On Talent

by | Feb 4, 2024

On Talent, Nurture


Lately, I’ve been thinking about talent. Is it a prerequisite for success? If so, how much talent do you need? Why have I been thinking about this?

This New Year’s day a friend shared with me this website: https://davidgoggins.com/book/. I looked at it but it wasn’t clear to me what she wanted me to see. I asked her why she was sharing. She replied: “Well, I think it would do a lot to many people who are serious about reaching their own goals to listen/read to or read about him.”  I thought that was a weighty endorsement. I took another look. I realized that I had heard about the author David Goggins’ first book before but didn’t take any real interest in it because of his military/naval background.  And there is a picture of him wearing a naval uniform on the cover of the book. Yeah I know, never judge a book by its cover. I counseled myself to set my prejudice aside and not let it get in the way of learning something new. Besides, didn’t I believe I can learn from anyone, and at times especially from those whose worldview and values are opposed to mine? That day my only plan was to walk aimlessly around Tbilisi, Georgia where I was holidaying. I thought Goggins’ latest book Never Finished could be a good background noise while I explored the city (the cover picture with him in running gear was more to my taste). It helped carry me up the steep and infinite number of stairs to the imposing loveliness that was the statue of the Mother of Georgia.

A wake up call?

Never Finished, is a memoir written to offer what Goggins referred to as a “boot camp for your brain…It’s the wake-up call you don’t want and probably didn’t even know you needed.”(Goggins, David. Never Finished: Unshackle Your Mind and Win the War Within (p. 12)). The story started in 2018, at a great period for him. He had received the greatest honor of his life, a lifetime achievement award from Veterans of Foreign Wars’ (VFW) prestigious Americanism Award—an annual honor for those who demonstrate a commitment to service, patriotism, the betterment of American society, and helping fellow veterans. His self-published first book about how he overcame childhood poverty, physical abuse, and ill health to be the only man in history to complete elite training  as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller plus set several endurance sports records became a New York Times bestseller. Then on Christmas Day he ended up in ER because he was in AFib (Atrial fibrillation), a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.  AFib can turn blood clots into embolisms that block blood vessels in the brain or heart, causing strokes and heart failure. People like Goggins who have sickle cell trait are at a higher risk for blood clots. In the ER he got scared, a feeling he didn’t experience with the two heart surgeries he had. He realized that life isn’t permanent. He wanted to live and achieve more. He also had the awareness that he had stepped out of the mental lab he constructed and had lived in for two decades that powered him to his achievements. The lab is where he is Goggins (not David, the scared and shackled kid), his alter ego, a savage.  For him being a savage is a good thing because it means being “an individual who defies odds, who has a will that cannot be tamed, and who, when knocked down, will always get back up!” (Goggins, David. Never Finished (p. 47)). To get back into his mental lab, he agreed at the last minute to run the Leadville Trail 100 in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado set over 10,000 feet above sea level. He ran this endurance race and a few more since and continued to push himself  because “self-mastery is an unending process. Your job is NEVER FINISHED!” (Goggins, David. Never Finished (p. 6)).

I finished the book swiftly over a couple of days as I took in the eclectic streets, buildings and monuments of Tbilisi. It was a pleasant tour companion but it didn’t give me a wake up call and it didn’t make me more serious about obtaining my goals. Nevertheless, his use of participating in endurance sports as his mental lab resonated with me. I believe in the power of exercise to transform and empower our lives, but it doesn’t have to be at the extreme level that Goggins operates. I exercise every day regardless of my mood, weather or work schedule. It is my way of training myself in discipline and constant improvement.  I tell myself, “If I can be bothered to exercise when I really don’t want to, I can be bothered to do anything I set my mind to.”

