April 17, 2012

Follow Your Interests Not Your Talents

On the website Artistic8.com there is this picture. I like the advice! I think that talents are a bit overrated, nowadays. Interests, on the other hand, are extremely powerful. As Ed Deci and Richard Ryan and their colleagues have demonstrated, people are intrinsically motivated when they do activities that interest them, that provide them spontaneous pleasure or enjoyment and do not require external rewards. When intrinsically motivated, people are engrossed in the activity, and they are not easily distracted. The initiative is theirs and they persist for long periods. Furthermore, when we are intrinsically motivated we learn better at the conceptual level.

Another interesting things is that interest never has to dry up. It continuously develops and changes in surprising ways and directions. This is so because, as we acquire knowledge, new questions and curiosity emerge. Also, a great advantage of focusing on things we find really interesting it is that is easier and more pleasurable to persist doing them. The work of Anders Ericsson and colleagues has shown how important continued deliberate practice for becoming really good at something. I think this continued practice can only be accomplished when we have a great interest in the activity. Carol Dweck may have said it best when she wrote: "We all have interests that can blossom into abilities."


  1. This is an important point of view. I’ve been thinking the same when thinking about assessing children with developmental disabilities. Nowadays the focus is mainly on what these children can (or especially what they can’t), instead of asking what motivates them, what is important to them. So thank you for confirming the direction of my thoughts!

    -Johanna Olli, Nursing scientist from Finland

  2. Yes Coert, I agree here. I prefer to adress talents as motivational talents. I think it's helpful to know the activities you like to do, that come natually, that make you tick.
    When you have adressed your motivational talents, you can see in what degree they get space in your present job/situation - and you can feel and see what you'd like to adjust. For people that start with their career orientation as well as for people that want a better fit, I think working with motivational talents is a good start.

    Jeanet Elders, career coach for scientist
    The Netherlands

  3. Hi Coert,
    I like this post! Thinking about 'talents' implies thinking about innate properties. Something you can not change. Interests are more fluid. If one is really interested in a subject, one will learn more about it and even be good at it in the end. I will take myself as an example: I am not good at math or anything that has to do with numbers. No talent whatsoever! But I was intrigued by statistics and I dug into it. Great challange, but I loved it. And it paid off: got high grades.
    Greetings, Caroline Heijmans


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