I was going to write about Remembrance Day (Or Veteran’s Day in the U.S.), but I opted out mainly because this day reminds me of my grandfather (a veteran of the second world war), and thinking of my grandfather always makes me cry.
Instead, today’s topic will be talent and potential versus persistence and opportunity.
Everyone on earth has an equal measure of talent and potential. But if there is a lack of opportunity to nurture the potential, or no persistence in cultivating natural talent, natural gifts will remain dormant.
For example, my great uncle is a talented artist. He has never studied art formally, but he can sketch realistic drawings of anything he sees in front of him. His influence is one of the reasons that my father decided to become an artist. My dad remembers being a young boy watching his uncle draw complex battle scenes on paper and deciding that he wanted to learn how.
My great uncle has more natural talent than most people, yet growing up as a black man in a rural town, in Canada, he never had the opportunity to grow his talent any further than sketching on paper to entertain his nephews. No amount of persistence would have made him an artist–in spite of his talent–because he had no chance to.
My father, on the other hand, had plenty of opportunities. He had a family friend who would encourage him to practice his drawing and gave him the supplies necessary to do so. He earned a high school diploma and was told that he could attend art college to fine-tune his technique. Most importantly, he had the persistence to achieve his goal.
Though his education was cut short, he never stopped painting, sketching, and learning. He used every opportunity to share his art with others and was rewarded by having his work exhibited all over Canada. My father had the potential, which was cultivated into talent, and his persistence turned talent into opportunity.
When I graduated from high school, I was (stubbornly) fixated on attending art college as my father had. But during my first semester, I knew immediately that I made the wrong decision. I, like my father, had the potential to be a great artist. I had raw talent that, if managed correctly, would have given me a successful career in the fine arts. I had plenty of opportunities to learn when I was in college. The only thing I lacked was the persistence to continue.
After a year, I dropped out. In the decade since I left university, I have painted 3 paintings and filled 20 journals. Writing is a necessity for me. I am not a great writer, but I am persistent so I won’t give up until I become one.
I think that talent only carries a person so far. There are a lot of talented people with potential, waiting on tables, serving coffee, and deciding which outfit looks best on a pear-shaped figure. Some are where they are because there is no opportunity for them to move forward. Others have stalled because they either don’t know what they want to do, or because they aren’t determined enough to work to achieve their goals.
There is an inordinate amount of celebrities who seem to have no discernible talent, yet they are always there, in your face, on TV, in magazines. Persistence can take a person with no obvious talent and make them famous. (Perhaps their talent is being famous?) And we’ve all heard stories of models, actors, and singers being discovered in the mall, at the gym, or in sleazy bars–this is where opportunity comes in.
Being in the right place at the right time is important, but opportunity doesn’t always knock for everyone. The truth is everyone is not supposed to be famous, so if that’s your goal, nip it in the bud. We all have our little corner of expertise, but if you try to infringe on someone else’s talent rather than developing your own, you run the risk of never finding what you’re truly good at.
You might never find your window of opportunity because you’re too busy looking into everyone else’s windows for something you want to take.
A few years ago, I was assigned to be a greeter at my job. I’m an introvert, so I hated greeting. One day, I came home complaining about it, when my mother stopped me and said, “I know you don’t like it, but while you’re at that front door, be the best greeter that you can be. You may not be where you want to be, but wherever you are, you may as well enjoy it.”
I have since taken that advice and applied it to my current job, as well as the one I held prior to this one. I’m not where I want to be in life. I’m not the best writer, I am not the best shipper/receiver, and I am definitely not the best person. But I don’t give up. I never rest on past victories, or live in my glory days. For me, every day holds the potential for victory, and my glory days are happening right now.
What is common among the people I truly admire is their staunch refusal to squander the gifts they’ve been given. My mother has the gift of music, nurturing and hospitality. My sister-in-law has the gift of making anyone in her presence feel at ease. My grandfather was a gifted electrician and all-around handyman. My brother is a gifted teacher, and my father is a gifted artist,carpenter, and singer. (My family is huge, and everyone is talented at something, so this list could go on for a while.)
Each of these people had to make the choice to either use their gifts or hide them. Thankfully, they’ve chosen to use every gift they’ve been given. They have set a stellar example for me to follow, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Even if, your gift is to clean hotels, be glad about that–not everyone can do that job, and even fewer can do it really well. It is more prestigious to find something you’re good at and work toward excellence, than it is to be mediocre in a profession that is supposed to be prestigious.
It is up to you to uncover your own potential. If you have a natural talent, use it. You might not ever be famous, but at least you’ll be using your gifts for something.
Sometimes, that’s good enough.