On straight lines and developing gifts | Overstuffed Overstuffed

Monday, July 27, 2009

On straight lines and developing gifts

A few months ago I was listening to NPR while driving, as I often do, and I heard something that I have been mulling over ever since. It was on All Things Considered, and they were talking about an artist whose name I have now forgotten. The artist had said that something that truly annoyed her was people coming up to her and complimenting her work and then adding, "I can't even draw a straight line."

Her response to these people is always, "Neither can I. Most artists will tell you that is what a ruler is for."

As I said, I have thought a lot about this ever since I heard it. I just think that there are so many lessons that can be learned in that one little snippet of wisdom. One lesson especially has stood out to me quite prominently as I have considered straight lines and the development of talents.

Why is it that we feel we must put ourselves down in the light of someone else's talent? Why does a person feel the need to tell a gifted artist that they can't draw a straight line? What is the point in that? Why doesn't it suffice to appreciate the talent the other has, the joy it brings to our lives and leave it at that?

I am a talented person. And guess what? Each and every one of you out there reading this is, too. You will have different talents than I do, of course. Our talents will be in various stages of development. Some will have pursued only one of their talents, and have ignored the many others that they have. Others will have developed many, but none to mastery. And, unfortunately, many will have ignored all of their talents for whatever reason. Some talents are more obvious than others, but no talent is better than another.

Also, none of us comes with absolute mastery of something. Nobody can just draw a straight line, so to speak. We work to develop our gifts and talents. Nothing bothers me more than when someone comes up to me and tells me how much they "wish" they could sing like I do. Because, guess what? Wishing I could sing did nothing for my singing voice. Maybe I started out with a bit more raw talent than the next guy, but mostly I worked my butt off to get where I am as a singer. Hours of practice and study went into it. If you really wish you could sing (or draw or write or act or solve difficult equations or fly an airplane or whatever), then you will be willing to put the ten thousand hours into it that the experts say is required to truly master a skill.

I just don't understand why so many of us feel that if someone else has developed one of their God-given gifts, that it somehow diminishes us. It makes me kind of sad, actually, even though I have been guilty of the sin plenty of times myself. In my heart of hearts I want to be thrilled for a person who has done much with their gifts and talents. I want to enjoy the benefits of reading a great book written by an accomplished author. I want to lift my spirits by listening to the amazing music composed and performed by brilliant artists. I want to relish the beauty of a work of art made by a skilled painter. I want to be in the company of a person who has developed the gift to make others happy. I want to learn at the feet of someone who has devoted hours of study to the Gospel and has cultivated the capability to teach others well.

I don't ever want to be caught not enjoying something wonderful because I couldn't have done it as well. I don't want to sit around wishing I could do something. If I really want to do it, I want to take the initiative to learn how and to practice.

But most of all, I want to be able to recognize talent in others and the talents that I have been given. Too often we waste time comparing our weaknesses to others' strengths, when we should be focusing on our own strengths, or at least how we can turn our weakness into strength.

So let's hear it. No comments allowed unless you can tell me at least one of your talents.

30 comments :

  1. BRAVO! This is EXACTLY my feelings on talents--we all have them in spades, then we get a lifetime to grow or ignore them. I get those same "I can't even draw a straight line" comments in regard to writing and have a similar response--first, I couldn't 'write' when I started writing, that came as I kept doing it. Second, please don't put yourself down in an attempt to compliment me. It makes me very uncomfortable to be put in a position of needing to reassure you that, like me, you are loved by a Father in Heaven that bestowed you with infinite gifts. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself, take that time to add some sunlight and water to a gift you've been given, and then dazzle me!

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  2. Great post. I agree about our weird tendency to out ourselves down when trying to compliment someone else. And it works the other way too, huh? Some people love to lift themselves by putting down others.

    I am a good communicator, most of the time. I can find a way to say something that is in a good tone and gets my point across, not just with fact, but hopefully with a bit of me thrown in there too.

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  3. Very astute, Lara, and timely for me, too. It's unfortunate that our natural tendency is to compare ourselves to others instead of relishing the differences that make us unique. I am constantly telling the kids "It's not a contest" when they argue about who clicked their seat belt first or whose drawing looks more like Spongebob; perhaps I need to remind myself of that fact more often.

    Hmmm, aside from the obvious talent that brought you and me together, I think I'm intuitive, which allows me to be sensitive to others' needs. I think that's a talent. :)

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  4. Great writing!! One of my talents is playing with my kids, a lot of moms tell me they wish they had the energy to do that. I have to laugh because do you really think that I care a meter around that says OH it looks like today I can play with my kids.

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  5. Exactly! What a fanTAStic post! I took voice lessons for a couple of years, but I never, EVER put in the years and the effort to get where you are--and I KNOW THAT. I look at my son and his piano playing, and I know full well that I never put in the time it took to get as good as he is, so I enjoy his skill.

    And like Josi said, it's awkward and bit hurtful when people approach me about my writing in this light. I have worked very, very hard to get where I am. I didn't just happen. But I got a fan letter once that said I wrote so smoothly and easily that it MUST be easy, so she thought she'd give it a try.

