Don’t feel bad if you’re one of those insanely talented people, I have good news for you. It doesn’t matter. 😉
As a kid, I had a natural propensity for art and drawing, writing, and make believe, but things like math and sports (or any physical activities that required coordination for that matter, LOL), didn’t come so easily.
For the most part, I just put in the minimum effort I had to in order to get a decent grade in math or P.E. I had zero desire desire to work at anything I wasn’t innately talented at. Everyone told me that I was so good at art–so why should I waste my time on other things?
“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.” -James Baldwin
Through the years I drew almost daily and even took an art class here or there. But I never really challenged myself. I figured if I didn’t already have the ability, I never would. By the time I entered middle school, and encountered others who had more talent than I did, I gave up.
If you’re familiar with the work of Carol Dweck, you know where this is going. Basically, I’d developed a fixed mindset around art: I thought any talent I’d once possessed had reached its limit, or ended at a certain age. I couldn’t see the reality that if I took some classes, I might actually learn some new skills and advance my talents.
Even years later when I became a graphic and web designer, I would only draw on the computer. and only things I felt confident in, for the most part. I’d often farm out any heavy illustration work as I knew mine just wasn’t up to snuff.
When I decided to become I writer, I knew one thing: I didn’t want to do the same thing again. Once and for all, I wanted to put in the work and get the education to really do it right. Even as I started, I still had an inflated sense of my potential. That was quickly squashed again as I met others who clearly had more natural talent than I did. But something had changed. I didn’t give up.
After years of being a single mom-entrepreneur and pressing the fuck on, come what may, I knew I had something no one could take away: perseverance. It didn’t matter if I was THE BEST. As long as I could grow and improve, I was going to be okay.
“You don’t realize you could actually work super hard and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me.” –Beyoncé Knowles Carter
Eventually we’re all going to have moments of failure and if we’re resting entirely on our talent, we’ll take it personally and believe that there’s something intrinsically wrong with us. Either that, or we’ll send the blame to someone else: judges, clients, nepotism, anyone or thing but ourselves.
However, if we base our success on our continued effort, that personal sting fades.
Sure it usually still sucks to lose, but if you know you’ve got endurance to fall back on, you know you can keep going.
Endurance > Talent
In the book, Art & Fear, the authors tell a story of a ceramics teacher who divided his class into two groups. He told them that at the end of the semester their entire grade would be based on one thing. Group One would be graded on the quantity of pots they produced while Group Two would be graded on the quality of the best single pot each person created.
When the semester finished, the highest quality pots were produced by the folks in the group graded on quantity, not quality. Why?
“It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
Endurance is a skill you must practice in order to possess it. Here are some ways to build your endurance (and skill), in whatever field you desire to pursue:
Push yourself beyond “good enough.” I know that’s scary. I’m not advocating for perfectionism. But if you really want to get good at something, do your best, again and again, knowing that as you continue to grow, your work will improve and your next “good enough” will seem great in comparison.
Force yourself through “I don’t feel like it.” I’m a firm believer that while passion is great, your ability to do things you don’t feel like doing is directly correlated to your success.
Cobble together time wherever and whenever possible. One of my #1 excuses is that I don’t have time. Truly we don’t have time for EVERYTHING. But if we really want to improve an area, we must give it time. Life is busy, especially if you have young ones in the house—sometimes the only time you can cram in to work on your craft/idea/skill/etc. is in between making lunches and taking a shower. Use that time! You’ll be surprised how much more you can accomplish by doing that instead of waiting for “someday.”
Schedule it. For many of us, simply scheduling time on our calendars will make it official and motivate/remind us to make it a priority.
Take breaks instead of (risking) breakdowns. Don’t push yourself to the brink. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a step back and ask yourself why. Then make some adjustments, BEFORE it becomes too much.
Practice the really difficult or “don’t feel like it” tasks in micro doses so you can build a tolerance. Once you’ve done that you can handle more of it. Until it becomes not such a big deal any more to do the hard things.
Rip the Band-aid off. Sometimes it’s better to act before your mind has a chance to talk you out of something. Just go with your gut, make that call, agree to that gallery show, whatever it is. If it feels right, or if it feels scary, chances are you should do it.
Remember, it all starts with mindset, so feed your brain positive, empowering things and then ACT on them.
When you’re feeling lost or bored, or whatever excuse your mind comes up with to give up, remember WHY you’re doing this in the first place. Sometimes that’s enough to get you back to it.
Celebrate your victories—small or big, take a moment to celebrate AND write it down. Keep a “Wins” file that contains mention of these victories. You can revisit it when you’re feeling like a less-than-talented hack.
Set yourself some minimum stretch goals. Just like the pottery study, make yourself practice X amount of hours, or submit to X number of publications, or read X number of books, or whatever it is. Commit to that and be amazed by what you achieve in the practice of that goal. But remember, don’t make it too easy–that’s the stretch part.
BONUS TIP: If you’re in a funk, play Britney Spear’s Work Bitch and remember, you want a masarati, you want a hot body? You gotta work, bitch! 😉