The Myth of Being Born With It

posted in: Uncategorized | 33

or To Hell With Luck, I’ll Bring the Luck With Me.

January 13, 2012.


I was with some friends watching a blues band when one of them, in awe of the lullaby, gushed her admiration for the guitar sliding talents. “man, some people are just born with it.”

That model of thinking is the laziest, damn near most pathetic way out of self-accountability I’ve ever known. Striking up someone’s skill as talent they were born with, or things that just come naturally to others, is an insult. It is an attack on their hard work and determination. Nobody is naturally more inclined to play guitar or sing than someone is to cook gourmet meals or be a yoga or fitness guru. Its not to say some people have a natural inclination or interest in things that will come out in their eventual mastery of skills and talents. Im not talking about savants or prodigies.

For as long as I can remember, I liked art. I would draw, and people would praise me for it. So I drew more. And I got better and better. But you know what, I drew a lot. I mean, a ridiculous amount.

As a kid, music wasnt terribly appealing to me. I listened to whatever was around me and I didn’t care one way or another. But when I was 18 I picked up a guitar. And I learned some chords. And I played. A lot.

So now when people see me draw or play music, they often think I was born with it. I wasn’t. I played and practiced and played and practiced.

Or when the conversation whispers to travel, folks will tell me, “you’re lucky. I wish I could do that.”

No asshole. I made a plan. I saved and lived deeply within my means, and for two years I did just that. In fact, I did it with a low paying non-profit wage. No new cars, no mortgage, and very few new shiney toys. Sure I’m lucky. I am lucky to have been born in this day and age, with all the privilege that comes with it. And you know what? So are you.

This is beyond talking about excuses. Sure, you may even have a family and there’s just no way you can travel with them in tow. Well, don’t mention that to The Denning family, driving from Alaska to Argentina with five kids and one truck.

Or The Zapps, from Argentina, traveling over 150,000 miles as they build their family and do it driving a 1928 wagon.

Or you want to learn a language, or maybe how to sing. Well, it took Derek Sivers fifteen years to learn how to sing. Fifteen years. Do you have that sort of determination?

Whatever it is, it isn’t a gift. Nobody is born with it.

If your life is lacking in any way, that’s on you. Quit believing some folks are just born with it. There is no luck, you’ve gotta make it.



33 Responses

  1. I knew that if I was going to travel, I had to take action. All this talk about wanting to travel wasn’t going to take me anywhere, but it had to take action. I set a goal to save up $2500 for a trip to Chile, and what do you know, two weeks in and i am already at $900. Where did that money come from? It came from hard work and determination. I didn’t just transfer it over from savings somewhere else. I earned it. Thanks for always inspiring brother.

    • Matt, maybe we can do a feature of your travels and insights for a future post here. Get some wisdom and experience out of this!

  2. If only I was born to yoga! Wouldn’t that be nice… If that were the case I would be able to walk on my head without hands. Ha! You are very right and I never thought much about this concept. If youre not good at something it’s probably because you havent dedicated yourself enough or maybe you lack the passion and drive.

    I suck at drawing but guess what I don’t like to draw…. Go figure!

    Great post my love! I love to travel… Let’s go be great at that!

  3. I could not agree more. This is something Kent and I talk about all the time, because “it’s easy for you guys” is something we hear frequently. Of course, it hasn’t been easy at all. It’s a lot of work, planning and commitment. (As an aside, things are much easier when you are doing something that aligns with your values, strengths and passion).

    Let’s ignore the fact that it is dismissive – I am aware enough of my ego to not be too bothered by that. What is more upsetting to me is that it is a way for someone to tell them self “I am less than” and “I can’t achieve that.” It is such a limiting mindset.

    I love your examples of people who are living deliberately despite having socially acceptable excuses (“we have kids”) to stay in lives that are unfulfilling.

    • Caanan, you guys are an inspiration to those who wish to see it that way. For the rest, you’re just a means of incredible envy.

  4. David,
    I know EXACTLY how you feel. My friends back in California all think i hit the lotto because we are living in France. They say “oh wow,you are so lucky”. But what they forget is i was the only one of my friends and co-workers and neighbor in my area that didn’t have a porsche, bmw or mercedez. I had a 98 VW Jetta that i waxed to deatch for over a decade. Not because i couldn’t afford a new car, but because i would rather spend money on experiences rather than things i can hold and throw in the garbage. I do have a shoe fetish.

    It USED TO get me mad. Not anymore. Just a little. Now i think i must be doing something right to make it look so easy to be able to have people think that i’m lucky.

    You must be really good at drawing to make it look like natural talent.
    So don’t get mad, just smile and have pity that they don’t know the secret to getting what they want is just plain old planning, and elbow grease with a smidgen of determination.

  5. My parents say I was born with the ability to crawl out of things an fall out of high-walled cribs. Other than that, I think delighting in things mo-almo-boho (drawing / guitar / making vegetable deals in Barrio Logan) are part of a less-trodden desire.

