Talent, Hard Work, and Character

Talent, Hard Work, and Character

Lessons from the Olympic swimmer, Keri-Anne Payne

I’ve long been fascinated by talent, strengths, success, motivation, and other such human potential elements. I’m particularly interested in people who do an amazing job of pushing themselves to the limit and maximising their abilities.

One person who I’ve been ‘strengths watching’ from a distance of late is the British swimmer Keri-Anne Payne. Keri-Anne already has an Olympic silver medal, two World Championship gold medals, and was the first British athlete to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics.

I started following Keri-Anne on Twitter in 2010 and following her updates and reading various articles about her since then has been interesting and enlightening.

One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables you to get a fuller glimpse into people’s personalities and interests who you would otherwise know very little about. It also opens up your eyes to get a sense of the day-to-day life of, in Keri-Anne’s case an Olympic athlete.

On reflection, there are three main aspects to watching and learning about Keri-Anne that have stood out to me the most this past year: Talent, hard work, and character.



The truth is that I could put just as many hours into swimming each week that Keri-anne does and it wouldn’t make me an Olympic standard swimmer. Oh no! In fact, I would be wasting my time. Without talent, hard work is wasted.

And having a love for something doesn’t mean you have a talent for it. Watch X Factor if you don’t know what I mean. There you have no end of people who love singing, but who can’t sing. And some of them work really hard and invest no end of time into their singing dream, but the truth is still the same: they have no talent.

So the challenge is to find something that you do have talent in and invest your time in that. That is what Keri-Anne has done. She’s discovered her talent and then made the necessary investment to turn it into a strength.

As an aside, it is important to recognise the difference between a talent and a strength. Talent is innate potential; strength is developed potential. Keri-Anne was born with the potential to be a great swimmer, but having that talent was no guarantee of success. Talent is never enough.


Hard Work

The reason Keri-Anne is an Olympic silver medalist and World Champion is because she invested in her talent. How? Hard work. There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. Even when someone rises to the top seemingly from nowhere, you can be sure that hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice, hard work, and skill development has taken place behind the scenes.

If you’re not convinced of just how much hard work Keri-Anne does, here’s a breakdown from an article in The Times today:

  • 30,000 Approximate distance in kilometres swum by Payne over ten years to London 2012, almost as far as to the Moon

  • 8,000 Strokes to complete a marathon

  • 600 Approximate hours that will be spent swimming between now and the Olympic trials in the spring

  • 75 Minimum kilometres that Payne will cover a week in training this winter

  • 7 Events in which Payne has made the world’s top 30 in the past ten years

I’m tired just reading that!

But that’s the kind of hard work high level success requires. There are no shortcuts. Success comes from identifying your talents and then dedicating your life to developing them. It doesn’t matter whether your talent is suited to sport, business, arts, or wherever, the principle is the same. Focus on what you’re good at and work hard at becoming great at it.


There is one final element that is often ignored when it comes to success. And that is character. Who you are is as important as what you can do. There are so many stories of people whose careers have been undermined, weakened, or sometimes completely curtailed, because of character and integrity issues. And usually one or more of the deadly trio of money, sex, and power are in the mix when this is the case.

It is sad to see how many people are able to show such self-control when it comes to developing their talents but, when it comes to other areas of their life, it’s as if they don’t know what self-control is!

There are two things I’ve noticed about the articles on the internet about Keri-Anne: first, they’re nearly all about her swimming. And second, when they’re not about swimming, it’s about her wedding next year!

My point is that she’s in the papers for the right reasons. Her career isn’t getting distracted by unhealthy pursuits and activities.

And, on top of that, she seems like a very genuine, authentic, all round decent person.

Lessons for us all

There’s is no doubt much more that lies behind Keri-Anne’s success, but these three aspects of talent, hard work, and character are undoubtedly big factors that lie behind Keri-Anne being the top-level swimmer that she is today.

But the good news is that any one of us, no matter what we do, can apply the same approach to our own lives and careers, no matter what they are.

You can read an interview I did with Keri-anne here. You can also keep up-to-date with her via Twitter or her website.

First published September 9, 2011.

An Interview with Elyse Anderson

An Interview With Keri-anne Payne

An Interview With Keri-anne Payne