Among all my friends’ discussions on stumbling through the overcrowded job market these days, one of the constant complaints is the inability to apply natural talents in the workplace, or at least demonstrate the availability of talents to potential employers.

The word talent comes from the Latin talentum, from the Greek τάλαντον “scale, balance”. It was used in the ancient world as a large denomination of money based on its unit of measure. It first began to adopt new meaning after the dissemination of the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament book of Matthew:

The Parable of the Talents ♦ Matthew 25:14-30 (ESV)
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“Talent” has become a word used to describe an innate resource that can be ignored, invested, or even completely abused. Since we are a laboring species, our social value is often determined on what skills we can bring to a situation that allows the group involved to move forward.

Value comes from valere, the Latin verb that means to be strong/well, (the imperative form of the verb was actually the common term of “Farewell” or “Goodbye”). A “valuable” asset is one that makes your position stronger than it would be without the asset.

Whenever one hears of “talented” or “valuable” people, one soon learns that they are getting if not egregious salaries, at least wages that are enviable. Does that mean that other employees aren’t worth as much? Yes. Does that mean that the other employees aren’t as talented? Not necessarily.

Tom Rath, in his book StrengthsFinder 2.0, points out the importance of finding our strengths instead of working to improve our weaknesses. He summarizes his point in his equation


(when talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving; investment is time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base; and strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance.)

Mr. Rath’s point is that if you have a talent level in a particular area of 2 and invest at a level of 5, the maximum strength value you’ll end up with is a 10, which could be concluded to be a waste of time. Likewise, if you have a natural talent level of 5 and only invest at a level of 2, you have a waste of talent. But, if you have a talent level of 5 and invest at a level of 5, you’ll have a strength of 25.

The most valuable or, as is often said, talented people aren’t more talented than anyone else; they have, whether by providence or design, discovered a way to market invested natural talents.

But here we reach the most common difficulty of them all. How does one market a talent that is not an obvious one? It is easy to see if one has a talent for cooking, or throwing a football, or making others laugh. But what about the sort of background skills that are hard to pinpoint? All talents lead to increased productivity and/or effectiveness in certain areas; the task then is to identify those talents, their contexts, and their need in the surrounding world.

Without trying to make this whole a post a book recommendation, StrengthsFinders 2.0 certainly helps in identifying underlying talents, providing tips for marketing them, and suggestions for jobs or positions in which these talents are necessary or desirable.

Whether you use books or not, it is fundamentally important to discover and invest in personal talents, not only for the good of your paycheck, but for the good of your fellow man. Many talents can be used to improve the lives of others.

After reminding the reader that the servants in the Parable of Talents were rewarded with how they invested their given talents (remember “that to whom much was given, much will be required” from Luke 12:48), I will leave you with this quip from Benjamin Franklin:

Hide not your talents.
They for use were made.
What’s a sundial in the shade?