I’m not sure if it was a Gen X thing, but man did my teachers love telling me that I was talented at one thing or another. We even had “talent” shows to show off those talents. Do those still exist?
When I was little, it turned out I was “talented” at math. Yes, the Asian kid was good at math. My mom wanted me to be talented at the piano, and I wasn’t terrible, but I had to practice the piano for two hours every evening to cultivate that particular “talent.”
When I was a kid, I didn’t know what having a talent really meant. Did a talent determine my life? Would I be doing math problem while painting and playing my piano be my day to day life?
That doesn’t sound too bad now that I think about it.
As I grew older, I came to learn that being talented at something meant that things came slightly quicker for you than for someone else. Being talented at math meant that I got pretty good grades in advanced math classes without too much effort. Being talented at piano meant that I could perform at talent shows and people would be generally impressed that I could get through a whole song by Beethoven.
In high school I discovered that I was also “talented” at visual art and photography. When my high-achieving peers were racking up a list of extracurriculars longer than a CVS receipt, I tried to do everything available that involved my talents.
And I was miserable and exhausted. I became so ill that I missed two weeks of school, which I had never done before.
I was going through my first real bout of burnout at 17.
I had done so much due to this vague notion of “talent” that I didn’t know what I even liked anymore, so I spent that time trying to remember.
I read a bunch of books and wrote a ton during that time. And I finally found something that gave me energy instead of draining me.
No one says, “hey you’re really good at reading.” In fact, objectively, I was probably the slowest reader in my honors English classes. I was definitely the worst essay writer. I got terrible grades in English (by terrible I mean my first C; it was so bad I had burned my report card), but I didn’t care enough to stop doing it.
I enjoyed reading and writing so much that I ended up making it my career for years. I didn’t care that I wasn’t a talented writer.
Writing challenged me, and that’s what I needed. I had to find meaning in the process of learning and improvement. It’s the effort that provides the traction needed for growth. There are studies on this.
It took me over twenty years to feel somewhat good about my reading and writing skills, and I still work on it everyday.
Even after my break down in my senior year of high school, my peers nominated me for “Most Talented” (I didn’t actually get it; it went to a flutist) for my photography.
I had been given a full-ride scholarship to study photojournalism at the state school after winning a top photojournalism award for the state and everyone knew about it.
And I didn’t take it.
While I may have had a talent for photography, it was boring to me, like walking on a flat road. I wanted to climb rolling hills, sometimes trees. I wanted to meet the challenges that would lead to more beautiful views.
Are you on a flat road?
Would you rather be climbing trees?