If you believe in natural born talent, then you probably also suspect that you can’t be anything you want to be. And that idea is not offensive to you.
Believing in natural born talent carries a responsibility: to discover what thing or things we can do uncommonly well, and then to go do it/them.
The challenge for a lot of us is that there are thousands of roles we can perform in a mediocre fashion. Mediocre looks like excellent sometimes – we can become extremely successful on mediocrity. But we don’t psychologically thrive on it.
As we grow up, one of our M.O’s – and especially if natural born talent got sidelined with the plight to earn money and become successful – is to re-emerge our natural born talent. At this point, we may have been obscuring it for decades. Using our talents might mean a slight variation on our existing work, or something totally unrelated. We may even need to invent our own jobs to suit our innate talents.
This is quite important to do.
The writer Charles Bukowski said ‘find out what you love and let it kill you.’ Someone else said if you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. And what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
Writer Aston Kleon says ‘in my experience, it is the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are’.
what ‘natural born talent’ actually is
What we think of as natural born talent is actually curiosity pursued to uncommon levels. It is staying with our obsessions for a length of time most would consider to be indecent.
Read any good book about natural born talent (try Mastery, by Robert Greene), and it gets obvious that a large part of it is to listen and pay attention to what you are obsessively curious about. Known geniuses were also incredibly devoted to their passions, where most of us become lazy and apathetic and ‘what’s the point?’ about them.
We have got to throw ourselves in the road for something. We easily do it for romantic love, or money, but can be a bit wimpy about devoting ourselves to our passions, especially if we see them as ‘unproductive’. It’s unusual to be zealous about something so uncertain. I like what the poet Rumi says: ‘move, but not the way fear moves you.’
So anyway, the 2 elements are:
- natural enthusiasm
- pursued to within an inch of its life.
These two combine to form what we recognise as natural born talent.
There are a few common worldviews that can get in the way of natural talent. Here are 7 beliefs that relegate born talent into obscurity:
1. believing that we need to be original
This one probably kills 80% of aspiring creatives. I don’t know that for certain, it’s just a number I made up.
What can be liberating is holding at once in your awareness two, seemingly opposed perspectives: (1) that you couldn’t be original if you tried and (2) that everything you make is original by virtue of it being made by you. I.e. originality happens in the rework/rehash.
French writer Andre Gide said, ‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’ This is a good one to remember for any writer.
The way to distinguish yourself is to if possible, go deeper than anyone else into your area.
We all start by copying our heroes. In other words, we steal. This is a good thing. At some point, we go from imitation to emulation. Emulation is a step beyond imitation, because you have broken through to your own thing.
2. the need to make sense of competing areas of interest
What if your fascinations wildly diverge and you see no link between them to any sensible pastime?
It doesn’t matter. We’ve all heard what Steve Jobs said about connecting dots. If you happened to be wealthy, educated and alive in 16th and 17th century Europe, it was fashionable to have a wonder chamber or a cabinet of curiosities.
If you love different things – say reading, food alchemy, old people – just keep spending time with them. Something will make sense. Quite often the unifying factor is you.
Have the courage to keep loving your garbage, even if it seems like crap to others. What makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences.
3. believing our circumstances have to be different to what they are
What to do if you’re not into the world you live in – your current job and lifestyle?
This was me for most of my life. We have to create our own world.
Franz Kafka wrote:
‘It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you.’
4. believing that boredom and discomfort have to be avoided
One of the most radical things you can do with your time, and to nurture your innate talent, is let yourself get bored. Allowing boredom to happen is a dying art.
I suggest that you make the most of captive states such as airplanes. Air travel is one of the few remaining safe havens from connectivity (for the time being anyway). Make the most of it and forgo movies for daydreaming, reflection and journalling. See what the internal google comes up with.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: ‘In the minds of geniuses we discover our own neglected thoughts’. I like this a lot.
It is also useful to make ourselves uncomfortable every now and again. This is one of the best ways to get out of our own heads.
Travel is a good way. It makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, we work harder.
5. the need for approval
It’s tough unlearning the need for approval. It can take a lifetime to stop chasing validation, although it needn’t (and arguably shouldn’t).
The best way to get approval is not to need it. And you do that by being too busy to need it.
You have to be consumed by your own perception of yourself. It’s a little like narcissism I guess. This is what matters and it is what you can reliably control.
6. believing we need to make natural born talent earn money
Earning money is a very real need. We make a mistake by thinking that our born talents must fund us. In truth, only the seriously lucky and devoted manage to earn a living from their born talents. The rest of us have to make it work somehow.
Read Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, for a reality check on not making your art pay for you.
Doing a day job that doesn’t use our innate talents is ok. It gives us money, a connection to the world, routine and financial freedom. The trick is to find a day job that pays decently, doesn’t make you want to vomit, and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time.
7. believing we need to be good right away
We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs. But being a professional amateur might be exactly what gets us ahead.
Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public (this blog is my personal testament to that). They’re just regular people who get obsessed – and pursue that obsession mercilessly.
summary: 7 beliefs that will re-emerge your nature born talent
- Become a professional thief (of ideas).
- Don’t have it all together.
- Avoid using current circumstances as an excuse. Or, if they deplete your energies too much for you to even think about natural born talent, change them.
- Let yourself be bored and uncomfortable periodically.
- Become internally validating.
- Keep your day job whilst you hone your talents.
- Adopt an amateur’s mindset.