Talent is often described as “a special natural ability or aptitude,” but we need a more precise and comprehensive definition.
Marcus Buckingham in his book Now, discover your strength defines talent as any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied. Thus, you have a talent if you are distinctively inquisitive or competitive, chaming, persistent, responsible.
Even seemingly negative traits can be called talents – but remember, only if they can be productively applied. For example, obstinacy is a talent, if overwhelming resistance is a prerequisite for success – a sales role for example, or a lawyer in a courtroom. Nervousness is a talent if it causes you to ask yourself “What if?” and to anticipate potential pitfalls and design contingency plans.
While your spontaneous reaction provides the clearest indicator of your talents, here are the three most important clues to keep in mind: yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfaction.
Yearnings reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when they are felt early in life. Your yearnings reflect the physical reality that some mental connections are simply stronger than others. So no matter how repressive the external influences prove to be, these stronger connections will keep calling you, demanding to be heard. If you want to discover your talents, you should pay them heed.
Rapid learning offers another indicator of talent. Sometimes talent doesn’t show itself through yearning. Although a talent exists within you, you might not hear its call. Instead, comparatively late in life, something sparks the talent, and it is the speed at which you learn a new skill that indicates the talent’s presence and power. Unlike Picasso, who was already enrolled in adult art school at thirteen, Matisse didn’t feel any yearning toward painting. In fact, by the time he was twenty one he had never picked up a brush: he was a sick and depressed clerk. One afternoon while he was recuperating in bed after the flu, his mother gave him a box of paints. He felt a surge of energy and started studying a “how to paint” manual.
Satisfaction provides the last clue about talent. If it feels good when you perform an activity, the chances are that you are using a talent – as long as the activity is positive. Building one’s good feelings on the back of someone else’s bad feelings, such as the impulse to put someone else down in public, cannot be considered a talent. Examples of satisfaction that suggest talent include deriving satisfaction from seeing another person improve, bringing order to chaos, and being persuasive. Each of us experiences different satisfactions. Identifying the situations that satisfy you is the final way to pinpoint talent.
Adapted from Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, Now, discover your strengths, Simon and Schuster