    One thing I know: I’m born with a massive ammount of melancholy that I don’t resent. It’s pushed me out of the rat race and into a richer, if more sorrowful, life.


    • Mark, is it strange that I envy your born with melancholy charms? It certainly makes for more brooding and intelligent writing.

  6. My parents say I was born with the ability to crawl out of things an fall out of high-walled cribs. Other than that, I think delighting in things mo-almo-boho (drawing / guitar / making vegetable deals in Barrio Logan) are part of a less-trodden desire.

    One thing I know: I’m born with a massive ammount of melancholy that I don’t resent. It’s pushed me out of the rat race and into a richer, if more sorrowful, life.


  7. Great Post! I always have had the natural ability to learn a skill better than most rather quickly. Being able to do a skill better than others has left me with a ‘good enough’ mentality. I’d learn enough of a skill to the point where I thought I was good enough, but never was driven towards mastery of many skills.

    Like you, drawing was one of my skills that most people recognized and complimented me on. I always had difficulty with the internal self doubt when receiving criticism.

    Over the past couple of years my mentality has been changing. I’ve been working on practicing being a master at something, which is a task in itself. I hope to apply the mastery task to traveling, and seeking my dream life.

    I can honestly say that I’ve long considered myself tone def and rhythmically challenged. This is despite playing violin for 5 years, and guitar through my adolescence. This has started driving some of my hobbies to be more musically driven. I’ll be learning to play the ukulele, and to sing. I think both will be great for traveling and sharing with others.

    Now is the time to become a master of life!

    • The violin is one thing I wish I was born with. It seems to me that its a lot of work to learn it. Ive tried a few times. But yes, I know one day I will dial it down and then, I’ll tell folks I was just born with it.

  8. Luck is a great excuse. Luckier that I, you’re so lucky, why does he have all the luck?

    I will say that we are lucky not to have been born a Jew in Germany, or a modern day palenstinian, Cambodian, etc.

    We are ‘lucky’ by default.

    • I believe we are the luckiest people to ever walk the earth. So what are we doing with that?

  9. Slightly related. But I think what pisses me off EVEN MORE, is when people who are fat (for example) complain that it is just ‘in their genes’ and they can’t do anything about it. Bullshit. Genes may have a contributing role, yes.. but that kind of thinking is one of the most self-defeatist, fatalistic views you could ever have. YOU are still in control of your life and life choices. You put hard work or hard laziness and you get the desired or unwanted results.

    • Janet, tell us how you really feel. 🙂

    • Theotormon

      Janet, I have heard far, far, far more people complain about fat people saying this than I have ever actually heard fat people say this. In fact, I’ve never heard a fat person say this without tacking on some added comment like “But I know that it is ultimately a matter of calories in, calories out” or “which is why I really need to work extra hard to lose pounds.” I even just now Googled the phrase “in my genes to be overweight” and, per my intuition, found almost nobody on the first three pages of hits stating this as a simple fact. Most were people complaining about other people saying this. And of the remainder, most of those were people exclaiming that they need to work to transcend their genetic tendency to pack on pounds. Are you positive you are not exaggerating this mindset in others?

  10. Yes I have heard this before and defended myself similarly. We’re so full of excuses these days on the whole aren’t we? Whole levels of excellence are being breached as we fail to produce yesterdays genuine triple threat stars like Gene Kelly or say, another Michael Jackson, (not a mimic, an original) whilst we make excuses and produce karaoke singers who whilst pleasant, simply don’t knock your socks off.

    Then there’s, ‘yes if I had all her money I would look that good too…’ – it’s hard to believe that people truly say and believe these things.

    • I suppose sometimes it’s easier to believe these things than to accept responsibility for our lives and do something about it.

  11. I am going to have to respectfully disagree in the sense that some people are born with natural gifts. Just think of the physical gifts that professional athletes have. Now I understand that their physical traits alone aren’t what gives them their talent; however, Lebron James had a hell of a lot going for him with his physical body as it pertains to basketball as opposed to my natural 5’8 frame. And yes, I know of Spud Web.

    The same goes with football players, I could have possessed all the skill in the world when it comes to passing a football but being my height and size wasn’t doing me any favors. Those guys with the height and physique have more of a shot than those of us who don’t have those traits.

    I hope I didn’t come off as argumentative but I just feel that some people are “born with it” when it comes to making it in certain professions.

    • You’re right todd, and I certainly agree with youre examples. But there is a huge amount of determination and damn hard work that goes into it. The guys you listed aren’t the only big guys in the world. They are the big guys who made their own luck.

      Sure, some folks get some damn lucky breaks, but I’m not concerned about them. Id rather know I bring the luck with me. Make it myself. Yeah, like that.

