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.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of an exploratory post. I often manage to find the holes in my understanding when I try explaining one of my theories to someone else.

    Re: learned item #2: I think you should be more generous with yourself. I think you are probably MORE talented that you thought you were--or at least have the potential to unearth many more talents than you ever imagined.

    I kind of get what you mean, though... In high school, I thought I was brilliant, thought I was all that, to borrow a phrase. With the benefit of perspective, I've learned that the talents of the intellect I possess aren't really any better than other talents, and having them doesn't make me better than other people. While I think my assessment of my talents was correct (i.e., I am as talented as I thought I was), I realize it's not nearly as important as I thought it was.