to overcoming our talent ceiling. The pain an athlete feels when exercising is the proof that they are getting stronger.

Which is why I think the most important character trait of a successful maker is perseverance.

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Last week I asked if anyone wanted to share their story of how they’ve overcome their own talent ceilings. The emails I’ve received so far have been much more encouraging and personal than I could have imagined. I’m still trying to read through them all and I’m realizing this is such an important and personal topic.

Here are a few excerpts from some of the emails I’ve read so far:

  • Chase McCoy: Talent ceilings are a burden and a blessing. They restrict our work, but they force us to think around a problem and find our own way to the solution. Sometimes that journey is more important than the end goal.

  • Michael Schechter: I’m banging my head against that ceiling daily. Seems to be the only way I’ve found to raise it.

  • Guido O.: I guess that overcoming your own talent ceiling just requires you to trust yourself, to give yourself space and time to grow. Talent may grow indefinitely, but it is not an immediate process.

  • Larry D.: I got around my talent glass ceiling by enlisting the help of others who do have the talent and exciting others in the company about the benefits.

 What I’ve learned professionally is that we need to dream big, dream beyond our own capabilities. We can enlist others to help us on our journey because we can’t all be good at everything. The talent ceiling may exist for an individual, but not for a team of the right people. I’ve found people want to help if you have a big, great idea.

As Larry mentions just above, I think the second most important character trait of a successful maker is relationship and community. In fact, community and perseverance go hand in hand, like two sides of the same coin. Have a community to go to and work with and get feedback from gives us continued energy to persevere.

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Right now I am working on a project for people who make things. And in it, I go into more detail about this topic as well as many others related to the making of things. If you want to get an email when it’s ready, I’ve made a little signup form.

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