A Non-Scientific Explanation of Nature vs. Nurture Through Pencil Sketches

Photo by bill wegener on Unsplash

On the first day of my high school psychology class, my teacher wrote down the following:

Nature vs. Nurture.

My teacher explained a reoccurring theme in psychology — and throughout numerous other subjects— is the interplay of nature and nurture.

As a class, we discussed whether nature or nurture matters more in the development of a person.

Is our success and wellbeing defined by genetics (nature), or is it determined by our environment (nurture)? Is your friend a happy person because she was raised that way, or does she possess a “happy gene” that causes her to be a naturally happy person?

There’s no way to provide a satisfying answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. What we can agree on is that both nature and nurture are factors in our development.

My goal is not to settle the debate but rather to share an illustration that best depicts how nature and nurture influence our lives.

Enjoy the art, but actually, please pardon the amateur sketches.

Nature Defines The Range

In the sketch above, you see a series of ranges. Each range represents our subject Jill’s possible ability levels by skill. The skills displayed are reading speed, endurance running, and memory capacity. For the sake of the example, let’s say Jill is 12 years old.

Now let’s get into the nature/genetic component.

Genetics does two things.

First, it determines what our initial strengths and weaknesses are. In the sketch, each range’s left end represents the starting point of each of Jill’s skills.

Second, genetics determines upside — or one’s potential. In the sketch, the longer the range, the greater the upside.

Jill has incredible potential when it comes to endurance running. If she puts the time in, she could be one of the top runners in her district. But if she sets out to become the next Ken Jennings (Jeopardy trivia extraordinaire), that’s probably not the best idea considering her less than average memory capacity.

If our abilities in life were predetermined at birth, what’s the point of trying? Thankfully, nature doesn’t tell the whole story. Just as nature (genetics) doesn’t paint the full picture, there’s another element we need to add to the mix.

Nurture Defines Where We Fall On The Range

In the updated sketch above, you now see a dot within each of the ranges.

When we first met Jill, she was 12 years old. Now she is 22 years old and has had ample time to develop a variety of skills. Interestingly enough, she has spent the same amount of time running long distances as she has studying useless information only useful for trivia (not sure why, but roll with it).

If nature wasn’t a factor, Jill should be equally as good at running as she is as at remembering useless facts. Obviously, this is not the case. Jill’s genetic range limits her ability to recall information. But when it comes to distance running, the sky is the limit.

Nature determines your upside. Nurture determines where you fall on the upside scale.

Maximizing Your Abilities

People don’t like to talk about limitations. If somebody wrote a book about accepting your limitations, it probably wouldn’t sell very well. People don’t like being told they have limited ability.

Instead, some of us were taught if we work hard enough, anything is possible.


In that case, with enough effort, I could jump as high as LeBron James or defeat Ken Jennings in a game of Jeopardy. News flash: neither of those things is happening.

If this visualization does anything, it shows you the only person you should be competing against is yourself. Your goal should be to get your dot to fall to the right end of each of your ranges. This is called maximizing your potential.

Be the best student you can be. Be the best athlete you can be. Be the best employee you can be. Keep pushing that ability dot as far to the right as possible.

Let’s return to Jill. When it’s all said and done, Jill’s grid should look like this (assuming she cares about all three skills):

We can’t control our genetic upside. But we can control our effort to maximize our potential in every avenue we choose to pursue.

“Comparison is an act of violence against the self.”

Iyanla Vanzant

Our varying potentials are why comparison can be extremely detrimental. Why measure yourself against others when every person has their own genetically gifted upsides?

If you’re genetically gifted in a specific skill, you do yourself a disservice by comparing yourself to others not as naturally gifted. Conversely, if you’re not as gifted in a certain area, it can be discouraging to see the separation between you and others.

If we truly focus on what we can control, we can’t waste a second scolding our parents for poor genes in a certain area. All we can do is maximize our ability.

It’s not about being the best, but rather being the best you can be.

Cheesy yet true.

Let these horrendous pencil sketches show you we all have a ceiling. The question is, are you willing to work hard enough to smack your head at the top?

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