Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Talents, Gifts and Skills

I've been a fan of Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom for some time--local gal, I think--and was rather taken by this YouTube clip she posted of a woman singing on "Britain's Got Talent".

I wasn't really surprised. But then, I don't equate pop-star beauty with musical talent. (No musician does.) I found myself wondering if she needed more work in her lower register or if it was just that the sound mix was bad.

Anyway, lovely, even if not the sort of music I tend to listen to. One of the reasons I don't watch "American Idol" is that I know the winner has to be the kind of pop-package that places musical quality behind a bunch of other non-musical considerations. Also, the chance of something actually interesting winning seems remote.

Meanwhile, S. Weasel has put up a sample of her artwork, the quality of which makes me fiercely covetous and got me thinking of "talent" versus "gifts" and "skills".

I've been accused of being "gifted" or "talented" over the years, and I try not to be insulted by it. People are simply expressing a degree of admiration for something I can do. But there are few things that I consider myself gifted at. Reading, for example. That was a gift. My intelligence (such as it is) and a certain degree of math ability.

But just about everything else I consider a skill. And in most cases something that I've worked hard very at. I have a limited set of writing skills evolved over millions of words, so that I'm a pretty good tech writer, even if good fiction skills continue to elude me. I've got thousands of hours in music, which took me to the point where people kind of liked to listen to me play. (I probably could've crossed into the truly professional level but it seemed like a lot of effort to put into something that everyone claims to like but nobody actually listens to.)

Taking martial arts, as a teen, was a particularly eye-opening experience. Unless they were substantially older than I, virtually everyone who came in was more "talented". They were more agile, lighter on their feet, and it seemed to be easier for them to acquire certain skills.

But I worked like a dog. And loved it. And I leveraged the gifts I did have--intelligence, youth and time--to get to where I could be a real threat. Then people started talking about my talent again. Sigh.

I don't think that life is actually so clearly delineated, of course. A lot has to do with how I focused, just as the people who came in to karate with "natural ability" were people who had focused on incidentally tangential skills.

But some things have eluded me, over the years. I often say that, were I independently wealthy, there's not all that much in my life that would change, and that's true. But I would take time to see if I could actually get to drawing like the Wease, or singing like Susan Boyle. I've never put in quite enough hours to know for sure, but when I hear or see something expressed with such skill, I become covetous.

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