Talents and Skills


I hear folks use the words “talent” and “skill” interchangeably a lot. Maybe it is because I am an English teacher’s kid, but vocabulary is important to me. I have always tried to learn new words and love word puzzles and word games. My husband, Terry, absolutely refuses to play BOGGLE with me, but he has finally beat me in SCRABBLE. The first time I heard a speaker use the words “talent” and “skill” interchangeably I sat squirming in my seat thinking, “for real?”

Maybe speakers do this because we often use talents and skills together to accomplish goals? I’m all for that.

According to Dictionary.com a talent is:

tal·ent [tal-uhnt]   noun

1. a special natural ability or aptitude.

A skill is:

skill1 [skil]   noun

1. the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

(Since both definitions include the word “aptitude” – I’ll just throw the definition out there as “capability; ability; innate or acquired capacity for something”)

So a talent is something we are born with and something we are naturally gifted at doing. Some folks are athletic (I hate ’em – just kidding!). Some are talented musically. Some people are artistic. My sister in Texas has two little boys that I love hearing about through Facebook. Both my kids are in their 20’s, so it is fun to re-experience “childhood” through my nephews. One of her boys is very artistic. He was drawing very early. The other is very athletic.

Talents are things we can EASILY do, because we are talented with that ability. We can practice and improve our talents, but these are things we do almost automatically that other folks have to really work at to be even half as successful.

Skills are developed and honed. Skills can be so well learned that they eventually look like talents. I had a friend who was a gifted pianist. I told her one day, “I envy you this talent! You make it look so easy!” She set me straight right away. She had spent decades in piano lessons and practice hours, developing a skill in playing the piano because she enjoyed it so much. She was firm about it not being a talent, however. “I wasn’t born musical, nor in a family who even enjoyed music. I had to work hard!” For her, playing was a skill, one she has mastered.

Skills can be something we learn that are something we are not actually talented at doing. Maybe you need the skill for a job. Maybe you developed a skill to improve your life.

Talents, Skills, and Disabilities

People with disabilities are born with talents as well.; even if the individual has a congenital challenge and not an acquired disability! I have met people with significant challenges who displayed (and proudly showed off) wonderful talents. They may have had to learn how to use their talents in an nontraditional way, but they find a way to showcase their talents.


One of my favorite “differently abled” people is Joni Eareckson Tada. She was injured as a 17-year-old in a diving accident. She would live the rest of her life as a quadriplegic. You can’t feel sorry for Joni, though. She is a talented artist (she paints with her mouth), song writer, and singer. Was Joni artistic before her accident? I just don’t know. I don’t know if her ability to live life enjoying and using specific things and abilities, are talents or skills for her. That isn’t the point though. In spite of significant challenges, she creates things that are so wonderful, they touch the lives of others.

Do you have a disability? Do you live with invisible illness? A chronic illness or difficulty? You have talents. We all do. Some discover them much sooner than others. Some may have to RE-discover talents if a disability is acquired later in life.

Skills are something any person can develop. People with autism, folks who live with paralysis, individuals who live with terminal illness… all can develop skills. Do you remember the definition of skill? “… the ability to do something well”. This can produce healthy, positive self-esteem. This can benefit others. Everyone can develop skills – though it may seem really difficult at times and you may have to make a lot of adjustments!

At a very young age I discovered writing. By “discover” I mean that I found out that writing put a smile on my face… a pep in my step… a wiggle in my – erm.

I use to love to play “school” (much to my younger siblings dismay). I had stacks of journals and diaries. One of the biggest WOW moments in high school was when my respected English teacher, Mr. Summers, told me “Denise? You should become a writer. You are talented and skilled“. Wow. He used BOTH. I carried the glow of that compliment all through my early adult years. I have been writing ever since.

But… my eyesight is failing. So I type and read with a very large FONT. My fingers have neuropathy and it is hard for me to hold a pen or pencil. (Just ask Chloe. It is the #1 thing she retrieves for me at school each day!) I have less trouble when I type, however. This means that most of what I write I do so through a keyboard… the old fashioned kind. (Love my iPad, but I cannot type on virtual keyboards!)

You may have a “new” for you challenge or difficulty. Your talents haven’t changed. Your skills have not changed and you can still learn new ones. You may have to work at it harder or approach things in a new way. Don’t give them up. You can even learn new skills – using a talent! I have a late-deafened friend who is a talented photographer who is still “learning” and practicing, but did so after she became profoundly deaf (now with CI’s). Another friend began dancing, and is in numerous competitions and showcases each year! Don’t be afraid to dream. You, too, can DO IT!

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

One thought on “Talents and Skills

  1. Denise, this piece really resonates with me. We are remarkable in our resiliency, really. Finding new talents within ourselves, and honing skills, modifying how we get things done, discovering new facets as we re-think ourselves and make rich and complex experiences happen for ourselves and those around us. That’s what I “hear” in this piece. Thank you for sharing!

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