What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Talent Is Highly Overrated

This past week the story of the Tortoise and the Hare has been particularly on my mind. I think because there are plenty of parallels in day to day life. And there's something in there that I can't quite touch, yet. Something I need to learn or experience.

Slow and steady wins the race. Yeah, I know that was Aesop's moral. Frankly, he's wrong. The difference is in their motivations. See, the Tortoise and the Hare were running two different races with two different goals. The Hare's goal, and hence the race he ran, was only to beat the Tortoise. That is why once he was far enough ahead, he slacked off (depending on the version of the tale you read, he did different things). The Tortoise, on the other hand, was running the race to win. That was his goal. Not, "beat the Hare," but "win the race." The difference is subtle, but crucial. no matter what happened, the Tortoise was going to finish the race.

You may remember me talking about how I was dismayed that when I found out how low the bar was for me to get an A in my last class, that my brain went into sloth mode. See, I suffer from having been the mental Hare for too long in my life. It's easy for me to learn new things, to retain that knowledge, and to make it applicable. It wasn't until my third year in college that I turned that around. It had become comfortable to just do what was necessary and not pushing myself harder. Once the Hare, it's hard to change your perception.

I've also been thinking about it in terms of advertising. Many companies, well many companies that are doomed to fail, misunderstand who their competition is and what race their running. Many look out at their competitors and say, "I've gotta beat that guy/gal/company." And they're doomed to fail. They might win their goal of beating the other person, but they'll lose the race, which is what they're in to begin with. What your competition can do is set the pace and make you fight harder. However, if all you're doing is "beating that person," you'll soon find some excuse to slack off. What the real competition is about is getting orders/sales/moving product, whatever. Do that well and to the best of your abilities and you'll win. Do it especially well and you'll see that other goal accomplished in addition to winning.

And then there's the discussion about "Talent" and "Work," especially when it comes to "artistic endeavors" like writing. See, "talent" is "god given" and can't be adjusted. We should all use our gifts as we've all been told since childhood. There's the mythic projection that those who rise to "celebrity" have "talent", which some people have and some people don't. It's an immutable property. Which is bull crap. Sure, you may have an affinity for something. Someone who is "tone-deaf" (which is an actual medical condition) probably shouldn't try to make money singing or playing music. Someone who has no concept of grammar or how to string words together probably shouldn't be writing. However, I do know of several authors who struggle with dyslexia and are still published and well liked.

Now, the Hare has a talent for running fast. You really can't deny that. The Hare has never had to work hard at that, which is part of his problem. In his mind there is no chance of him losing. So when it happens, it shakes him to the core. You can take a poll of people you knew in high school, the ones who got the appellation "Most Likely to…" in the year book. How many of them have done what they were supposed to do? Not many, at least not in real life (unlike TV shows and soap operas). High School is a place were "talent" still will get you far.

And that was my problem. My talent for learning let me coast along in high school and still get good grades (Bs and Cs). It crippled me when it came to actually having to work for a grade. And I think I've stated before in all endeavors there comes a point where everything becomes work. It's that point that separates the people who will excel and those who will relive the glory days. With the help of Bette, a desire to be better than I was, and a professor throwing down the gauntlet, I passed that barrier (which is why I was so upset those old habits still were there).

This is like writing and art. I never did take art classes in high school. I wasn't all that good at it (there was some natural ability, but not refined). However, with hard work (and it still is hard work), I've made a living at it for almost 20 years now. With writing I also had a little ability. About ten years ago now I left behind that modicum of talent and in the realm of hard work. I'm relearning things other people knew by heart (because that had to work at it sooner than I did). That leaves me crippled, but I'm determined to get past those hangups. You may have seen many of them here (homophones, grammar, constancy, etc, are all my bugaboos).

By switching to the mindset of the Tortoise I'm determined to win in these endeavors. I've seen enough Hares sleeping by the roadside, or get lost partying with friends. I don't' want that path. I'm here to win. It doesn't mean other people can't win also (and in fact, I hope they do, and I've watched many of them go zooming by me on their way to their goals). But I will win also. It may take me longer, but I'll cross that line myself.

And that last paragraph was the secret kernel that didn't want to reveal itself until I wrote this post out. Like I said, I've been thinking about this for almost a week now an dI couldn't figure out why. There it is.

So the more complex moral of the story is know what you're doing, set your goals appropriately, and get moving towards them.

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