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Why People Think They Are Talented When They Are Not

Updated on December 13, 2017
Carola Finch profile image

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


Ever wonder why people with no or little talent try out for shows such as America’s Got Talent, and X Factor? 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.

The performers obviously feel sure that they are the next big star and brag about how good they are. Then the performers strut onto their spot, 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 chalkboard.

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

They often do not realize that they have totally embarrassed themselves and are about to be featured in the “bad and clueless non-talent” section of the 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.

The problem with false feedback

A 2014 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 performer’s feelings by being honest.

Sometimes, people think that they are boosting the performers’ self-esteem and their 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 a certain skill. Another problem is that the untalented often get little or no accurate feedback on their performances.

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 when or if they are singing on pitch. They also probably do not even know what those terms mean.


The aftermath

When people have misperceptions about their abilities, this situation can lead them to make wrong decisions about various aspects of their lives.

Here are some common problems that occur when we pursue the wrong goals:

Frustration: Pursuing the wrong goals is like trying to swim against a current. We get frustrated because we keep being pulled backwards when we want to move forward.

Lack of positive affirmation: People whose opinions count to us on our journey are not affirming our abilities, and may even be discouraging us from pursuing our goals.

Low self-esteem: When we don’t experience the satisfaction that goes with success, we tend to blame ourselves for our failures.

Discouragement: It is so discouraging to not get positive feedback from the right people and the results that we want. We seem to be spinning our wheels and going nowhere.

Time wasted: Chances are we wasted time on education, reading, research, or practice on the wrong talents, leaving us feeling depressed, frustrated and unfulfilled. Sadly, this time could often have been put to better use pursuing goals that better fit with our talents.

The achievement of any skill demands:

  • Our willingness to educate ourselves in our area of expertise
  • An ability to accept constructive criticism
  • Extensive time commitment to training and sharpening our skill
  • Mentors who are both honest and encouraging
  • Support from family and loved ones

Getting real about abilities

There are steps that can be taken to ensure that we pursue the right career aspirations.

Defining abilities

It is difficult for 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. We need input from people who are both skilled in the area we aspire to achieve and are willing to be brutally honest. They may be able to steer us in the direction we should be going.

Adding education and 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. Many of the performers who actually make it onto shows like American Idol have spent a lot of time paying their dues by paying for music lessons, and singing at choir practice or playing with a band.

Talent is not enough. Training and practice are also needed elements. 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 with others. These skills take a lot of practice.

Mentors and examples

Sometimes we can align ourselves with others such as a fellow co-workers who are similar gifts as partners who can have each other’s backs. We can also hold one another accountable and give us a kick when we need it. We can expect to fail from time to time, and our partners may be able to point out where we went wrong.

We also need mentors who are willing to be honest with us and give us constructive feedback. Mentors can help us keep going in the right direction.


Focus on what we are good at

These days, shows seem to be focusing more on talented individuals rather than showing untalented and and clueless performers in a way that would hold them up to public ridicule.

We tend to be drawn to use the skills that reflect our expertise. If we focus on areas where we are weak, we will experience lowered self-esteem and self-doubt. Focusing on our strengths, however, can be fulfilling and make us feel that we are moving forward with our lives.

© 2014 Carola Finch


Submit a Comment
  • Carola Finch profile imageAUTHOR

    Carola Finch 

    5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

  • no body profile image

    Robert E Smith 

    5 years ago from Rochester, New York

    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.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    5 years ago from The Caribbean

    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.

  • peachpurple profile image


    5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    i agree, too high expectations?

  • Carola Finch profile imageAUTHOR

    Carola Finch 

    5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    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.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    5 years ago from Queensland Australia

    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 profile image


    5 years ago from Orange, Texas

    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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