Archive for April, 2016

I invite you, gentle reader, to consider that accomplished creative folks (name any discipline) hold this same worry: ‘How much talent do I really possess?’  Pablo Casals, when he was ninety was still considered to be the world’s greatest cellist and he ‘worried’ about his talent (and thus he practiced four hours a day).

Here is an idea that is quite old: ‘Talent, if it is anything, is a gift, and nothing of the person’s own making.’  A few thousand years ago a guy named Plato (a pretty good thinker by the by) noted that all talent is a gift of the gods.  He was referring to the gift that resided deep within the person and that when manifested would powerfully impact society (thus, only a few folks possessed this gift of the gods).  Plato’s view is difficult to reconcile with the way it seems to be – each of us human beings has ‘talent.’

Moreover, if Plato’s view of talent were a prerequisite, then the ‘better the work’ the easier it would be to make the work.  But, as we well know, the fates (to keep the Greek metaphor alive) are rarely so generous.  Talented people of all types laboriously nurture their talent through both fertile and waste-land and desert periods.  How many gifted prodigies have become Mozart?  Consider that whatever his initial gift, Mozart was also an artist who learned to work his work – and thus he improved on his ‘natural talent.’

We get better by developing our talents, by sharpening our skills, by increasing our capacity for using our talent.  We improve by learning to work our work as we continue to learn from our work.  We get better by committing ourselves to engaging the work of our hearts – and by acting on that commitment.  This does not come ‘easy’ for the simple reason that ‘it is NOT easy.’

‘Talent’ is a snare and a delusion.  In the end (isn’t there always an ‘in the end’), here are some practical questions to consider about ‘Talent’: Who Cares?  Who Would Know?  What Difference Would It Make?  The practical answers are: Nobody, Nobody, & None!

We discern, name, and develop over a lifetime our ‘Talent’ so that we might live out our purpose in life – to use our ‘Talent’ to meet a need (or needs) that exist in my/the world.  I call this, ‘answering my life’s call.’  ‘Talent – Do You Have It?’ – YES!  Now, let us ask these three questions again.

Who Cares?  Those you serve using your talent(s).  Who Would Know? Those you serve using your talent(s).  What Difference Would it Make? To those served, it would be immeasurable.




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I took my first creative writing class when I was a sophomore in college.  Professor Robinson, the Shakespearian Scholar who helped light my internal fire for English Literature, advised me to take this course.  I was hesitant – well, I was more resistant to the idea than hesitant – for I did not believe I possessed any ‘talent’ for creative writing (whatever that was).  Prior to signing up for the class I met with the instructor, Professor Costello, and shared my anxiety.

We spent an hour talking about ‘talent.’  Our conversation and his class dramatically changed my view/understanding of ‘talent.’  For the past forty years I have sought to help others discern, engage, and develop their talent(s).  A few days ago I was having a conversation with my son, Nathan, the ceramics artist, and we briefly talked about ‘talent.’ Later that day I decided to write a bit about: ‘Talent – Do You Have It?’

I have discovered over these many years that a common definition of ‘Talent’ is: ‘That which comes easily to one.’  If one ‘buys into’ this definition then at some point one will discover that this definition does not hold; sadly the person who believed that ‘my talent comes easily to me’ will experience a stumble or two or a failure or two.  When that happens, and it will, the person then slips into ‘Well I guess I did not have the talent to begin with!’  If the person interprets his or her ‘stumble’ or ‘failure’ as ‘catastrophic’ then depression, or perhaps despair, comes a calling.

With this judgment some just give up and ‘resign’ him/herself to this ‘new reality.’  Sadly, this ‘resignation’ can happen early in life.  I knew well a person whose talent was nipped in the bud in the second grade.  I witnessed the nipping (think: killing) first hand.  My heart aches and my eyes tear up even now 64 years later as I recall the incident.

This common definition of ‘Talent’ is WRONG!  Given my conclusion, gentle reader, I invite you to consider this definition for talent: Whatever you have is exactly what you need in order to emerge your best work.  For many years now folks continue to confirm for me that there is a clear waste of energy when it comes to worrying about ‘how much talent’ one has.  A worry, by the by, that seems to run amok among us human beings.


