I wince whenever someone says, “You’re so talented!” to me. I feel like a jerk a milisecond later, of course, because I’ve only heard it whenever someone was intending to give me a compliment, and to be kind.
Even so, when it is said to me, I still wince.
To me, talent means an innate ability to do something. When I get that as a compliment for something for which I have no innate ability, I feel like it shows a kind of lazy cultural attitude.
Sewing is a great example of this. Do I sew well? While not a professional, I can make garments for myself that live up to my own criteria for a good garment. So yes, by any objective standard, I can do a good job of it.
Lemme tell you what, though. I am not naturally neat-handed. I was never one of those girls who turned in the report with the beautiful round handwriting and the decorative report cover. My pies do not have professional-looking crusts, and when we cut out the oilcloth to make sit-upons in Girl Scouts, my squares really weren’t… Square, I mean. And the edges were all ragged. I’ve never been able to keep my hands steady enough to decorate a cake well.
I had to overcome this to be able to sew, and it took a long time. This is a skill, after all, that I’ve been practicing for twenty years.
Which brings me to the lazy cultural attitude. The reality is that no-one, and I mean no-one, gets good at something without endless practice. The activity may be fun enough that the practice isn’t particularly tedious, but the practice still happens. Anyone who knows me even a little would say I am talented with words. Okay, granted. I do love to write, but the reality is that I if I have any skill at all as a writer it is because I write, quite literally, thousands of words a day. I went through a period in my life recently where I did not, and I can tell a significant difference. I’m still working to get back up to speed on that!
Yet, we have this idea that people who are good at things are naturally good at it. Me? I’m beginning to get the idea that we become skilled at whatever we work on constantly. So, to me, I think it may be less about talent and a lot more about what we really love to work on.