Talent Vs. Skill
The entrepreneur Dharmesh Shah likes to make a distinction between skill and talent. Skill is the ability to do something. Talent is the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something. If you have a talent for the guitar, that means you will learn to play the guitar faster than someone who doesn’t have a talent for the guitar. For most things in life, Shah says, talent—the rate at which you can acquire the ability to do something—doesn’t really matter. What really matters is, can you consistently do the thing over a long period of time? Some of the things that allow people to or prevent people from consistently doing something over a long period of time—that’s the theme of this SIX at 6.
8 or 9 Times Out of 10, It Doesn’t Work
Jerry Seinfeld started performing stand-up comedy in 1976. Since then and to this day, every day he sits with a yellow legal pad and writes jokes. Given that he’s been honing his craft for 47 years, he was asked, “How do you know a joke is going to work on stage?” Seinfeld said, “You don’t.” “You just trust yourself?” the interviewer asked. “No you don’t,” Seinfeld said. “There’s no trust. It’s excruciating—8 or 9 times out of 10, it doesn’t work.” The interviewer said that he had recently seen Seinfeld perform at The Beacon Theatre in New York City, where Seinfeld seemed to get nothing but laughs. “What you saw is what’s worked,” Seinfeld said. “But you only saw 1.5% of what I’ve tried.” And even with what’s worked, every time he steps on stage, “it’s slightly terrorizing.” Rarer than comedic talent, Seinfeld adds, is the ability to handle that terror. “A lot of people can be funny, a lot of people can write jokes, but not a lot of people can handle that daily slight terror.”
The Word Is “Dor”
While directing a play in 7th grade, Greta Gerwig got made fun of repeatedly. Her classmates called her “bossy” and “annoying.” Without that second Category of motivation I wrote about a few weeks ago, Gerwig gave up her dream of being a director, and instead, she pursued a more solitary career: writing. Then she met the director Sally Potter, who immediately sensed something about Gerwig. The two met at a party in 2012, about 17 years after seventh-grade-Greta gave up on directing. So, Gerwig explains, “I asked her about writing.” “What’s your process? How do you write? Do you do it first thing in the morning? Do you write longhand?” At first, Potter was kind and answered Gerwig’s questions. “But then,” Gerwig says, “she grabbed me by the arm, and she said, ‘Why don’t you ask me what you really want to ask me?'” Greta was confused, “What do I really want to ask you?” “You really want to ask me about directing,” Potter said. “How do you know that?” Greta asked. “It’s written all over you,” Potter replied. “The word is ‘dor,’ which means, ‘a yearning that’s bigger than your body.’ You have that and you need to do it. You need to be a director.” Four years later, Gerwig and Potter met a second time—this time at an event for Gerwig’s directorial debut: the award-winning movie, “Lady Bird.” “She came up to me,” Gerwig says, “and she said, ‘You did it.'” (File next to: Sometimes It Takes Another Person’s Belief).
You Just Have To Find A Way To Prevail
Before he was Han Solo or Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford was a carpenter. In 1964, Ford moved to Hollywood to become an actor. “But I arrived on a metaphoric bus full of people who had the same ambition,” he said. So he came up with this plan to prevail over the competition. As Ford spent time around the other aspiring actors on that metaphoric bus, he became aware of something: Most of them were in a hurry. They were in a hurry to “make it” or to make lots of money or to prove something to someone. Whatever the reason, most were on a tight timeline. So Ford’s plan was to do the opposite: to lengthen his timeline. To do so, Ford said, “I had to have another source of income. So I became a carpenter.” “By doing carpentry,” he explained, “I was able to wait it out. And as the years went by, the attrition rate eliminated many of those people from the competition pool until finally, there were only a few of us left on the bus from that entering class. I always saw life that way—you just have to find a way to stick it out, to prevail.”
Would I Come See Me Tonight?
In 1964, on a folk tour around England, Bob Dylan considered quitting. He said, “I play these concerts, and I ask myself: ‘Would I come see me tonight?’ and I have to truthfully say: ‘No, I wouldn’t come…'” Burnt out and ready to quit playing music, Dylan asked himself what kind of music he would want to see himself play. “Rock,” he realized. “I’d rather see me do rock.” So for the sake of creative longevity, Dylan began to reorient around his personal musical tastes and preferences. A little over a year later, in June 1965, Dylan recorded his first rock song, Like A Rolling Stone. And a month after that, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he famously plugged in an electric guitar and performed Like A Rolling Stone for the first time. The folk enthusiasts in the crowd booed and yelled things like, “Get rid of the electric guitar,” and, “We want the old Dylan!” Dylan shrugged off the boos. Because he loved the music he was playing. “Now,” Dylan said shortly after Newport, “when I ask myself, would I wanna come hear this tonight? I gotta say, I would. I dig it. You know? I really dig it. I don’t think about quitting any more.”
In 1817, the poet John Keats wrote a letter to his brothers to share this exciting realization. “At once it struck me,” Keats wrote, “what quality went to form a Man of Achievement … Negative Capability.” Keats explains that “Negative Capability” is “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Rarer than talent or work ethic, Keats was saying, is the ability to stick it out, to prevail, to step into and push through doubts and uncertainties and terrors and periods of wanting to quit.