Right now I'm really immersed in the Gallup Organization's research on talent and excellence. They have combined this research with an emerging field called positive psychology, which instead of studying what is wrong with people, studies what is right with people.
It sounds all a bit Pollyanna-ish and Norman Vincent Peale-ish, but it tries really hard to avoid that and is rooted not just in theory, but actual studies of people who are the best (and the average) of what they do. Gallup is really interested in what distinguishes your average joe versus the best of the best.
Gallup has found that what makes excellence (at least in the workplace) is a strong match between a person's job and their talents. A talent, for Gallup, is any recurring thought, feeling, or behavior that can be constructively applied.
Gallup distinguishes talent from skill, which are those things that can be taught (like how to fill out a database or spreadsheet) and knowledge, which are those things you know from experience or being taught/reading. Talent, on the other hand, cannot be taught. They can be sharpened into strengths, but because they are innate to who you are, they can't be changed. For instance, if you aren't empathic (the ability to feel what others are feeling - the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes), then no amount of training or practice will turn you into a strong empath. You can learn some skills that will improve how empathic you are, but likely you will always have to think very purposefully about those things (what your posture is, what nonverbals to look for, make sure to listen to voice rate, pitch, tone, etc.) and you may even funtion at a decent level of empathy, but it will never come naturally and spontaneously to you. It will never be as fulfilling to you as other things you are more talented at doing.
And, you can "not do it." Your talents are things that you can't not do.
All of this setup to say, therefore, I loved the following quote that was the signature in an email I received from a staff member of Leadershape:
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit."
Apparently this stuff has been around for a lot longer than we realized!