  12. That is so true David, wise words here! Working hard and taking risks are the ingredients of the luck recipe. 🙂

  13. […] is an article that everyone should read: The myth of being born with it.  In summary, “Nobody is born with it.  If your life is lacking in any way, that’s on […]

  14. Atheist-Amen to that!

    Not that long ago I had to have this talk with my little sister. I guess it’s easy to be deterred from trying to learn anything when you’re convinced it’s more difficult for you than anybody else.
    I guess it dosent help either that life performances are on the decline and youtube ratings are skyrocketing, not in the sense that everyone can look like a natural when you just need one out of a hundred takes to be perfect.

    So when you have to work super hard but the rest of the world seems to be born with it, everything may seem a bit lost.

    But really, that’s just all the more reason to practice because you love what you do. If you don’t consider practicing worth your time, either because you lack ambition or faith in your talents, you better take a good look at what you are doing and why.

    Or you know.. read a post like this one!

    • Jóna, I must say hot damn you nailed it. Life performances on the decline and YouTube ratings skyrocketing. Truth truth truth. I am tempted to ask you to preach it.

      Alright, but in the end, I know I’m better off doing what I love regardless of how damn hard it is to make it look good and easy.

  15. No one is born with it but I definitely think you need an innate sense of optimism. I tend to think I am lucky but I think it’s because I focus on good things and quickly get over the bad ones.

  16. Hey man, I discovered your blog by accident and I am loving the minimalist approach to life that you have. It is great to read on others’ interesting perspectives to life.

    Take care.

  17. Theotormon

    You are certainly right that skills and life opportunities are acquired through effort. However, in a couple regards you might be overly cavalier in your attitude towards the wistful souls you speak of.

    First, the dedication that mastery requires is founded on something like love or deep fascination — which goes beyond what you can reasonably expect people to manufacture within themselves. On the road to mastery or self-reorganization, willpower is sufficient for a while, but without love and fascination, your dedication will falter. For the most part, it either occurs spontaneously or it does not. Whatever its source, it is usually mysterious and beyond easy reckoning. There might be explanations beyond being “born with it,” but basically you either have it or you do not. I’m not talking about prodigies or savants either — I mean just any person with a talent. (And by the way, prodigies and savants grow through practice too.)

    You yourself say that for as long as you remember, you have liked art. You did not choose this love — it chose you. Certainly you earned the skill yourself, but you did nothing to earn the spark of interest that enabled your dedication. When others mourn their own lack of talent, isn’t it possible they are mourning the fact that they lack some, what is to them inscrutable, quality that enables talent? I’m sure you don’t believe that your friend is not aware the musician in question practices! If this is what she believes, she is foolish.

    Well, I don’t really presume to know your friend’s mind, but I have heard people say things like this dozens of times. And usually, such a statement refers (continuing with the example of the guitarist) to something beyond finger dexterity and beyond the absorption of a knowledge tradition. Usually it refers to soul, to a quality of either grace or creativity that is foreign to the speaker, forever foreign because it is bound up in the musician’s personality. (Whether or not these qualities of grace and creativity are actually learnable is really beside the point, because it is not plausible to expect someone to know how to go about learning them.)

    The second way I believe you err is in underestimating the shackles of circumstance in the lives of many folks. They might say they wish they could travel and you might snap back that the reason you can travel is that you made a plan, but many people live with perceived obligations and restraints that limit their ability to make such plans. Many folks experience strong pangs of duty to stay in a particular area for one reason or another beyond their choosing. Yes, they could choose to abandon these personal commitments, but they are not willing to do that because they would be sacrificing their own self-respect in the process.

    Your example of people who take their kids with them is flawed, because, while their accomplishments are impressive, kids are pretty portable, really. Not like, say, an aging parent or a spouse that is unwilling to move or a family business one feels obliged to tend or even a beloved housecat one can’t bring oneself to abandon. Maybe you would be willing to let go of these things. Well, these people are not willing to do that, and I feel it is unfair to chastise them for it or to expect them to cease vocalizing their little share of wishfulness.

    I’m not saying your argument is without merit. Obviously there are a lot of people who just sit around and eat Cheetos and feel resentful their life hasn’t turned out like they want. But I also think you discount the pieces of luck that make your happy circumstances possible. I only say this because I used to be similarly annoyed at people who looked on my accomplishments and circumstances with envy. I fumed and made barbed comments to them. But when I really began to consider the life situations of (at least some of) these people, I realized that they really were in somewhat trickier situations than I was in. That they were, to a degree, trapped. And when I began to examine my own disposition, I realized that it was largely produced by a confluence of qualities and experiences I did not choose and would not know how to choose.

  18. […] The Myth of Being Born With It –  What a great point he makes about what it takes to succeed; hint- you are not born with it. As David says, “If your life is lacking in any way, that’s on you.” […]

  19. Hi, I stumbled across your blog through the ‘no-poo’ post and have been reading through it for the past half an hour at least and I love it! But I especially love this post, it’s so full of truth.

    Cheers for the great reading material!!

  20. […] have been with limited initial knowledge. But since around here we believe in making our own damn luck, it’s time to buckle down and DIY. The folks at places like Lowes or Home Depot are more than […]

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