Sursum Ursa: Natural talent vs. deliberate practice

Listen to your Auntie Jill, and stick with it, whatever ‘it’ is. Because lots of practice beats natural ability any day. And both together is nigh unbeatable.

Also: how to keep children (and grown-ups) happy.

About Sursum Ursa

Ursa presents Stuff You Like, where fangirls + analysis + awesome examples of media = good times for all.


  1. Moviemantweeter1999

    Hey this was a good video. I’m not the person who should talk to toddlers because there whining gets really annoying. But yeah sucking is the beginning to getting way better at it. I’ll go watch the first stuff you like video then I’ll watch the stuff you like episode on webcomics(since I don’t want to watch a video I just watched again).

  2. Good video Jill, and I think everyone should watch this. I can relate since I was never “talented” at anything especially when I was a kid, but I could play a mean game of Street Fighter 2!

    I think this quote sums things up quite well:

    “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

  3. A great point well made. Thank you for this!

  4. Love this Ursa! I teach the performing arts to middle schoolers and elementary school kids, and this is something I tell them all the time. Plus you can witness the results! Kids are always shitty actors when they start out, but it’s okay, cuz they’re kids (look at the Harry Potter kids)! It’s how it’s supposed to be! When you see the growth within just a few years, it’s absolutely astonishing. And yes, you can have a good ear or a knack for acting, but you still need to learn the difference between downstage and upstage, you need to learn control, and to be understood. It’s growth and practice. Well done, m’dear.

  5. This is very true.
    A lot of the time someone will come up to me and be like “how do you draw so well” and I ask them how long they’ve been drawing… and they say like, a year maybe.

    Well there you go. I started drawing regularly umm, at age 3-4? Had a sketch book with me every day starting in 6th grade.

    The thing about talent is this: all it ends up being is speed you pick stuff up and it’s not permanent. Eventually you hit walls. And this applies to everything. I went backwards on quite a lot of skills I have from lack of practice, and improved a lot on the ones I use regularly. The thing talent helps most in is motivation, if you improve quickly you get more motivated to do more, but if you aren’t making progress it’s going to be harder. But if it’s something you really want to do that motivation can make up for the lack of the talent one.

  6. Another interesting video. This may be really helpful to me. The only thing keeping me from completing my degree currently is my inability to do even simple math. Well… on to practice a lot of basic math I suppose… Thanks! 🙂

  7. As an artist, I get the “oh, you have a lot of talent” thing a lot, but also a lot of people who feel the need to self-deprecate with “oh, my drawings are terrible”.

    Well yeah, if all you’re doing is putting yourself down and not practicing, then your work is not going to be good. Meanwhile, I took a lot of art classes to improve my skills; I worked 10,000 hours to get where I am now. And I’m gonna keep on working on my art to get to the next 10,000 hours.

    So I agree totally with your video, I just wish people were less self-deprecating as a way to… I dunno, comfort themselves.

  8. Yes I with practice anyone can get better but people do have physical and mental advantages. For example the mountain from game of thrones. He is breaking every lifting record. no matter how much you go to the gym and get stronger you will never lift a 1000 pounds. Michael Jordan is so tall he has an advantage over me. No matter how much I stretch I won’t grow. I too worked with children and many had serious mental health problems from ache and FAS and those children will never be as smart as a normal child due to there brain didn’t develop all the way. So yes many people are born with advantages over others and if they tap into it no amount of practice will allow you to catch up.

  9. I have to agree on this and I am one of those “Talented” people. I was once told complete straight no irony what so ever, “Oh, he knows everything.” This was in English 12, one of my poorer classes. This was because I had two things a natural ability to retain facts and information (not just recall but understand what it meant and how to arrive at that information) and a natural thirst to learn. Yes that second one, I want to learn what means putting myself in front of information and working at understanding it. This means that my ability to understand 4 dimensional physics came from hours of focus on that one subject and years of study in a physics classroom. Do I have natural talent? Yes. Did that get me where I am right now? No, and it would insult me and anyone else who worked hard to understand it as well.

  10. TheGangstaOfLove

    I can relate to this. I’m an Esl teacher in Korea working with Kinder-gardeners. Small children who don’t speak a word of English. Sometimes they’ll come up to me bawling their eyes out and pointing at things and I can’t understand a word of what their saying, but I’ve been here for almost a year and I can say with confidence that I’m at least a little better at this then when I first began.

  11. I don’t know. I agree that practice is great and everyone benefits from it. I agree most people we would generally think of as having natural talents actually got those through practice….. But some people really do have natural talents with little to no practice. It’s rare but it happens. It’s not worth dismissing entirely.

  12. I think the best example of this is whenever I get impatient for a web comic to update, so I decide to reread it from page one (especially the web comics made by people who weren’t professional or just starting out). It’s amazing how much their writing style and especially their art skills have changed in just a couple years. Of course, there are the web comics that still look good from page one to now, but those are usually done by people who had already had lots of practice and training.

  13. ManWithGoodTaste

    Here is something I had to discover for myself. Talent, despite actually existing, is not a solid indivisible thing. It is neither a “gift” that can be given to you. It is a part of who you are and cannot be removed from you. But it is never ONE thing.