On Talent, Nurture
Chasing the light

I moved on to the film director Oliver Stone’s memoir Chasing The Light after I finished Goggins’ book. I was curious to know about what shaped his world view and made him tackle topics ranging from Wall Street to Putin to nuclear power. I thought I was done with military themed reading for a while. It turned out that Stone was also  in the military, a combat soldier in Vietnam and part of his book is about it. While Goggins went into the military to live—to rebuild his life—Stone went to end his. At age 19 Stone was feeling lost, dejected and depressed. He thought if he wasn’t brave enough to take his own life perhaps God would take it for him so he signed up for Vietnam. He didn’t die (obviously). He survived three tours in Vietnam, and even won a medal for bravery. Unlike Goggins who loved and thrived in the military, Stone hated its rules and regulations and couldn’t wait to leave. He extended his last tour by three months so he could be discharged three months early from his  two year commitment. And he preferred the danger and the freedom of the jungle to having to spend 6 months on stateside duty. Nonetheless, his time in Vietnam was the source and inspiration for his highly acclaimed movie trilogy—Platoon, Born On the Fourth Of July and Heaven And Earth. The first two movies won him best director and best picture Oscars. The rest of the book reflects on his life from birth until age 40. Why did he stop at this age (he is in his 70s)? Because in his own words: “By the time I got to forty, I finally surpassed the success I so wanted in my chosen field of play. And I realized no matter how far I’d go in the future, I’d already achieved what I’d first dreamed up in my concept of a life. So this is what this book is about — that dream.” (Stone, Oliver. Chasing The Light: How I Fought My Way into Hollywood – (p. 8)). He went on to achieve more after 40 and I really hope he will write another book about the rest of his life because his account of the first part was beautifully insightful and inspiring.


It was the beauty and dexterity of Stone’s writing that got me thinking about talent. Even if I had never seen any of his movies and just read this book it is clear that it is the work of an extremely talented storyteller. When I first saw that Stone also narrated the audio version of his book, I thought oh, no. I’ve listened to a few audio books narrated by authors themselves that I really wished they hadn’t. To my surprise Stone’s narration was spectacular. I had heard him speak before but to hear how he used his voice, pace and timing to bring life to his prose was captivating. The Chasing The Light audiobook is undoubtedly the best I’ve listened to. Stone could have a whole new career as a narrator. I went on to read the Kindle version of the book to check that my feeling about the book wasn’t swayed by his voice and reading. I had a whole new feeling of awe. I wanted to highlight sentence after sentence, the prose was beautiful, honest, raw, and so illuminating. A masterclass in how you write, tell stories and chase your dreams. I asked myself how can one person have so much talent?  How could you not be successful with this much talent? Then I thought about what Goggins wrote on talent, that many of us like himself are born with minimal talent, that discipline is the only thing capable of altering your DNA. “It is the skeleton key that can get you past all the gatekeepers and into each and every room you wish to enter. (Goggins, David. Never Finished (p. 127))”. Stone wrote about how even at the time he was partying too much and got hooked on cocaine he maintained the discipline of a regimented working day of writing.  A training he got from the harsh discipline of freezing cold winters, with hours of homework, and demanding sports, and horrid Dickensian food from the board school in isolated Pennsylvania his parents sent him at age 14 (Stone, Oliver. Chasing The Light (p. 170)). It was this work ethic that got him off cocaine and saved him from his indulgent side.

To answer my own questions on talent, I think it matters little how much talent you have. Goggins has achieved two multi-million best selling books with little writing talent. He wrote the books with the help of a ghostwriter. I realize that I’ve never thought about whether I have talent or not when it comes to doing something I want to do.  It is enough for me to know why you want to do it. I figured that talent is what you discover along the way of putting in the work. Before Stone won his first Oscar for best screenplay for the movie Midnight Express, he had been writing for years and years. He even flunked out of Yale because he was preoccupied working on his novel. A novel that was later rejected by publishers which led him to sign up for Vietnam. The mastery I saw in Chasing The Light came after six decades of writing (he started writing as a kid). Thus, I believe if you do something long and diligently enough, learning and taking on new challenges along the way, you will be good at it (certainly, as with most things in life, there are exceptions).

This is a good time to be reflecting on this as we are about to start the year of the Dragon. A year that is predicted to be great to start new projects, explore new opportunities and create value for yourself and others. If you are like me started new projects or about to, may all your wishes come true, 万事如意!

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