"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours" -Henry David Thoreau

A Conversation on Talent

Everyone came here with something. 


That’s where my conversation is headed with Andrew. He’s a real estate investor who, when I first heard him on the phone at my co-working space, I thought was a total shark.

One day he had a phone conversation where I was wincing with everything he said. He was on the verge of closing a deal - if this was a boxing match, he was lobbing hooks and tiring this guy out on the ropes before he could get him just dizzy enough to deliver the knock out. 

Andrew hung up and clearly got what he wanted. I could tell because he walked over to my desk and wanted to make conversation. He jovially asked if he could help me with anything. 

I asked him, “How did you get into a job like this? And what makes you so good at it?” 

Without thinking, he said, “I discovered my superpower.”


Andrew fell flat on his face four times before he became successful. 

He dropped out of college - which may be common for those who discover their own ability to create wealth. He accumulated $30k in some years as a poker player, only to invest it and see it vanish—like that—without seeing any return whatsoever (the man literally took the money and ran). 

After his fourth “rock bottom”, he came across a real estate investment book. He was so broke he had to borrow $35 from his mom just so he could buy it. He devoured the book, moved on to others, and soon was building his investment portfolio. Everything grew from there. 

Here was my assumption: anyone who gets into a sales-driven profession, where “money earned” is the benchmark of “success”, is shallow, greedy and uninspired. 

Here’s the truth about Andrew: he wasn’t raised with money, and it’s not something he strives for now. He makes obscene—and I mean obscene—amounts of money, but outside of taking his family on a cruise, he hardly buys anything. The watch he’s wearing now doesn’t even work. 

“Money,” he says, “is just my way of keeping score.”

Andrew doesn’t love money, he loves competition. Even deeper, he loves achievement. As with all superior athletes, he sets high goals and thrives off surprising himself each time he achieves them. 

His “sport”, you could say, is real estate. 

Still, I asked, how were you able to go from flat broke to millionaire? Surely it’s more than just what that book said, or everybody would be doing it. 

Now we’re back to superpowers. 

Years had passed between Andrew’s fourth failure and his success as an investor, enough time for him to seriously examine what he excelled at. Once he found answers to those questions, that real estate book was just the next step in bringing those answers out into the world.  

Everyone is born with something special. It’s an innate talent that you’ve been performing your entire life, the trouble is that you have no idea it’s unique to you. This talent comes so naturally, and you perform it so effortlessly, that you just assumed it was a quality possessed by everyone. It’s so “in your face” that you are unable to see it. 

For Andrew, he is able to give someone exactly what they want without compromising any of his initial offer. A born negotiator, he can position this offer effortlessly, without pre-planning, scripting or manipulating, and can pivot and execute on the fly.

He has personal traits that reinforce this talent. One is that confrontation does not affect Andrew in the slightest. It’s not to say he’s impenetrable—at this point in the conversation I could see he’s a thoughtful and sensitive man—he’s just unfazed, and completely fearless, to declare and fight for what he wants. He’s competitive, and through achievement is how he finds fulfillment. 


Your talents are generally obvious as a child. They’re what you gravitate towards and what you do in the living room while nobody is looking. You can do it all night long, if you aren’t interrupted. Then somehow it gets denied, you’re convinced out of it or talked into something more conventional, and most people never rediscover it. 

Why? Because they never look. 

We have a cultural misunderstanding of talent. Start by taking five minutes and asking yourself what it even is, how you define it. Most people’s mindset goes toward the artistic, or the physical - the super athletes and the visionaries. These are the people whose talent screamed out and begged to be utilized - like the ear of a musician or the eye of a photographer.

We think it’s something only select people have, a commodity for the elite or the “lucky”, and the rest of us are here to meander and tumble through life. That’s not true, though: we just start by asking the wrong questions. 

As children, our future is a fairy tale - we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and we completely neglect the conversation of what we enjoy doing now. Further, many don’t strive to do what they’re personally best at, but rather to pursue the vocation which pays well or provides some sort of validation in society. We think very “high level”, pulling our hair out with questions like who am I?, what am I good at?, what job do I want?, and expecting the answer to come as a revelation. 

Self-discovery, though, is more than just a personal Q&A - it’s a journey of action and reflection.

Everyone’s looking for the outside thing, the perfect job, etc., but it all emanates from you. When you discover what feeds you, the world bombards you with food. You blossom, and everything flourishes. 

“Once you discover your talent, you don’t have to push it,” Andrew says. “It pulls you.”

That’s why you see people sleeping in their vans so they can fund their food cart, or working all night on a rap album that may never get past the ears of their friends and family. Others see those people as martyrs, tragic heroes; to them, they aren’t sacrificing anything at all. 

The job is the manifestation of your talent. An electrician isn’t just good at laying wires - he loves the instant gratification of installing something and immediately seeing it light up. A Project Manager thrives off of things being completed. A writer has an insatiable curiosity. A manager brings out the best in others (at least, a good one does). A teacher can deconstruct concepts into digestible forms.

In short, the job finds the talent. 

Your talents can carry you far and away, as high as you’d like to go. They’re what you came here with, stamped with your name on them and nobody else’s. But they need to be discovered, gradually, not told to you or spelled out on paper. Then they’re developed, refined, and used in all sorts of ways. This is part of Life’s Work, of being human. 

There’s a tuning fork inside of you that is the most accurate thing in the Universe, yet we spend our entire lives piling dirt and noise on top of it, to where we can barely hear it at all. 

It’s there, a needle that always points true, we just need to listen.

Ah, yes - "fin" - you've reached the end, and for that I thank you dearly. I hope you enjoyed the story - feel free to share it with a friend or to leave a comment below. If you really want to keep your buzz going, check out a podcast episode

As always, though, thank you for reading.

               © 2016 Harris Newman - Portland, OR