Does Passion Trump Talent?

“The boy pulled the fiddle from its hiding place inside the wardrobe, opening the tattered leather case with care. Placing the wooden instrument under his chin, he pressed his short fingers against the wooden neck. Next came his favorite part—the bow. Thick strands of horsehair attached to the shiny stick made a soulful sound as he nudged the bow back and forth. He was in heaven! His daddy believed six was too young to play with such a fragile instrument, but Howard knew that wasn’t true—not for him, anyway. He recognized the value of what he held in his hands, and loved it dearly.

The boy’s daddy heard him play several months later—by accident—and realized he’d been dead wrong. Howard had learned chords, and already mastered several songs. The six year-old boy had taught himself to play the fiddle due to two important factors: Talent—and even more importantly—passion.”

Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book, Outliers, and its relevance continues today. He calls it the “10,000 Hour Rule”, and cites Berlin’s Academy of Music as an example. The school divided promising violinists into three groups: the superstars (future world class soloists), the very good, and the good enough (music teacher material). They were followed from age 5 to about 20. What they discovered shouldn’t surprise anyone: there were really no “natural talents” who rose to the top practicing only a few hours a week. The really amazing musicians worked hard. Not a little bit harder, but much, much harder than the rest—totalling at the very least, 10,000 hours perfecting their craft.

And this isn’t only true for musicians. It’s true for dancers, composers, basketball players, quarterbacks, writers, photographers, concert pianists: every single thing that requires skill requires practice and lots of it. But 10,000 hours? Clearly, it would require starting very young to log that kind of time. People often look at those who are gifted and successful and think they fell into it. Although some degree of luck may apply, make no mistake: hard work was involved. I would add another factor: failure doesn’t scare or stop them. They don’t cry and quit because they can’t do it. They work harder.


Don’t you love those words?

By the way, Howard is my 84 year-old dad. I grew up in a house full of musicians (“pickers”), reel-to-reel tape that recorded for hours, bluegrass festivals, the making of albums and CDs and … well, you get the idea. I was 10 the first time I saw the inside of a Nashville recording studio (which also happened to be the first time I stayed at a hotel with a swimming pool!) All this to say, my father is an example of the 10,000 Hour Rule—and then some. Today he’s almost completely blind, but practices at least one hour per day and plays in two bands. One hour would be the low estimate, because for him, music is oxygen. You can’t make someone love something that much. It’s born in them—part of their soul, their God-given giftedness, their life’s breath.

We are all gifted in some way. Maybe it isn’t music—it could be something entirely different but no less magical. It might be your gift of hospitality—making others feel adored and cherished while in your home. If it is, I’ll bet you spend many hours ensuring the comfort of your loved ones from comforters on the bed to comfort food! I know a woman who is brilliant at making others feel special and loved. It goes beyond kindness—this woman seems to see into your soul–reminding you who you were meant to be, and it is an amazing gift. To this day, I’ve never met anyone quite like her.

It may not be playing a piano concerto or being an MVP. But be assured, you do have a gift! And it’s most likely something that sparked your interest way back when you were a child. Like little Howard, who had to sneak the fiddle out of the case to play because his dad thought he was too young, talent and passion always seem to find a way.

Is there something that’s oxygen to your soul? You may have practiced it for close to 10,000 hours without even realizing it.

Now…go share your talent and passion. The world is out there waiting for you.

“Does Passion Trump Talent?” first posted at

Susan Basham has been writing and drawing since she could hold a pencil, when she realized that words had power. Susan received her B.A. from Grand Canyon University in Behavioral Science and English Literature, where she wrote for and co-edited Shadows, the campus literary magazine. Continuing her graduate school education at Northern Arizona University, she worked in the mental health industry doing client intake on patients and writing summaries for the psychiatric staff.

Continually amazed by God’s blessings and redemption in her own life, she hopes her writing will inspire others. She is currently working on her first novel.