This post is a tricky one. It started to form in my head a while ago and I hope to finally give it shape, by sitting down and writing about what bothers me for quite some time now. It is the word “talent”. We use it as a compliment, especially when we refer to artists. I love the idea of being a talented artist – of course! Who wouldn’t!? But what does it actually mean? To be talented?
The online ‘Cambridge Dictionary’ offers the definition, I think is most used in the common sense:
“a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught”
To be honest, I don’t think I have a “natural ability” to be good at anything! I certainly didn’t pick up the camera and started to, you know, “naturally” take good photos.
In fact, I would state that I naturally really suck at everything until I put some work and thought into it and practice, practice, practice.
I would go even further and claim that the concept of talent we have in our modern society is misleading! It implies that we actually need to be talented to be good at something, which simply isn’t true. Let me give you a few examples: I was a very good uni student in my political science course, yet nobody would ever call me talented. Hard-working and ambitious maybe, but not talented. Another example: How would you describe a rocket engineer? Is “talented” the first thing that comes to mind? Think about it.
So what if I tell you, that it is the same with photography? You carefully study the dials and knobs on the camera and learn the manual by heart; you study all the photos you love and find what they have in common until you recognise a good photograph; you try it yourself and after a long road of trial and error you are able to create beautiful pictures. Hard work and practice.
Let’s go even further and go beyond photography. What if we can be good at anything if we just put hard work into it?
If that becomes the premise, the concept of “being talented” can be replaced by “wanting to put effort into it”. To turn the whole concept on its head, “not being talented enough” becomes a simple excuse for “not wanting to put effort into it” or at least “wanting to put more effort into other things”. That is totally fine of course, just let’s not get the word “talent” in the way of our dreams and aspirations. The same goes for “smart” or “intelligent” or pretty much every word that implies some unchangeable, naturally given circumstance or predisposition.
(I am, however, not denying the existence of aptitudes. I just think that our aptitudes are simply something, which in the end decide between the best and the very best – given the same amount of effort.)
Don’t get me wrong: I will always love hearing that I am talented! You want to know a secret? All of the above is actually just an argument I have with myself sometimes when I’m dealing with the occasional self-doubt: “What if I’m not talented?” “Am I not good enough?” “What is good enough?” “What if I’m not good enough?”
Do you sound like that too in your head sometimes? If yes
, welcome to the world of artists…, ignore the voices, ignore the excuses, ignore the fear – and start trying. Really trying.