A very famous actor once told me that although he did study, acting was something he could always do. It came natural. Almost easy. That is not to say it didn’t take effort. And an emotional toll at times. But it bears repeating, from a very early age he knew it was something he could do.
My path as a writer was similar. It’s not as if I thought as a kid I could make my living putting words together. When I was young there were three professions being offered a. doctor b. lawyer 3. accountant. Well, we can scratch a. and 3 right off the bat. I skipped high school chemistry and I was not a numbers man. That left me and my mouth – so lawyer would seem like a perfect fit. You’d think.
But one business law class (yes, it was at 8am every Tuesday and Thursday but still…) changed all that. I always thought there were at least 2 or 3 right answers under the law because isn’t life all about shades of gray and spinning a tale to prove your point? Uh, no. Being a lawyer was more than arguing. It was also about memorizing. Well, screw that.
Thankfully that left me with only this thing I could always do – write. But geeez – how do you get paid for this? Uh, if anyone still knows the answer to this question please email me back? PLEASE?
I’m only half-kidding for dramatic effect about the paying part (sort of). If you have talent and really want to, you can find a way to get paid for it in some form. It might not be in the arena you prefer (at least not yet) or you might not be using it in the exact form you had in mind, but what you learn as time progresses is that no matter how screwed up things or people are, no one can take away your innate ability at what you can, almost instinctively, do well. (Note: This is not to say that you don’t need to practice or that you even have to pursue payment for your talent – talent is just the raw material. But both of these are subjects of another discussion).
Insecurities, comparisons and the infernal American system of rating who is the “best of” in any category of life (from the Oscars to nursery school certificates) convince many people to believe that they have no real talent. In a word – WRONG.
My belief in my soul of souls is that everyone has a talent, especially those who are convinced they don’t. It might not be your preferred one, or perhaps it is but you don’t know it because you don’t think of it as a talent. Well, why would you if it’s something you could always do? That’s not talent, if it comes so naturally is it? Uh, yeah, it is.
I truly marvel at anyone who is mechanical and can put together something without it immediately collapsing or eventually falling apart. ( I used to think this was a nerdy, Woody Allen-ish Jewish thing until I became friends with a Jewish best friend in college who proved this theory very and quite wrong). I also don’t understand how someone invents something, anything. And how does a television work? Yeah, I’ve read how countless times. But sound waves? What about electricity? I just don’t get it. I can wire a sound system if the wires are color-coded but that’s about it. How about fixing stuff? Plumbing? A car? Or why would anyone take the chance of surgically opening something or someone up, even after 10 years of schooling? What if you’re having a bad day? And — how about raising a child? Uh, no thank you. I don’t have the patience and would surely screw them up worse than myself. Thankfully, there are others who want to do all of that. Yet I teach. And I’m good at that. And then they even say, those who can do, and those who can’t teach – as if it takes no talent to teach? Oh please, give me a break. Try going through a time machine and sitting through my 9th grade social studies class and see if you don’t agree with me and disagree with that. But I digress.
The other funny thing about talent is how easily it can be misused. As Glinda asks Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” and it too bears repeating. For example, I’ve always been wary if my actor friend is being real with me in conversation, if he’s that good at pretend. As for me, I can write my way out of anything I don’t want to know. Why acknowledge it’s real if I can make it into my own story and change it (or at least fix the ending?). It took me a very long time to recognize this because, truly, in my heart this wasn’t an ability but simply a way of being. And anyway, this wasn’t a talent. If I were talented it would be something else. Because the talent I really wanted was to sing. Like, really sing. Broadway, movies, Carnegie Hall. I’m not kidding.
Yet at some point it becomes apparent that there is both talent and destiny and that John Lennon was right – “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” If you’re lucky enough, at some point you begin to not give up learning new stuff but also begin to embrace all that you can do really well. At first it might feel like you’re settling for the next best thing, especially when you want to star in Hugh Jackman’s one-man show. But I can acknowledge what is real if I can make it into my own story and change (or at least fix) the ending.
But when it becomes apparent what your personal destiny is calling you to, you slowly (or for some, quickly) begin to recognize, enjoy, hone and appreciate it. It takes work but in my case I’m grateful that I can, well, do something. And though it took me awhile, I finally got the point to where I wouldn’t trade it because, well, then I wouldn’t be me. Besides, how happy can Hugh Jackman be anyway — singing and dancing on Broadway in a one man show with his name over the title. Or, actually, as the title.
Thanksgiving is a time where you’re supposed to appreciate/look at what you have and give thanks. But this is difficult when you don’t appreciate it or don’t honor it. I think we’re taught not to value something that is natural and that achievement is only about when something is (or seems) impossible. It’s kind of backwards, if you think about it. Give thanks for the talent. Own it. Love it. And appreciate what you have. And then – try to make it better.
Unless you can sing – then all bets are off.