Sunday, May 22, 2011

On talents

I've been thinking about the idea of talents on and off for a few months now. I'm not sure I have anything super coherent to say just yet--this is more of an exploratory post for me, to document some of the things I've been thinking about recently.

When I was younger, I thought of talents mostly in terms of the flashy talents I saw around me: people who were good athletes, musicians (both talents I don't have), being a good student, writing, drawing--things that were immediately visible and obvious. As a teenager, I had this secret conviction that because I happened to have some of those flashy talents (in high school I was known as an artist and a writer), I was destined for greatness. In the intervening years I've learned some humility and perspective.

Among the things I've learned:

1. There are lots of different kinds of talents. Some of the most impressive talents are *not* obvious or flashy. Last Sunday, the ward I was attending had a Relief Society lesson on developing your talents. I spent most of the lesson thinking about a friend of mine in graduate school who was a wonderful friend. I know few people who can equal her in terms of her warmth and compassion. Now that, I think, is a talent worth having.

2. I'm not as talented as I thought I was.

3. Just because I'm not as talented as I used to believe is no excuse or justification for slacking off on my talents. In fact, I started thinking about this idea of talents a few months ago in the midst of a real yearning for creativity in my life. (Some of that may have stemmed from mid-semester doldrums). I'd also been reading my patriarchal blessing, which encourages me to develop my talents, and have been feeling guilty about the fact that in the ten years since I graduated from college, I have done little creative writing or art (unless you count making birthday cakes for my kids). Sure, I've done other things--I finished graduate school and I've had two children (who bring with them their own capacity for learning new talents--chiefly compassion and patience)--but I haven't done anything with the talents that I used to love, and which used to define the way I thought about myself.

In the lesson last week, I was particularly struck by the idea that we are accountable for developing our talents even if our talents are not particularly impressive. In the parable of the talents, the Lord was no less impressed by the servant who improved his two talents than the servant who improved on his five talents (yes, I know the parable refers to money--my wording here strikes me as ambiguous). I'm still accountable for what I've been given.

4. You can't ignore your talents just because you're afraid of failure. Actually, this is a little misleading--I'm still learning about this one.

Case in point: In three weeks, I'm supposed to go to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference. I'm attending one of the workshops, and I'm supposed to share 10 pages of a novel. Fifteen years ago, I would have thought nothing of this (in fact, as a senior in high school I wrote a relatively bad novel, but it was several hundred pages long). I'm not intimidated by a ten page academic paper. And I suppose I have to admit that it's not the length that scares me--it's having to submit my writing to a jury of my peers. I suppose this is good for me--after all, it makes me much more sympathetic towards my students, who I routinely require to exchange papers. And it's good for me to step out of my comfort zone. But I am horribly afraid of failing at something I used to think I was good at. Yet I've been feeling this constant nudging like I need to start working on those so-called talents of mine again. Why, I have no idea. But since it feels suspiciously like a prompting, I guess I shouldn't ignore it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Anger management

Sometimes I'm convinced that the primary reason I have kids is so they can teach me my limitations. Andrew is particularly good at this--probably because we're alike in so many ways. Case in point, at his recent preschool graduation, Andrew was awarded, "most determined." I was (I'll admit) a little appalled by this, because I could see it meaning that he'd been giving the teachers a hard time (they reassured me that it was a good thing--he's just good at sticking with tasks). When I told my mom about this, she laughed and said, "well, you would have gotten the same award as a preschooler."

One of the things I've struggled with as a teenager and an adult is controlling my temper. I actually thought I'd more or less over come it; when I got married, I hadn't yelled at anyone in years. Sure, I got annoyed on occasion, but I was generally able to work through it and even have civilized conversations about it. Even after I married, Dan and I generally able to work out our disagreements through discussion, without resorting to real fights. (Although now that I think about it, Dan probably deserves more credit for that than I do. It would take a lot to provoke him to a real fight). And then I had Andrew. Even as a baby he was trying--so determined to have his own way, so frustrated when it didn't work out. And I found myself yelling, again. Not all the time, mind you--usually this happens when I've tried four times to respond calmly and the fifth time I just can't do it anymore. (I'm not alone in this--there was a NYT article a year or so ago that argued that "Shouting is the New Spanking." Incidentally, I enjoyed the comments to this article the most--it was clear that some of the well-intentioned commentors had never had children; one person went so far as to suggest that parents yelled because they lacked the vocabulary to do otherwise. Um, I don't think so. Whatever my problem is, it's not a limited vocabulary.)

This brings us to this morning. I volunteered to make cupcakes for a community fund-raiser this evening; I was supposed to drop the cupcakes off between 11-noon. I spent the morning mixing cupcakes (two different kinds); the kids helped me put the liners in the cupcake pans and then played with a neighbor kid for a while. I kept thinking this would be a great opportunity to help my kids learn about the importance of service.

Then, however, my deadline approached, and with it, my stress level increased. I tried to call my contact, to let her know I'd be late, but none of the numbers I could find for her worked. When I finally loaded up the cupcakes and kids into the minivan, I'd just about had it. I was frustrated, worried about being late (I abhor being perceived as irresponsible), and not nearly as patient with my kids as I should have been.

Later, after I figured out a contingency plan (take the cupcakes to the event when they're setting up), I was able to calm down and I apologized to my children.

"That's okay, mommy," Andrew said. "Everyone gets frustrated once in a while."

So now it seems I have something else to learn from my son: a better sense of perspective.