Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inherent talent vs. sustained hard work

He wrote me the tabs to the song and I used his guitar to try to play them over and over. He was in the other room and I was really self conscious as I practiced the words in Russian that he had written down, and as I tried to get my fingers to do as he had shown me. See, he had just completed his first album, and now he was showing me how to play this Russian folk song on a guitar. I had been practicing guitar in the ample free time I had in my komnata there in Saratov Russia. Maybe he thought I was more practiced than I was, or maybe more talented than I was.

I liked being behind the guitar, I liked reading and singing the Russian folk song, I liked feeling like I might get this, if I practice long enough... I didn't like continually goofing up in front of my new musician friend.

It was St. Petersburg, 1997. He had just turned his hair purple and completed a record. I was at the end of my time in Russia. I had spent a year and a half drinking tea with women 2 times my age. To me, a person my age who made music and lived in St. Petersburg was somewhat novel. Ok, I will admit it, I was happy to finally be with someone my age who was cool.

It was white nights, a time when the sun never actually sets, lending to the whole experience a surreality. I lost an important ring. I explored St. Petes on my own sometimes. Traveling alone is a topic for another time.

It was there that the question first came up.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it? I mean, can you say you do anything if really, you aren't 100% (or even 90%) confident that you can do it pretty well? Isn't there any room for the tinkerer? Sometimes, it felt, in Russia anyway, that you perhaps best not mention your interests lest you were ready to demonstrate.

I have a friend who is beautiful. And her parents raised her so well. She sings. And her singing is beautiful, not because it is perfect, but because it is sung with her heart. And to me, it is that heart that makes things beautiful and perfect. Maybe it is because she is gifted to make people feel loved, maybe it is the life she lives as a Christ follower, not back-biting or 2-faced, not hypocritical or self interested, but just really filled with love for people. Her song is the best to me.

The question reasserted itself time and time again. I realized that it lived in all the people I traveled with to Ecuador who were trying to learn Spanish, amidst others in the group who poked fun.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

And if I wanted to escape it, I went into the wrong profession. Teaching.

Should I bother to do it if I don't have a natural talent for it?

Ok, I admit it, no. No. No, I don't have a natural talent for it. But I plead...
Look, I can do this, I will work very hard and I won't ever give up. I will do the best I can I will work so hard. I will be gentle, kind, encouraging, patient. Watch, I will do all the things no one ever thought I could. Because it is that important to me. I want this.

And after so many years of teaching, I can honestly say, yes, I am a good teacher. Because I have the heart. I have managed to translate that heart into every interaction with students to know what they need, and when I don't I, by default, encourage.

Somewhere else, there is Beethoven, Mozart and every savant with an affinity for something that ever was. Playing chess, speaking to each other in prime numbers, or maybe with colors. Everyone given a tremendous talent. Everyone who is really good at something, anything. They are there. With their talent. And probably an angst or two.

And the rest of us are over here, trying very hard to figure out either what we are good at, or, if in a world with people dying of hunger, if we are permitted to do what we would love to do every day if we were in heaven.

And what if what we do isn't what we are good at? And what if what we are good at isn't something we love?

For example, I am really good at making snarky jokes, being a bit cynical. But I am also good at seeing good stuff in people, encouraging them and I can be articulate. I am a good learner when it's important to me, and I work hard at what I have decided to do. But was I born to teach? Born to be a musician? Born to speak words of wisdom to folks? I dunno, I have to believe that if a person deeply wants to cultivate some ability, they can do so.

So the question is, what is more important, what is inherently in a person as something they are just born with, or a lifetime devoted to crafting and cultivating talents or characteristics that match their values? just curious...

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

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