What Does Nietzche Have To Say About Talent?
“With everything perfect,” Nietzche wrote, “we do not ask how it came to be.” Instead, “we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”
When i read that passage, i thought of the young swimmers watching their icon Spitz exhibit form that almost didn’t seem human.
“No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become,” Nietzche said. “That is its advantage, for wherever one can see the act of becoming one grows somewhat cool.” In other words, we want to believe that Mark Spitz was born to swim in a way that none of us were and that none of us could. We don’t want to sit on the pool deck and watch him progress from amateur to expert. We prefer our excellence fully formed. We prefer mystery to mundanity.
But why? What’s the reason for fooling ourselves into thinking Mark Spitz didn’t earn his mastery?
“Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Neitzche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking…To call someone “divine” means: here there is no need to compete.”
In other words, mythologizing natural talent lets us all of the hook. It lets us relax into the status quo. That’s what undoubtedly occurred in my early days of teaching when I mistakenly equated talent and achievement, and by doing so, removed effort- both my students’ and my own- from further consideration.
So what is the reality of greatness? Nietzsche came to the same conclusion Dan Chambliss did. Great things are accomplished by those “people whose thinking is active in one direction, who employ everything as material, who always zealously observe their own inner life and that of others, who perceive everywhere models and incentives, who never tire of combining together the means available to them.
And what about talent? Nietzche implored us to consider examplars to be, above all else, craftsmen: “Do not talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name great means of all kinds who were very little gifted. They acquired greatness, became “geniuses” (as we put it)…They all possessed hat seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well thank in the effect of a dazzling whole.”
This was an excerpt from Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance