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People Who Think They Are Talented When They Are Not

Carola is a mental health advocate and a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, mental illness, and cognitive conditions.

Ever wonder why people with no or little talent try out for shows such as America’s Got Talent? I have been a performer myself both as a vocalist and as a dancer since I was five years old, and have worked hard on those skills. I have seen performers come and go. Some seem to be delusional about how good they are.

Why People Think They Are Talented When They Are Not

They Have a Deep Desire To Have Certain Talents

Some people want to have certain talents so badly that they will ignore signs that they do not have them. Performers feel sure that they are the next big star and brag about how good they are. Then the performers strut onto their spot at an audition for a TV competition show, sure that they are going to impress the judges and the audience. They open their mouths to sing or perform in some other way. The effect on the judges is the same as nails on a chalkboard.

Then, it is like a bomb hits. The judges tell them they are inept and should not pursue their talent as a career. Once the performers scrape their jaws off the floor, they struggle with the judges' negative opinions of their performances. The performers will probably experience anger, shock, or denial. They may even start bashing the judges and blame them for not recognizing their skills.

Those auditioning often do not realize that they have embarrassed themselves and might be featured in the “bad and clueless non-talent” section of a show. There is always the possibility that untalented people have mental health issues, but many so-called "normal" people get caught up in the delusion that they are talented when they are not.

On singing competition TV shows, contestants will insist that they are good singers and are astonished when the judges do not affirm their self-image. The performers do not perceive that they are singing out of tune or have no idea whether they are singing on pitch. They also probably do not even know what those terms mean.

They Lack Insight into Their Talents

It is difficult for some people to have insight into their abilities. People focus on areas where they are successful and downplay their weaknesses. For example, a person may be a wonder on the basketball court and claim to be a good athlete even though they do not perform well in other sports. They tend to overestimate their skills.

False Feedback From Others

A study by Iowa State University suggests that part of the problem is that the untalented are receiving false feedback from the people around them. Family, friends, and employers may tell them they have done a good job instead of risking hurting the performers' feelings by being honest.

Sometimes, people think that they boost the performers’ self-esteem and performance with false praise, but researchers say that rarely happens. Telling someone they are great, and ignoring their lack of ability can become a problem. The false information promotes the illusion that the would-be performer has certain skills. Another problem is that the untalented often get little or no accurate feedback on their performances. When people have misperceptions about their abilities, this situation can lead them to make wrong decisions about various aspects of their lives.

Common Problems When the Wrong Goals Are Pursued

Several issues occur when people try to use talents they do not have.


Pursuing the wrong goals is like trying to swim against a current. People get frustrated because they keep being pulled backward when they want to move forward. They do not get the rewards they should be getting along the way.

A Lack of Positive Affirmation

People whose opinions count on their journey do not affirm their abilities and may discourage them from pursuing their goals. They need input from people who are both skilled in the area they aspire to and are willing to be brutally honest. They may be able to steer them in the direction they should be going.

Low Self-Esteem and Discouragement

When people don’t experience the satisfaction that goes with success, they tend to blame themselves for their failures. It is discouraging to not get positive feedback from the right people and the results that they want. They seem to be spinning our wheels and going nowhere.

Time Wasted

Chances are they wasted time on education, reading, research, or practice on the wrong talents, leaving them feeling depressed, frustrated, and unfulfilled. Sadly, this time could often have been put to better use pursuing goals that better fit their talents.

What It Takes to Be Successful

The achievement of any skill demands:

  • A willingness to educate themselves in their area of expertise
  • An ability to accept constructive criticism and apply it
  • Extensive time commitment to training and sharpening their skills
  • Mentors who are both honest and encouraging
  • Support from family and loved ones

The Need for Training

Everyone has abilities and natural talents, but it takes more than that to be really good at certain skills. People often need education, training, and experience as well in their field of expertise. For example, People who are successful on TV talent shows have spent a lot of time paying their dues by paying for music lessons, practicing instruments, singing at choir practices, or playing with a band.

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Practice Makes Perfect

Talent is not enough. Time devoted to study and practice is also needed. At one point in the show American Idol, for example, the singers are expected to sing in groups. They often have to demonstrate their ability to sing harmony and must be able to blend their voices with others. These skills take a lot of practice.

Books such as Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica are also helpful.

Mentors and Examples

Sometimes people can align themselves with others who have similar gifts as partners who can have each other’s backs. They can hold one another accountable and give them a kick when they need it. We can expect to fail from time to time, and our partners may be able to point out where we went wrong.
Mentors are also needed who are willing to be honest and give constructive feedback. Mentors can help them keep going in the right direction.

Focus on What They are Actually Good at

These days, TV shows seem to be focusing more on talented individuals rather than showing untalented and clueless performers in a way that would hold them up to public ridicule. If they focus on areas where they are weak, they will experience lowered self-esteem and self-doubt. Focusing on their strengths, however, can be fulfilling and make them feel that they are progressing.


Why Do People Think They Are Good At Something They Are Not?, Iowa State University
How do we define what a strength is? Helene Marcoz
5 ways to discover and develop your unique strengths, Fast Company

© 2014 Carola Finch


Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 15, 2014:

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on October 15, 2014:

How do I say this, Carola? I have no great talent for the things I most love to do. I try to try those things I love to do and for individual performances, individual instances, every once in a great while, I can hit a "home run."

I love to write but I know I'm lousy at it, so I write something, then re-write something, and then rewrite and then... After a countless effort there is the finished product, take it or leave it. Most people in my circle are used to the way I communicate with words on the screen. But I know that I will never be a great writer. I accept that, but not enough to stop trying to be a great writer.

The Same is true of music. I have always wanted to play a musical instrument. I have never had lessons. Parents couldn't see wasting the money on me. The dyslexia was showing itself but was mistaken for me being scatter-brained and investing in an instrument and lessons was something that they just couldn't afford. So I stubbornly got a book from the library and studied the little dots. I guessed at most of it and then got another book. I bought a cheap instrument and started tooting. It was so awful, I couldn't stand it myself. When that didn't sound so good I went and got another book. It was better and I learned a few more things. No money, so no lessons. I changed instruments. I love my latest one. It makes the prettiest single notes I have ever heard. But songs are not made of single notes. So I keep tooting and every once in a while a single performance is given to an empty room with no one to hear it. "Did anyone hear that? That may have been something nice to hear..." And no one answers because no one is there.

I know I have no real talent in the two areas I love but I keep trying. I have some people who are used to me and, for them, I am acceptable with writing. But I keep trying. I hope this isn't just a stupid waste of effort. I hope that I am not just torturing neighbors when the window is open.

All I need right now, is for someone to come along and tell me how I really sound. Or a REAL writer to critique me, telling me that they can detect my dyslexia in the sentence structure I've chosen and that I had really better give up serious writing. Honesty is great and is well intended but I think that passion and repetition has to count for something, because if it doesn't, I am throwing away time I will never get back. Life is too precious to be wasted. I really liked your article. It made me think. Voted up. Bob.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 12, 2014:

I agree. Rather than give false praise, encourage this individual to discover and develop his strength. This drama also happens in the church with those who think they are gifted where they're not. Lord, give me the courage to speak the truth to these people--in love. You handled this subject admirably. Thank you.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 12, 2014:

i agree, too high expectations?

Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 12, 2014:

Thanks for your comments. Fortunately, I have noticed that talent reality shows are now focusing more on talented individuals and less on people who bomb. I agree that the so-called judges are out of line, and sometimes don't even have the expertise needed to comment properly.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on June 11, 2014:

I really feel sorry for many of the 'talentless' contestants on these shows. As you say they obviously think they have ability and talent due to the praise of family and friends, only to get up there and make a total fool of themselves. They are taken advantage of because their embarrassment makes good tv. If it didn't the auditions of these people would not be shown. Sometimes I think the show's producers should show some morals and not take advantage of these people, unless they are willing to compensate them for helping to boost the show's ratings. Good hub, voted up.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on June 11, 2014:

A well thought out plan if I do say so! I never was fond of the term "constructive criticism" though. If something is criticism, it cannot be constructive at the same time in my opinion. Criticizing someone is far different than offering helpful suggestions, something that I think some of the judges on these shows could use a dose of themselves. Criticizing someone tends to shatter their self-esteem. Offering helpful suggestions gives them a new goal.

Sometimes, the judges can be downright rude and very condescending.

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