My Niece, Lady Gaga, and the Talent Myth

Damian Mason - My niece, Lady Gaga, and the Talent Myth

I watched the Super Bowl with my 26 year old niece, Bethany, who couldn’t believe I was actually interested in the halftime show.  “Damian, are you really going to watch Lady Gaga?” she asked.  “Of course,” I replied, “I’m a fan. I’ve been reading articles about Ms. Gaga.” 

While I can’t claim membership in the Gaga fan club, I am quite impressed with the pop singer. Not because she’s a superstar, but because of the work she’s put in to get to that level and stay there. 

Showbiz is a fickle endeavor. Just from my little corner of the racket, I can tell you it’s a tough business. The odds are against you. If you do achieve some modicum of success, sustaining it is extremely challenging. Think “Unknown Comic” or every one hit wonder to ever make the charts. 

You might mistakenly think, as my niece did, that success is predicated on talent. It’s not. Success — and more importantly, longevity — requires talent AND work ethic. 

It’s comforting for people to believe a lack of God-given talent is what’s holding them back from fame, fortune, or even just middle class success. 

In his book, Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin proclaims there is no such thing as natural talent. He asserts that all success is the result of years of deliberate practice. That is, rehearsing, training, and preparing, in a disciplined and methodical manner, to achieve a specific outcome.

I disagree with Mr. Colvin. I believe in talent. I’ve been delivering comedic commentary on stage since 1994. This would be a difficult grind were I not funny. But I am funny. Comedic timing is my talent. I firmly believe, and this puts me at odds with my peers who “teach” comedy, that being funny is like being tall — you either are or you aren’t, and it’ll be obvious by adulthood. 

So, there is a thing called talent. But talent is meaningless until it delivers value to a paying customer. That’s where deliberate practice — and a whole lot of work— come into play. 

Talent alone didn’t put Lady Gaga on the roof at the Super Bowl or earn her the $275 million she’s reportedly worth today. 

Stefanie Germanotta was playing the piano by age 4. At age 11 she was accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School but opted for Catholic education instead. Gaga has been working with a voice coach since age 13 whose clients include Mick Jagger. She was admitted early into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She withdrew and worked as a go-go dancer, sang at New York clubs, and by age 20 was a songwriter at Interscope Records, penning music for the likes of Brittany Spears and New Kids on the Block. 

I explained the Lady Gaga back story to my very disappointed niece. 

“I thought she was just naturally talented with a beautiful voice.” My niece lamented. “This isn’t nearly as impressive. It means with enough work, you could be Lady Gaga.”  Well, not exactly. Because success requires talent as well as work ethic, and I can’t sing. More importantly, if I wore a meat dress to an awards show, I’d eat it by intermission. 

Damian Mason is a speaker on the subjects of Business ReInvention and Agriculture. He’s also a small businessman, writer, and a former political comedian. Find him at