It’s probably not an answerable question, but I have to wonder: is talent a thing? I’ve read some interesting articles about whether talent actually exists as an independent attribute or if it’s just a consequence of really loving an activity and doing it a whole lot.
I have to say the idea that talent doesn’t exist and that people who are described as talented just really love that thing and did it so much they got really good at it makes sense and seems more likely to me, but I every so often I still take the idea of talent out and poke at it.
The reason I do that is because I’m a really good programmer. In college where other students struggled, things were just easy for me. At work where coworkers struggled, things were just easy for me. It seems like a bit of a dick move to say talent isn’t a thing because, particularly in college, there were people who worked much harder than I did for lower grades. I’ve worked with a lot of perfectly lovely human beings who work really hard but are still mediocre programmers. What is it that makes me so special?
It’s funny, but this finally occurred to me just the other day: I am literally the kid who was programming when she was 12. Of course I’m good at this, I’ve been doing it for a long fucking time and because I started so young those years of practice probably shaped my brain.
Some of my skill is luck, of course. If I hadn’t happened to go to a small school run by a principal who believed computer skills were really important, I wouldn’t have had such good teachers, wouldn’t have gotten excited about programming, and wouldn’t have gotten so much practice in. Without those years of practice, I wouldn’t have gone to college with such an advantage over all the students who were completely new to programming and wouldn’t have immediately had my confidence boosted when the first programming exercise we did was easy for me.
Another piece of luck is that thanks to a history of less than ideal family finances, I had a serious fear of going into debt for a degree only to find out I didn’t want to do that for a living or couldn’t get a job in that field. I worked a couple of shitty part-time customer service jobs for a while after highschool, then switched to full-time graveyard shifts (11pm to 7am in my case) because I couldn’t fucking deal with never having a full day off. Having a stable schedule and actual days off was amazing at first, but after a while I started really struggling to sleep during the day, and started thinking about whether I really wanted to spend the rest of my life doing a job a monkey could do if only there weren’t animal cruelty laws.
The idea of going back to school terrified me, but thanks to the misery of graveyard shifts it was a lot less terrifying than the idea of drinking myself to death while doing a completely unfulfilling job and living with total assholes (if you think it’s okay to wake up a person who works nights for any reason aside from the house literally being on fire, put yourself in the garbage where you belong). Compared to a slow death doing a job I hated, moving to a new city (because if I was going to go into debt for an education, damned if I was going to waste it on the local community college), going into debt, and doing something I was really scared I wasn’t smart enough for didn’t seem so bad.
All of which is an extraordinarily long winded way of saying I was very, very motivated when I went back to school. There’s nothing like the fear of going into debt only to end up back in the miserable pit where you started to motivate a person to do her homework and study her ass off.
And now I’m back at my original thesis that talent is much less likely to exist than hard work and love of a subject. Funny how writing works out that way. Maybe I just had more practice and wanted it more than my classmates, and maybe it’s only imposter syndrome that makes me think I didn’t earn it.
I will, however, freely admit that things were easier for me than they could have been. Sure, it sucks always being the only woman in the room, and it sucks when people assume I’m an idiot because I’m a woman, but it would suck a lot more if I were a person of colour (quick, how many black nerds have you ever seen in any media at any time ever?) or disabled, or mentally ill or trans or not straight or non-neurotypical. That’s a separate issue from whether talent exists, though.
Humility is all well and good, but I think in the long run it hurts people to hold up the myth of talent as if it matters. There’s nothing talent can do for you that hard work and trying not to be an asshole can’t do just as well.