What is your answer? Whatever side you choose it influences on a fundamental level how you look on life. It influences what you think of successful people and how you will evaluate your own success.
What if we attributed greatness and success to innate talents? From the date of our birth and by the power of our genes we would be geniuses or mere normals. It could be a wonderful world for those of us who are talented: no further effort required and success guaranteed. However, this view would also hold a lot of promise for those of us who feel that they are without special talents. It would relieve us of the responsibility to try (harder). After all we were just not born to be great in the first place. Or it could provide us with the answer for why we do not stick with something if is not an easy ride. If we are not good at something from day 1 – well, we have not found our talent yet – so let’s look for something new to try.
What if it would be the other way around and birth and genes did not determine whether we become great? It would be the world of the American Dream: any of us could be successful if we were persistent enough and believed that we could make it. However, while this view of the would offers freedom and self determination it takes away all the excuses for being mediocre. This could make the look into the mirrow quite hard for us. It puts the responsibility for becoming great squarely on our own shoulders.
Comparing the alternatives, no wonder that many of us opt for the talent answer. It provides us with a reason outside of our control, which we can use to justify our felt non-success and a lot of other perceived shortcomings in our life. Talent is a concept similar to destiny – it trades self determination for the comfort of being at the mercy of uncontrollable forces.
So what is it? Ericsson has conducted a series of ingenious studies with violinists and pianists. The outcome was clear: The level of performance was determined by the amount of practise that the musicians put in. The difference grew over time. Expert pianists had accumulated more then 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 20; amateurs only around 2,000. This difference in deliberate practise explained the difference in the quality of their performance. There is plenty more research that supports the view that deliberate practise is the only viable way to great performance (e.g. one more scientific study and a great Harvard Business Review article).
So the answer is clear: you can become a master in whatever you choose if you practise. If you want to be great: Just do it. Do what you love, do it often, find a way to do it as much as you can. It also helps if you find a coach or mentor who supports you on the way especially in the beginning.