Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What is Talent?

Last week I attended the graduation ceremonies for my youngest brother. During the portion focused on the College of Fine Arts one of the students made a presentation and brought up this grain of truth: Talent isn't what comes easily to a person. We all have things we lean toward, that draw us, but it's not a requirement to be immediately good at something to have talent in that area.

How many times do we see the fruits of someone else's labor and misjudge their talent as something innate? We don't see the hours of hard work, practice, and frustration that went into the final product. We don't know how easily this talent came to them. We don't know if insecurity continues to writhe inside that person.

Dictionary.com defines talent as this: "a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement and success."

At a glance, it would seem only those born gifted have a right to the word. The percentage of people with the label childhood genius stuck to them is so small it's not even worth fretting about.

We all have a natural aptitude for certain things and we can develop aptitudes for others as well as develop that capacity for achievement.

Growing up I wanted to learn to play music. My family moved around so much that it made it hard to stick with violin lessons (my first choice) so I settled for piano lessons as an alternative. I discovered I grasped the theory of music with a natural aptitude but the skill of playing the piano wasn't as friendly. Determined, I pushed through several years of training and practice to complete the entire course. My fingers tended to stumble and keeping a straight count in my head became my nemesis. My feet naturally tick off the beats to music, but when they have to stay rooted to the ground or are using the pedals...well, it was a handicap. My teacher shook her head one day and said I was the most backward student, in that easy pieces were difficult for me and difficult pieces came easier. (Still not sure whether I should take that as a compliment or criticism.) I finished, despite the difficulties and frustration, something that I can now look back on and smile about. I didn't quit and I worked to gain a talent.

The worst thing anyone can do to stifle a budding talent or interest is to look at the finished products of others and judge yourself. You haven't left the starting gate yet. Or maybe you're on your first or third lap around the course. Other people can be great examples of what has been done, but don't let it discourage you from blazing your own trail or even trying.

Everyone, whether "gifted" or not needs a good work ethic. Set that goal and don't falter. It won't be easy at times, thoughtless people will say things to put you down, but if you don't give up, you can reach that goal. Work. It's a four letter word and your best friend for getting anything done. Sitting back and "waiting for the muse" to strike? She's off with her other a-musing friends ready to help someone who is actually digging in and doing something. Staring at a blank canvas, lined piece of paper, or computer screen and then not attempting anything will produce - nothing, except frustration and depression.

Education is another important step to developing talent. We aren't born knowing everything and no one knows everything. We all have room to grow. We all need to learn. Some people are good at figuring things out on their own but the problem with that is they fall prey to pride. They "can't learn from anyone else" or "don't need to get help" or "waste their time." Knock that off right now. Sure, you don't necessarily need to go to a university and get a degree in creative writing in order to write, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't learn all you can about the process. Read books on writing (or reputable blogs), go to workshops, read books in your genre and in other genres, critique others' work and submit your work for critique. Learn from others to discover yourself. Finding our weaknesses isn't pretty. We need to know what they are so we can beat them into strengths and you can't do that all by yourself.

Patience is a virtue. Truly. While on the journey to develop any talent you'll also have the opportunity to develop patience. Don't let the beautifully arranged frosting on your goal tempt you into doing something stupid before you're ready. You want it, you can smell it, practically taste, see others devouring theirs - don't sprint ahead. You see, you haven't tied your shoes, or even put them on, and the ground is rocky and thorny between you and the goal. There are footpaths marked as shortcuts which really switchback or arrive at dead ends. Part of the road is crowded with other people trying to get to the end and too many people at the same places ruins the chances of all but a few. The path can crumble beneath your feet from all the hooplah. Halfway up the mountainside developers are diverting the path into several paths, often into directions no one dreamed possible the day before. Be like the tortoise not the hare in Aesop's fable. Slow and steady, eye on the prize, and patient.

Don't give up. Life happens, discouragement and defeat happen. The person who quits trying loses. So your dreams of publishing a novel next year are completely derailed when your child gets terminal cancer. That's okay. Priorities matter and you should keep yours aligned. I went from a very active period of writing into a decade of none due to life circumstances. I knew I loved writing and as soon as life allowed it, I not only jumped back in, I skydived into deeper pools and saw my budding talent grow so fast it frightened me. The time away gave me life experiences, a compost pile if you will, which has fertilized my imagination. Don't give up when your first story gets rejection after rejection. Put it away and work on your talent some more. Keep at it, especially when it's hard and the paths to other delights beckon as an easy way out.

What is talent?
Something a person develops by:
1) Setting a goal without comparing themselves to others.
2) Hard work, lots of it.
3) Becoming educated.
4) Developing patience along the way.
5) Never giving up.


  1. Joyce, what a wonderful, affirming and inspirational post! So much of this spoke straight to the heart of me and my life situations. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and experiences.

    This was a great wake-up call for me, especially today. Thanks.

  2. Wonderful post.

    My mother was a music protégé and brought me up to believe that while I had talent for writing, I didn't for music. She taught me that talent is something someone has or doesn't have.

    I don't blame my mother for that thinking because playing musical instruments was as natural to her as walking, and she came to the conclusion that while people can learn certain traits through hard work, they didn't have that inate grasp and passion that she had.

    It took me years during my adulthood that what she taught me simply wasn't true for any ability. Yes, few are naturals, but it's the ones who work harder and smarter who come closest to mastering that talent.

  3. May I just say that it looks to me like writing this post took a lot of...talent??? I lost count of how many weeks in a row I have devoted myself to writing one hour per day every weekday, Monday to Friday, and and extra 15 on my days off. It's not so bad! On the weekends, I let myself live, but if it's quiet, I will open up the laptop. Thank you! Affirming is certainly a word I would use to describe this post...since I am writing two joint novels at once...maybe...we'll see how it turns out...but thank you!