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How many of us experience holding a fear that we are ‘only pretending’ – we doubt our own competence and/or credentials.  How often do we feel that we are simply going through the motions (of being a parent, a teacher, a physician, an artists, a minister, etc.).  How often do we feel that the ‘real’ ones know what they are doing?  It seems to us that they also feel good about what they are doing.

This ‘fear of pretending’ causes us to undervalue our work, our abilities, our contributions and ourselves.  Our fear is exacerbated when our work is not going well (we judge that it is not going well and/or others tell us so).  I have found that it is not helpful to ‘judge’ myself when things are not going well – judging at this time simply confirms my fear that I am not competent or worthy or of value (to myself or to others).

We ‘professionals,’ for example, know that in order to ‘stay the course’ we must commit to making an ongoing investment of energy (renewable and discretionary) over time (for years, at least).  We must also let go of the myth of ‘extraordinary folk’ – this myth mostly guarantees that we will be tempted to give up and give in during ‘hard times.’

Being ‘self-conscious’ is a double-edge.  It is, on one hand, important to be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full; to, as the Oracle at Delphi advises, ‘know thyself’ and as Socrates noted ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’  On the other hand, being ‘self-conscious about our efforts can be debilitating.  Try this: Work spontaneously while self-consciously weighing the effect of your every action upon both yourself and the other(s) – Instant debilitation!

There is a paradox here [Note: there always seems to be ‘a paradox here’].  In order to do good work we must do lots of work that isn’t very good (if ‘good’ at all).  How many light-bulbs did Edison have to make before he made ‘the light bulb’?  Many, as I recall – shelves of them.  Consider this: How does one learn to do good work?  By learning from experience.  How does one gain this experience and learning?  By doing poor work.

This, by the by, is called ‘feedback.’  ‘Feedback’ – if we are open to receiving it and if we are open to being influenced by it – is, I think, the most direct route to learning and to avoiding the trap of ‘Pretending.’  This is also called, ‘doing your own work’ or ‘living out your call, or your purpose, or your passion.’

After all, someone has to live your life and someone has to ‘do your work in the world’ and you’re the closest person around.  No ‘Pretending’ here!

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Gentle reader, if you have been following my postings these past few years you know that I love teaching stories.  These past few weeks I have been holding a question that emerged for me: ‘Can we humans exist if there were no evil?’  Evil, Darkness, and their siblings, Vice and Fear, seem to be running amok in the world.  Recently I overheard a child ask her parents: ‘If God is good, why does he allow bad things and bad people to exist?’  Here is a story that comes from Russia; it is one response to the girl’s question (by the by, there are many great teaching stories that are gifts to us and many of them come to us from Russia).

THE STORY:  One day the Lord announced: ‘I have been thinking of a new creature that will be a marvelous combination of heaven and earth.’  ‘Do not create him!’ pleaded the Angel of Truth.  “He will quickly defile Thy temple and will glorify fraud on earth, temptations will hold sway everywhere.’

‘Do not create him!’ prayed the Angel of Justice.  ‘He will be cruel, hurting everyone and loving only himself.  He will be deaf to the sufferings of others, and the tears of the oppressed will not touch his heart.’

‘He will steep the earth in blood,’ added the Angel of Peace, ‘and killing all beings will become his occupation.  Terrors of devastation will seize the land, and fear of violent death will enter every soul.’

‘And the countenance of the All-Upholder became overcast; the Lord’s radiance dimmed.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth now seemed mean and evil to the Ruler and in the Light’s eternal fore-will a decision was ripening – ‘NOT TO BE. . .’

But now before the throne of the Light-Giver appeared the youngest most beloved child, Mercy.  She embraced the Light-Bearer’s knees, and begged:

‘Create him!  When all thy servants leave him, I will find him, help him, and change even his shortcomings into good.  I will guard him that he should not stray from the path of Light.  I will root his heart in empathy and compassion and will teach him to show mercy to the weakest.

And the face of the All-Upholder once again became radiant.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth came into being, and took the Light-Bearer’s form and likeness.

‘LIVE!’ breathed on him the All-Upholder, ‘and know that thou art the child of Mercy.’

And so WE ARE, even though we too often forget.

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