Why Talent Is Overrated: The Real Key to Achieving Greatness

process photo of sketch of two doves with drips of yellow and black ink by artist elli milan

I was 15 years old and finally coming out of my punk stage. My shaved head had grown into a short bob, and I was beginning to think about my future. My dad was pressuring me to attend the same university he went to and become a veterinarian. I liked animals alright, but I was really looking for something more creative and unconventional. I was one of the best writers in my school, with a deep love for history, languages, poetry, and analyzing literature. I was pretty good at a lot of things but not great at anything. I wanted to be talented but realized I was born with nothing that would set me apart.

Tapping Into the Power of the Right Brain

My soul soared at the idea that greatness lives inside of me. I daydreamed about changing the world and being famous. I wanted to be like Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, and Superman. I wanted my life to count. I prayed and asked God to give me a talent.

Less than two weeks later, we had a visitor in my 9th-grade art class. Her name was Betty Edwards, and she was there to promote her book, "Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain." For three days, she taught our class all about the right brain and its role in fostering creative and abstract thinking. She taught us to tap into our spatial perception and see the shapes that form makes. We learned to disassociate from our left brain language function that turns everything visual into a simplified symbol, leading us to draw in a linear and cartoonish manner rather than capturing what we actually see.

Challenging My Parent’s Beliefs

Sketchbook portrait painting of a man by artist elli milan

Everything changed for me at that point. My right brain lit up, and suddenly I could see! I was able to draw and see proportions and relationships. I lost myself in hours and hours of sketching in right brain land. My parents could hardly believe I was creating the drawings I was making and insisted that I was bringing them home from a friend in school. My mother, particularly, didn't believe me and tore a black and white photo of a musician out of the magazine she was reading and said, "Go draw this right now if you are telling the truth."

I jumped at the opportunity to prove my mother wrong and went to my room to draw. 2 hours later, I came out and showed her my work. She was astounded and said, "I had no idea you had this talent!"

I explained to her, "No, Mom, it's not talent! I just learned how to use my right brain! You could do it too! I can teach you how." She said that was nonsense, insisting I was talented and probably inherited it from my grandmother.

"Mom, I don't think so. Grandma isn’t very good at all and just paints sheep in the field and they look like cartoons. She's not using her right brain."

I couldn't convince my mom that I wasn't inherently talented. I think she wanted to believe that her daughter was some kind of genius with rare talent or had the ability to do something no one could explain. She wanted an excuse for why she couldn't draw, sing, dance, or do anything creative. She was good at math and accounting, but that was her box, and she wanted to stay in it. It's safe in there.

Passion as the Driving Force 

I knew better, though. I just lived it out. When I saw that I could improve my drawing skills with practice, measurement, and focused attention, I knew that learning was the key and I wanted to learn. The other kids in my class all learned to draw too, but the difference was passion. When the desire to be great at something collided with the right teaching, I became insatiably passionate.

My passion drove me to practice and draw every single day. Then I picked up painting and applied the same principles. I asked my parents for art classes and spent the summer learning how to paint. I insisted on attending art school so I could learn more. Because I was so passionate, I constantly went above and beyond the requirements, always seeking to push myself by choosing difficult subjects. I painted additional paintings outside of my assignments because I just couldn't get enough. I had found my "thing." I determined that this is what I would eventually be great at. I knew if I practiced enough and spent enough time painting, I would improve and continue to improve until I achieved greatness.

Talent is Overrated. Passion is Key

flat lay of a variety of sketchbook paintings by artist elli milan

Talent is overrated, misunderstood, and often misdiagnosed. The world clamors for talent. The art industry wants the world to believe artists are just born with an innate ability and you either have it or you don't. If anyone can learn it, then it ceases to be rare and cannot be sold for fortunes. The art world and art schools can't leverage our pride for big elitist degrees from private institutions.

The truth is that we all have access to the same information, and each of us can unleash the creative potential of our right brain, building up our creative muscle. We were designed by the Creator to be creative. We were created with greatness inside of us and the ability to grow, improve, and reach levels of Mastery in anything we love to do. Anyone can be an artist and create poetic, beautiful things.

Passion is a key ingredient, and talent is not.

Share your thoughts in the comments below! 


20 comments


  • Linda Fairfield

    Very inspired by your teaching & expertise. Learned a lot. Thank you.


  • Billie Ryan

    Great information. It is one of the books years ago that switched a light bulb in my brain to be confident with my drawing. Thanks for reminding me of it.
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    yes! great book!


  • A.L van Geel

    How to Train your right site of the brain???

    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Yes, your right brain is the side of your brain able to draw and paint and create as well as feel emotion, see spatial relationship and much more. You left brain is analytical, linear and language based. a strong right brain makes strong artist


  • Becky Reilly

    Thank you, Elli, for your work and willingness to share your knowledge, expertise, experience, and passion! I can’t get enough of your workshops. The message you shared here is inspiring—as are so many other blogs and podcasts I’ve watched and read. I firmly believe we are created to be creative.
    I’m frustrated I can’t begin the Mastery program for two more months (I’m on a cruise that interferes until then).
    Looking forward to April 1!
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Becky, Im so glad you find our content inspirational, and excited for you to join the Mastery Program in April!


  • Jim Tanner

    I have tried many mediums through life, but I always thought I did it to relax after work. Reading your articles and watching your videos, I believe it is stirring up my passion to show the emotion I see in peoples’ faces. When I achieve that, I feel happy, but many of my paintings have failed to portray what I desired. My wife and I lived in Papua New Guinea for 51 years and only retired from there two years ago. I desire to unlock my right brain and see what happens. Thanks for you and your family and your passion to pass your wisdom/experience to others.
    ———
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    wow! Papua New Guinea, have you read “The Shack”? How fascinating! You must have some culture shock! Im excited for you to discover your creative side.


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