Thursday, August 31, 2006

Is Talent Necessary?

In my post dated July 20, I spoke about having a passion in life that stirred your soul. Today, I find myself wanting to build on that, partly because of a story I read, and partly because of events happening to me personally. Since the events are personal and I respect the other individuals privacy, I won't share them. But here's the story:

Ted Williams was a legendary baseball hitter, some say the best ever. Apparently, he was once asked to coach a rookie who just arrived from the minor leagues. As Williams watched the rookie swing unsuccessfully at a few 95 mile per hour fast balls, he called out, "Just watch the stitches."
The rookie replied with a puzzled, "Huh?"
Williams repeated, "Just watch the stitches."
"What stitches?", asked the rookie.
"The stitches on the baseball!" Williams shot back, and then proceeded, in detail, to describe how the rotation of the stitches influenced how the ball behaves between the pitching mound and home plate.
In disbelief, the rookie asked, "You can see the stitches?"
Other players who commented on that story say that a 95 mile per hour fast ball is a blur for the first 10 feet after it leaves the pitchers hand and for the other 50 feet and 6 inches it is invisible! His teammates asked him what else he could see on the baseball to which he replied, "On a good day I can read the commissioners signature."
Ted Williams gave that advice in all seriousness, not knowing that he possessed a talent no one else did. It's what made him a great hitter, above all the others.

Obviously, he had a passion to play baseball, but his talent made him great at it. I believe all of us have a talent like that; something that comes easy to us, something we may not even think about, like seeing the stitches. It's that talent, that when used in conjunction with our passion, enables us to excel at something, do big things, help others, make a mark on this world, have a meaningful life.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that is obsessed with weakness. Just let a student come home from school with a report card that has 4 A's and 1 C. What do you think the conversation will be about? And we can all probably recall a coach or teacher or parent who pointed out our lack of talent in one area or another. And too often, those kinds of things make such an impression that we spend the rest of our lives trying to prove someone wrong instead of pursuing what we're good at.

My favorite sport in school was football. I was a running back in high school, not the fastest, but I enjoyed that game more than any other, you could even say I was passionate about it. Now I'm not a big guy, and football is a physical sport, one that requires a bit more mass than I have. (though I seem to get more as I get older) I could have let the passion I had for that game take me down a path that led to ultimate failure as I competed with bigger, stronger, faster, more talented athletes than myself. Fortunately for all of us, that didn't happen.

My point today is that passion without talent is merely a dream. Most of us don't give our talent, whatever it is enough credit. In fact, many of us are simply naive about our talent because it comes easily and we don't really give it a second thought. We can rattle off a list of the things we don't do well, but identifying what we are truly good at seems more difficult. So, building on the post I mentioned earlier (What Stirs Your Soul, July 20), here are a few suggestions to help you identify your talent:
  • What stirs your soul? The thing that makes you feel like you're doing what you were born to do. You feel fully alive when doing it, and could do it all day long.
  • Real talent can't help but show off. Even if you don't value your talent or don't intend it, others will notice. Perhaps not full-blown excellence, but glimpses of greatness that point to underdeveloped talent. It's that something (seeing stitches) that sets you apart from the rest of the pack. Practicing that talent is an effective strategy for making your best contribution in life.
  • You will be able to learn quickly in the area of your talent. In areas you aren't talented in, learning is a struggle. This is a good clue to identifying your talent. Again though, our culture too often chastises for us for not "toughing it out" or "hanging in there" even when it's obvious there is simply no talent for something.
  • In the area of our talent, we are both willing to grow and capable of continued development. We don't grow weary of using our talent. This is why professional athletes who are paid millions of dollars for their talent still show up for practice and hire personal trainers to help them get better. I believe we are practicing for eternity when we practice our talent.
  • Other people can be a great source of affirmation and confirmation if we will simply listen when they begin telling us what we do well. I can't stress enough how our society has brought us to a place where we obsess over negative feedback and simply blow off anything positive. This is a recipe for continued mediocrity at best. It attaches our productivity to problems and is very demoralizing. Newsflash: it's okay not to be good at everything.

And on that last note, that's what makes us human. That's what makes us need one another, an idea God has for us. I need your talent to fully experience what God has in mind for my life, and vice versa. Today, I'll answer my own question: talent is definitely necessary. Have you found yours?



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