Updated: Mar 11
Often when I get complimentary feedback on my work, it comes along with a self-deprecating comment that lands somewhere on the theme of: "I wish I could be that talented," which I have to be honest, bothers me, and not just because I find compliments a little embarrassing. On one hand, it's an impulse I can understand and am guilty of sometimes myself. Intentional or not, it's a form of modesty most of us are well-versed in. We compliment by contrast, offering up our own weaknesses to put our admiration into greater context. But talent suggests easiness. In truth, I work very hard at what I do.
It's true, some people might be a little more predisposed to do well at certain things; that's the gift of us all being a little different. As a redhead, I'm really good at burning in the sun. That doesn't mean anybody can't burn if they stay outside long enough. (And inversely, I'll never become my truest lobster self if I stay inside all day.) And ok, that's an extreme metaphor—if any of us were as talented at anything as I am at getting sunburned, we'd probably have colonized Mars by now—but hopefully you can see where I'm coming from. And while there's nothing wrong with admiring someone's skill, it bothers me when I consistently hear it chalked up to pure, easy, natural talent alone. It might be a factor, but it matters monumentally less than than time and effort do.
Giving talent all the credit sends the message that artists are born, not made, and if you weren't born one you can never ever be one. Simultaneously, it says that creativity comes easily to the person creating and is therefore not real work. Every song you adore, every book you can't put down, every dancer that takes your breath away; the wine you choose based purely on the cool label, and the sneakers you waited months for—all of these are the result of years of skill-honing, trial-and-error, and honest-to-god effort. Not acknowledging that devalues all the hard work that artists do, and it discourages folks who might want to take part from giving themselves a chance when they don't feel immediately gifted. Talent is great, but talent won't make you great. All of this is to say, if there's something creative you wish you were good at, go out and find a way to start doing it. You don't have to have been bopped on the nose by a fairy at birth. There's no velvet rope between you and a VIP room serving up bottles of artistry. Just practice, and give yourself room to get it wrong.