    Talent is a salad, made of the following ingredients:

    1) A passion for a thing.

    2) A passion for DOING that thing.

    3) Skill, which can ONLY be achieved through practice.

    You are born with the first type of passion, and it is a large part of who you are. What we like is a major part of our personality, it just is. But that passion will only make you a consumer of THAT THING YOU LIKE. It may make you a fan. But it will not make you a creator.

    If you are born with the second type of passion, then it’s a different story. You ALWAYS possess the first passion as well, which makes two passions. You like a thing, and you like to do the thing. You were born to be a creator. It may take some time to uncover the passion for the hard work it needs to do the thing, but when you dig it up, only major obstacles can slow you down. Otherwise, you will start working on creating without stopping (much).

    Skill and practice are self-explanatory.

    What stops many creative people from creating is the VERY FALSE belief that what allows one to create is a magical outside force that does things for you. NO, what makes you a creator is the DESIRE to create, not a magical gift from the heavens. If you WANT to create, in time you CAN. Wanting to create is the ONLY thing that makes you a creator. It ALL boils down to whether you want to, or don’t want to.


    I like this thing + I want to do this thing + I am willing to sacrifice my time = I am talented

    If you WANT to be talented, then you ARE.

  14. I don’t know. If there’s no such thing as talent, doesn’t that imply that there’s no such as an “anti-talent” as well? So… dyslectics are just lazy? If you can be born with poor language skills, why not with exceptional ones?

  15. wasn’t the whole premise behind Monsters University that no matter how much you study, you’ll never be as good as someone with just pure natural talent?

    you see it all the time, in sports, writing, whatever. if you don’t have the talent for it, no amount of studying or training will fix that.

  16. I am amazingly talented at laying around and doing nothing.

    Sadly, I haven’t been able to find a way to parlay that into any kind of a career.

  17. I disagree. No amount of practice will ever allow anybody to overcome a lack of talent. Some people just excel at some things, especially when it comes to creative endeavors, even without much practice.

  18. I disagree with your absolute assertion that there’s no such thing as natural talent. It’s true that for *most* people, practice makes perfect is the rule. But I have anecdotal evidence that I am naturally talented at picking up new programming languages.

    I can master the basics of a brand new programming language in hours, and reach a moderate-to-expert level with the language within days. Everyone else I’ve talked to about this in my industry has much more trouble mentally shifting gears to the new syntax rules and programming paradigms of new languages. They say it takes them several weeks to get to the same level it takes me to arrive at within 3-4 days.

    And this cannot possibly be purely from practice, because I only know 5 languages (C++, Java, Python, PHP, Javascript). I haven’t learned enough new languages to have developed a method for learning new languages. And I haven’t intentionally focused any sort of effort on being good at learning new languages. I’m just… naturally talented at it.

  19. I am very much on board with this. I draw. My degree was illustration, my job is graphic design. I have always drawn. And when people realise that the first comment I usually get it “Oh, you’re so talented! I wish I could draw like that!” It kinda bugs me, especially since (in the arts world) friends and clients often use the assumption that you’re not really ‘trying’ and it’s not really ‘work’ to get you to do things for them for free or cheap.

    I’m not talented. I’m not even close to being the best at what I do, I’m distinctly average. Maybe I have a natural aptitude towards observation and hand-eye co-ordination, but most people can manage that – I’ve just decided to point mine in a particular direction. And you CAN draw like that… if you doodle consistently on and off as much as I do. It really is just time and a little structure.

    Also there’s often an assumption that there’s no point practising something because you’ll never be Good at it. That may be true. Some people do just have shocking hand-eye co-ordinationa nd there’s no help for it. But even if you’re never the Goodest, you can at least become better than you currently are. If you can accept that as an outcome, then that’s often all most people need.

  20. SailorRustyBacon

    I’m one of those types who can’t catch onto anything technical directly, no matter how many times I’ve practiced. And after so many hours and what little money that I may or may not have wasted on time, resources and materials, it’s discouraging to know that I’ll be one of those who won’t get something done correctly, right away… possibly ever (*shakes fists & curses at macarons and a sewing machine). But in all that time, I had to figure out how to work my way AROUND things; try to achieve the same result (or close enough to it) by taking alternative approaches. It takes longer, but at least I’m more accurate with the end result. It’s just too bad that when my “works” are done and they’re ready to be published or sold (I picked up crafting 10 or so years ago after hitting walls with drawing/digital coloring/designing), hardly anybody sees the difference in the 4 days it takes me to get one thing done vs. the 4 hours it takes the next person. And after owning a tablet for 10 years, I still can’t draw lines straight & properly; but I can use the line tool like nobody’s business… doesn’t look as awesome as ink strokes, though 🙁

  21. I like this advice and I am trying to get better at things like drawing and it is something that I have to remind myself. On the other hand people have often commented on my ability to do math in my head and I point out that I got as good as I did by challenging myself and doing it as often as I could (past tense because I am a little rusty) like taking a practice AP Calc test without a calculator or doing calculations for how much material is needed for a project (doesn’t hurt to double check on work related stuff but it is a great time to practice).

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