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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Curse of Natural Ability

Self-Loathing Week, Day Two

Some people are born with "natural ability," often called "talent." A talent for singing. A talent for drawing. A talent for piano. A talent for puppeteering. A talent for writing.

Yes, I have talent in all those things. Switch to distancing third-person.

Talent can be a crutch. It allows someone to do a hard thing slightly better than someone else without effort. When compared with the average Joe, talent makes a person stand out.

This is dangerous. It means with almost no effort, someone can be praised for doing what comes naturally. Unless that person has a teacher or parent who recognizes what she could do and accepts no less, she could get away with doing very little and achieving above average results. Almost my entire school experience proves this.

An example: I was forced to enter a state essay contest in seventh grade. I got second place. I was furious. I didn't want to write the paper, I put in as little effort as I could, and I got second place. How unfair is that? Somewhere in the world is a former child who gave his all and lost. To me. Just because I had a talent for writing. If ever you read this, unknown competitor, I am sorry. Adults made me do it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, talent among the average.

But, put that same talented person in a group of other similarly talented people, and she fades into the background. She becomes one among many. This can be quite an emotional blow to one accustomed to being the big turtle in a small swamp.

If someone is competitive by nature, this leveling of players will drive her to hone her talent, to become a better turtle. Practice is the difference between the talented amateur and the skilled professional.

If she is not competitive by nature, or is prone to fits of self-pity and day-long naps, she does not hone her skills. She goes somewhere else, where the swamp is not so full of other turtles and she is once again unique. In short, she becomes a shrew and a slug, not a turtle.

If she is very unlucky and gets caught on a bad day, she envies other turtles who are competitive, who have put in the work, and whose passion has driven them to succeed.

I discovered such a one just last night. Someone with whom I was in ignorant competition earlier this year. I want very much to hate her in a general sort of way, even if doing so is silly. Why should I hate someone just because she knows what she wants out of life and pursues it? That makes no sense. It's also highly unflattering and damaging to me. I have enough of that in my life.

Now, some people are very talented. They stand out even among their peers, but such folks are rare. They are not me, no matter what Mom thinks. And even those people need to practice.

Were I in a better mood, I would no doubt end with a glowing resolution to become a better person by reading a book a week, connecting with one new writer every month for the rest of my life and churning out a book a year. But the chemical depressant wash has fully coated my brain, and I can only promise to wake up long enough to go to work.

I will say sometime last week before the Self-Loathing started, it did occur to me I might benefit by reviewing my old grammar handbook on a more regular basis. It's not glowing, but it's a kind of resolution.

We'll call it a start on the road to recovery.


  1. My dear turtle--

    Paul said this:

    Do not neglect your gift.... Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. — 1 Timothy 4:14a, 15

    And Peter said this:

    Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. — 1 Peter 4:10

    We can deploy our gifts in small ponds until we're ready for the open sea. My ponds are a nonprofit newsletter and a couple of blogs to which I contribute too infrequently. Like Dory said, just keep swimming...

  2. Ah, Dory, the fount of wisdom.
    I should have known you would have something to say about neglecting my gifts. hehe!
    Mom thanks you, Lioness. She's gotten tired of arguing with me on this subject. Frankly, I'm tired of arguing with myself.


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