Day 68: The Talent Trap

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like I was able to draw well. I loved drawing mainly to satisfy and express my vivid imagination (mostly the dresses that princesses were wearing in my head). I remember drawing a lot of amazon warriors on lined paper with #2 pencils, until my mom started critiquing my work and got me proper art supplies.

This photo is from the annual fundraising fair at my high school. I missed all the fun at the fair, but made a lot of money with pastels. When I finally told my art teacher junior year that I was going to NY to study advertising, she stopped speaking to me. She said I was “wasting my talent.” I’ll never know what would have happened if I had gone to art school. Most of the friends I have who went to art school ended up in the same jobs I did anyway. They found the most lucrative position for someone with a critical eye. They became graphic designers.

What is talent anyway? Malcom Gladwell doesn’t really think it exists. At least that was my takeaway from Outliers. My visual skill, as far as I can tell was learned. My mom was able to encourage and foster in me something that she valued and I thus spent hours upon hours doing it. With drawing, I doubt I ever logged my 10,000 hours to be especially good at it. In fact, I decided not to share any of my work on this blog. I am mediocre at best and have never developed my own iconic style. It does come in handy though when my daughter wants to draw princesses.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what next career path I want to pursue over the last 60 odd days. I have wasted a lot of time cycling through my various skills and talents. Mentally scrolling through my resume trying to find something interesting there to jump from. This is problematic. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you are happy doing it all day long. Talent is lacking in challenge, and without challenge there is no passion.

In fact, talent can be a terrible trap. It so easy to please people with your talents, and just free float through your job. The free market wants you to stick with what you are good at and companies want to profit from that. I think I can even point directly to  talent as the reason why I left my job. I despise gold star stickers and A++. The only thing my most recent review told me to work on was keeping my ideas to myself in meetings so other people could have a turn in the spotlight. Hell.

We give our kids conflicting messages. When they are little we tell them to shoot for the stars, follow their dreams, you can be anything! Then when they get older we tell them, “hey you are really good at ____, you should be a ____ when you grow up.” I have never been given an aptitude test, but I am sure they are out there somewhere being administered to some poor kid.

A vision of my future is starting to appear. It’s very hazy. It may disappoint a lot of people, who are waiting me to come back on the scene and make use of my talents and skills. Something more entrepreneurial may be in store for me. I am working on lists of what makes me feel good, instead of what I am good at. There is a challenge for me out there somewhere, just waiting to bring the passion back.

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2 thoughts on “Day 68: The Talent Trap

  1. Sheri Hauser says:

    You look exactly the same as you did in high school!?!? What a great photo.

    With regards to your future and next steps, I want to share one of my fave quotes:
    “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
    – Harold Thurman Whitman

    I love you!

  2. Not gonna lie, I’m kind of excited for what your lists will reveal 🙂

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