Why You Should Stop Calling People Talented

Simply put, it’s offensive.

Liv Mello
Liv Mello
Jul 30, 2020 · 10 min read
Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

What does the word “talented” mean?

Let’s start with the definition provided by Google’s Oxford Dictionary.

  1. a capacity for achievement or success

What do we mean when we use the word talented?

Think about the last time you called someone talented. Let’s say it was someone playing a complicated lick on the guitar. What were you trying to express to this person? Maybe their music had touched you, or maybe it just impressed the hell out of you. Did you assume that they were naturally gifted, that the strumming rhythm and the notes and the chords and the proper finger positions were programmed inside this person since the day they were born? Probably not.

Calling someone talented disregards the endless hours and effort they’ve dedicated to their craft.

Ok, I agree. Offensive is a strong word. Of course, calling someone talented is a wonderful way to acknowledge their art and express your enjoyment or appreciation of it. I am in no way trying to compliment-shame anyone for something said with good intention.

Photo by Sam Browne on Unsplash

Perseverance separates the mediocre from the masters.

Unlike my partner, who began learning guitar almost twenty-five years ago, I didn’t start until I was twenty-five. Neither of our parents forced us to play music. Interestingly enough, his parents are not musicians.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

The “gift” is your availability, your physical ability, and an environment that allows you to implement your willingness and enthusiasm to learn.

And even still, there are loads of people with disabilities, since birth or later in life, who never let that stop them. Think Stevie Wonder, Stephen Hawkins, Alison Lapper, and Trischa Zorn.

Saying, “I wish I could be as talented as you” isn’t a compliment. It undermines both them and you.

Not only does it make you sound spiteful, it totally demotes your own creative potential. Remember, the answer to this is always, “you could.” Most likely, the only person stopping you or having stopped you in the past is yourself. Granted, some children don’t get the same freedom of expression as a result of their parents’ desires, plenty of artists don’t start until later in life.

If not “talented,” what should you say instead?

The key here is to be specific. What exactly is it that you liked about the piece you’re complimenting? Why are you so inclined to tell them? How and why did it touch or speak to you? Maybe it sparked a memory. Maybe it evoked an emotion you hadn’t felt in a long time.

Unless you’re on your last breath, it’s never too late to learn something new.

Even then, I bet we experience an entire catalog of epiphanic lessons if our life really does flash before our eyes.

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Liv Mello

Written by

Liv Mello

Writing about travel, psychology, and relationships through personal narrative. Advocate of spontaneous vulnerability.

ILLUMINATION-Curated

Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

Liv Mello

Written by

Liv Mello

Writing about travel, psychology, and relationships through personal narrative. Advocate of spontaneous vulnerability.

ILLUMINATION-Curated

Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

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