I read an incredible article a few years ago about framing talent with kids and the impact it has on their ability to learn over time. I’ve found that not only does it impact their learning as a child, it impacts how people frame their career opportunities as adults.
The article was focused on kids that were identified as gifted when they were young—musical prodigies, math geniuses, kids who came out of the womb reciting Shakespeare, singing like angels, with IQ’s off the charts, etc..
Those kids were praised like crazy for the things they were naturally talented at. They were the best of the best.
Then they got older, and other kids who didn’t have natural talent, had caught up to them. The kids with average talent had worked their tails off, and developed their skills until they were equally amazing, and often until they surpassed the kids with natural talent. At that point, many of the kids with natural talent melted down and threw in the towel completely.
The kids who had had to catch up, who had to work hard to craft their skills, had been encouraged and praised for their growth over time. They had been supported and taught that they could learn to do anything if they put in the time and effort. The kids with natural talent had been taught that they were naturally gifted. They weren’t always given that push for growth, or taught that they could succeed in other areas and surpass other prodigies if they put in the time and effort.
The article encouraged parents of gifted kids to praise their kids for their talent, but also instill the idea at a young age that if they work hard they can succeed in other areas, just like other kids can work hard to catch up to their level of talent.
I see this difference in attitude and approach to career paths in adults as well. There are designers who are naturally talented in certain areas of design. As the industry grows and shifts, the requirements for being a designer is changing. Pixel perfection is important, but so is thinking through the problems you’re designing to solve, and being able to work with teams and clients effectively. People who don’t have natural talent can work hard, aggressively learn, put in the hours of practice, and become great. Those people are sometimes more well rounded than the design prodigies because they’re looking at the career path holistically. Now, this isn’t always the case. There are people out there with tons of natural talent who have also worked to develop skills that help their career thrive across the board.
When it comes to your design career, don’t compare yourself to prodigies and the designers we put on pedestals, and get so discouraged that you give up.
You can work hard to develop your skills. You can grow exponentially over time if you put in the effort. Work on your soft skills in addition to your design skills. Learn how to deep dive to identify problems that need to be solved, and how to collaboratively come up with solutions to those problems.
Learn to truly listen to feedback, and parse the good from the bad. Don’t blindly listen to a person who only focuses on the negative side of your work. Don’t blindly listen to a person who only focuses on the positive side of your work either. Combine the feedback you receive from both ends of the spectrum, positive and negative, and use it as a foundation for growth.
Above all else, the key to career success is to keep pushing yourself forward. Go outside of your comfort zone. Learn how to do things you’re terrible at, and let yourself be terrible. You don’t have to be the best at everything you try right out of the gate. If you’re terrible at something and you find you’re actually passionate about it, work hard at it until you become less terrible.
My zone is product design. I love figuring out why people are struggling, and help fix it. Whether the issues they are encountering are product related, or stemming from a deeper issue, like a market gap product opportunity. I love framing out solutions and collaborating with a team on ways we can combine all of our ideas into something that will make our customers lives easier. I love the research, finding out if our proposed solutions will actually help, or if we’ve missed the mark. I love usability testing, to make sure the solutions we’re considering are intuitive. Those are the areas I’m passionate about, that I love.
Zero formal training here, I just put in the hours of reading books and blogs and forums, watching free videos and webinars and classes and tutorials online, learning from incredible teammates and mentors, and stalking experts on social media and soaking up their advice (some good, some bad, you have to parse through advice as much as you parse through feedback). How did I get to this point in my career? I devoured everything I could get my hands on at night while my kiddo was sleeping. If I could do it as a stressed out single mom, I know you can do it too. 💯
If you’re a prodigy and feel like you’re getting left in the dust or that your skills are becoming less relevant in your industry, know that you can also push hard and grow your skillset in any direction you choose. Sick of the thing you excel in? Try something new. Being great at something doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you should do.
Regardless of whether you’re a prodigy or a person who has fought your way into your path of choice, if you don’t step out of your comfort zone you’ll cripple your opportunity for career growth. Don’t give up when you meet people who are “more talented” than you are. You have the opportunity to catch up and/or surpass them if you put in the time and effort. You can go from zero knowledge or skill to becoming a pro if you dedicate yourself to making growth a priority.
If you’re truly passionate about succeeding in your career of choice, activate beast mode and go forth and conquer. You’ve got this. 🙌