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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Nature of Talent


I’ve been churning a bit lately on what we in America are delivering in the way of a message what’s a valuable talent. That provoked this musing. I get a little preachy here, and probably a bit touch-feely too. That’s unfamiliar territory for me, so I’m going to ask for some latitude. That said, on with my thoughts…

What does talent look like?

I have decided that talent is a characteristic with which one is born. It is a near-relative of skill, except that skill is something that you work to develop while talent was given to you.

Conventional wisdom would have us believe that there are people who are born with talent, and there are people who are NOT born with talent. Additionally, we may have the sense that some people have more talent than others, and there are some people who have less talent than others.

My own personal thought on the matter is that we all have talent, and we all have pretty much the same amount of talent as other people have. The only questions are:
  • Do you know what your talent is?
  • Do you even know what field your talent lies in? Photography? Wood working? Machine building? Archery? Painting? Writing? Acting? There are countless fields of study and pleasure; it’s very difficult to know where your talents lie (this, by the way, is one of the many reasons why it’s important to take classes that expose you to new experiences and disciplines as you go through your school-going years).
I think that here in America we are doing ourselves a great disservice with our media coverage on what talent looks like. We have a seemingly unending array of TV shows that are designed to show off talent to the masses. Any kind of talent! Whether it’s singing OR dancing. So long as it’s some version of rock, what we call “country” music, or perhaps pop.

I’m reminded of the movie “The Blues Brothers”, where they assert: “We have both kinds of music: country AND western!”

Here in America the masses seem to acknowledge basically this one type of talent: music.

I know a number of people who measure your worth by how well you can swing a hammer. That is, “Eddie is so awesome: did you see the dog house that he built? It’s beautiful! You know, you should maybe work with him a little, and see if you can learn something from him; perhaps one day you could build something that might not be too bad.”

“I did see that dog house, and yes: it is beautiful. Did you notice that my paper was published in an industry magazine that has global reach, and I’ve been nominated for the best damn writer of the year?”

“Oh, that’s nice. Did you ever see Eddie’s table that he built? He does such lovely work. I see that he gave the sun permission to rise today!”

Ok…it’s not quite that bad, but it sure does seem to be true that we in our culture have a very narrow view of what’s talent and what’s not. And unfortunately the talents that some folks have will make them wealthy beyond sanity, while other talents will leave their hosts wondering how to feed the kids next week. This is sad, because at the end of the day, I don’t think that any talent is worth more or less, realistically, than any other talent.

Of course, it must be acknowledged that talent alone isn’t what makes money: you need drive, ambition, luck, and a host of other characteristics.

But I think that happiness starts with finding your talent, embracing it, and finding other people who appreciate it. Unfortunately, some talents are very stealthy (did you ever read the book “A Spell for Chameleon”?), and they need to be searched for. Some of us never identify them until we have kids of our own, or until we’re several years out of our teens.

I’ll tell you one of the best ways to find out what your talent is, if you happen to have a particularly stealthy one: ask your closest friends and relatives. I realize that this sounds like begging for praise, but if you don’t know what your talent might be (and believe me: that’s not uncommon in the least), it’d be a better, quicker path to happy than some of the other options. Some of the people that you ask may not be able to articulate your talent, but some of them will. On the chance that no one can illuminate your talent, that’s not the end, it’s the start of a journey for you.

Finally, do not make the mistake of thinking that you don’t have talent. You do. It’s in there somewhere, waiting to hatch and find its wings. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that talent is whether or not you can sing or dance. It’s just so much more than that.

I don’t want you to think that I’m a proponent of the “more money is more happy” mantra, so I leave you with this thought (I’ve read this quote, in myriad forms, attributed to many different people, so I’m leaving it in more or less my own words, attributed to no one):

There are two ways to be wealthy: either have a lot of stuff, or need very little.

4 comments:

  1. Maybe we need to go back to the days of the pioneer village. Everyone had an ability or talent and everyone was important to the village, from the lady who raised hens and provided eggs for the bakers to the men who crafted coffins or ran the bank...everyone was needed and appreciated. Even the village idiot had his/her uses.

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    1. Some of the talent that were once valuable no longer are, society being what it is. And others, there weren't quite so valuable once upon a time, are now where the heads of the world dwell.

      Perception runs amok with characteristics like talent!

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  2. I was brought up on the theory that everyone has talent. And was getting peeved, because mine is certainly well hidden. I would really, really like to be a creator - art, photography, writing. Nope. Not a happening thing.
    And then I had an epiphany. I am an appreciator. Not the talent I wanted, not one I would have chosen, but probably a necessary one.
    Great post - thank you.

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    1. Sometime in my first 25 years I came to the conclusion that I'm a bit of a talent-less hack. I've worked hard to hone the few capabilities that I've got, but those are skills. Fortunately, with some persistence, you can develop skills that emulate talent!

      The world needs more folks to appreciate others, and to see the gold that most of us miss. Thanks for filling that void.

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