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! 


  • Veronica

    Hi Eli!
    I am sooo inspired by your work and your teaching. But above all what strikes me is your awesome confidence, that God has given you no doubt, to pursue your dreams and your drive to get the job done!
    I am a 64 year old retired kindergarten teacher. I started drawing seriously at 17 then 4 years later I dropped it and went into full time teaching… I never forgot those years where I went to the studio to draw.
    I kicked myself for years for not choosing Art School…
    Today I have peace. I found you guys! I went to the living room and said to my husband: I found it. The Mastery Program. This is what I have to do. No question in my mind or heart. Beyond any doubts or worries or age or broken dreams or whatever! I signed up a month ago! I am in love with the idea of one years program drawing and painting! God has brought me here at this point of time. Perfect timing. His timing.
    I’m 64 and thriving! I am so excited! Can’t wait to build my portfolio!
    Thank you for your vision! Thank you for your faith and commitment to our creator! No eye has seen…
    Big hug from Buenos Aires Argentina!
    Hope to graduate next year in August 2024 and meet you and your team! I feel like I’ve known you all for years! Of course the Holy Spirit at work.
    Hope I can create extraordinary art soon and be able to sell my art as well! I have the passion and the drive. No stopping now.

    Big hug,

    Elli Milan Art replied:
    HI Veronica! You are a passionista!! Im so glad you are in the Mastery Program! You will have an incredible year of growth, self discovery and progress towards your goal of successfully selling your art and affecting people’s lives in a positive way! My friend Roxanne, Roxianiart on instagram, started the mastery program when she was 64 and now she is selling her art every year at Art Expo in Scottsdale and gets commissions all year.

  • Liliana

    Oh! Elli, you will never know how important was your existence all of a sudden in my life. All my life I insisted that everyone should keep the passion inside intact and alive no matter what, and that is what kept my art alive. Since I was a child there was always something interfering with my art. Also my personality, too shy and too weak to say: I want to study art. I kept on painting the way I could possibly do, trying to understand the colors and how to create depth. I was looking for the right teacher in the wrong places but I never stop dreaming of becoming a good painter. One day I saw one painting by you or by Dimitra, I don’t remember, and I said to myself: this is how I want to paint. I am so thankful already to you and your existence, even though I am just in the nine week of the Mastering Program. I found you Elli, and your school, I am living my dream these days, seeing the difference already in my work. Besides, I enjoy your writing, you are a poet. I love the way you write and all your stories. I am happy I found you. I wasted many years but I am alive and my passion is alive. You are right, passion is the key, the meal and water for everyone’s soul. Thank you Elli.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    HI Liliana, Im so glad you found us! As you dive into the Mastery program and uncover the purpose your art will have in the world, you will be filled with confidence and any remaining shyness will go away! I used to be shy too. So many people don’t believe that, but it is true. People who have known me for a long time know how shy and insecure I was. My art journey brought healing to me and now I feel free. Thank you for reaching out.

  • Mary Ann Lipovdky

    Hi You and your family are so inspiring and definitely I am realizing this what I had originally had set out to do at 23 yrs.
    So much more to know. Funds are not available for me to take the Mastery Program now but next year I am thinking it will happen. Right now I thoroughly get into Art Social and Art Club, I am truly psyched. I feel wonderful as I have found a new way to grow and in my older years to live my dream. You guys are so beatiful!!
    I am going to be 73 the end of the year and there are so many advertisement about art. I do know what to be wary of
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Mary Because you have set your heart on taking the Mastery Program, I believe the funds will come to you. Probably faster than you think. Art Club can help you in the mean time! All the best!

  • Sandrine

    I recently discoved the Milan Art Institut and your familly just a couple of weeks ago. And I´m absolutely blown away! I´m about to make an important life change (an other;)). I know that this time is my opportunity to give it a full Go to my Art for which I had the “Imposter Sydrome”. I never went to an Art University and flet somehow blocked, feeling I would never be talented enough to be successful. Thanks to all your recent encouragements and videos I´ve been able to watch the last weeks I feel IT! I know now that with Passion I WILL acheive something Special. Looking forward to find My Voice via the Mastery Program :). Thanking you again for all the good vibes you manage to transmit and for your willingness to help others to succeed like you did. (www.sandrinecharraut.com)
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Sandrine I’m so glad you found us! I absolutely believe that with your passion you will do singing very special in art! Exciting!

  • Anna Nilsdotter

    Hi Elli and everyone else! Anna from Sweden here. I painted every morning in my room from three years of age! I liked it so much! I took art classes in high school and went to an art school after that. The art school was not taking care of my inspiration at all! I thought it was very booring and started with film production instead and went to a filmschool in Stockholm for two years. I love the colours, image composition and the props in filmmaking. A few years ago I started all of a sudden paint again, in popart style and had a few exhibitions in Stockholm. I totally agree with you about the passion! That is the most important thing! I so look forward to learn more from you in the Mastery program. Kindly, Anna Nilsdotter
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Anna How interesting to see how your film art will influence your fine art. Documenting your process should be easy for you!!

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