    I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or insulted. That's like saying someone who plays a flawless concerto does it with apparent ease so it much be easy. (Hahahaaaa!)

    And here's the thing--I know that while I'm a pretty good writer, I'm not the best, not by a long shot. And I'm still working, trying to improve. And I think I'll be trying to improve as long as I'm writing. Which, I hope, will be forever.

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  6. I play the piano, but what I am especially proud of is that I can "wing it". Perhaps this was developed out of bad habits (AKA, not practicing very much) or because of the things I chose to do (playing for the HOPE choir in college), but it still makes me a little happy that I can pick up a piece of music and get through it...usually :) Anyway, someone gave me a wise piece of advise once. They told when when someone compliments me, I should say "thank you" and leave it at that. I have always felt this need to make sure people know that I know that I messed up...a little silly I know...is that me trying to be humble or something?

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  7. Hmmm, well can I post a comment? I have always found it difficult to name my talents, because I haven't really had the opportunity to develop any showy ones. I can bake though. It isn't something I tend to think of as a talent, but some people claim they are not able to do it, so maybe it is. I also have the talent of appreciation. I truly appreciate the talents of you and others, I love seeing people dance, looking at beautiful art, and hearing beautiful music. There is definitely a part of me that wishes I could do that too, but I also know that I could give it a go, and take the time to learn if it was truly important to me. I've always had other priorities demanding my time and money- but someday, I hope someday. As an adult who can barely pick out the keys on the piano I'd really love to learn to play at least well enough for the hymns. But starting out in my late 20s with barely the fundamentals seems ridiculous. I don't know where to start and it seems laughable. So I try not to dwell on it too much, and work with what I've got. It may not be anything that will be easily noticed, but I'll work with it anyways.

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  8. Oh, my, amen sister! I can't tell you how many times I've heard the "I can't draw a straight line" bit—and I've never understood it! The fact that I might have a gallery show or whatever is not a reflection on other people's ability or "inability" to make art—it's just a chance for me to show some artwork. That's all. One of the revelations of going to art school was learning how very different all the other talented people were—no two had the same style, or the same way of looking at things. And instead of putting myself down when I saw the work of someone far more accomplished than I, it just made me incredibly happy to know that someone out there is making such beautiful art. It's the same with music, or writing, or dance, or heck, tax accounting. I'm so glad there are people out there who realize their talents every day—they make the world a better place for the rest of us.

    But you asked us to tell of our talents, so now I will reveal my true, greatest talent:

    I can play the "Murder, She Wrote" theme on my teeth.

    I know, I know, even I'm impressed! ;)

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  9. Wow, that was really great. I was sitting here while reading, thinking of the excuses of why most people would say or feel this way. Then I realized about halfway through that THAT isn't the point. The point is to forget all of the excuses and learn to think positively about yourself. And if there is something that calls to you, and you feel passionately about, put the time into it to become better!

    I am a good French speaker. I love all things about France. Oh, and I am a very loyal friend. I think that is a great talent.

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  10. What an AMAZING post!! Great read for a Monday morning.

    I am a good listener.

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  11. I have a slightly different take on this. I don't think it's always said because we are putting ourselves down. I think that many times, when I say I wish I could do this, etc., it's because I am so impressed by the other person's amazing talent, I want them to know how much I admire them, and I suspect other people do too, and it comes out poorly.

    I think when people say, "I can't even draw a straight line.", what they are trying to say is, "I can't even draw a straight line and I admire your talent so much.", rather than, "I can't even draw a straight line and I suck."

    I don't know if what I said makes sense. I am not artistic at all. And that's OK, because I have a lot of other talents too, like being able to make people laugh.

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  12. Lara, what a brilliant post! You articulated so much of what I've been feeling lately. Let's see....one of my talents....I am good at forgiveness.

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  13. Wow. I sort of feel like you're lecturing me, because I diminish myself continually. SO, this little exercise will be good for me right? What are my talents? Hmmm...

    Well, I think I'm one of those who have worked on lots of talents, but none to mastery people. I have some musical training, but not much and love to sing. I have taken writing classes and think I can occasionally write something worth reading. The one thing I can boast, though, is my cooking/baking.

    Good enough???

    Awesome post, Lara.

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  14. I can write. And I try not to worry about all the things I can't do, but it's hard not to feel the lack when someone else can write + something else. Sigh.

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  15. My talent is that I can play any hymn in sacrament meeting without practicing it first. I don't even get scared anymore. Perhaps this is a benefit from being in the same ward for 15 years now, and it feels like family there.
    I know this bcause I am asked to play occasionally when our organist (yes, we only have one) is out of town.
    :~D

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  16. Yesterday I had the opportunity to accompany a gentleman while he sang at my cousin's court of honor. After a quick run through of the song, he asked if we could find a quiet spot to say a prayer together.

    As I bowed my head and listened to the prayer, a couple of things really stuck with me.
    1. He thanked Heavenly Father for our talents. For the opportunity to use our talents to bless the lives of others. Particularly for the opportunity to use our talents to help celebrate Chase's accomplishments.
    2. He asked for strength for both of us to continue to use our talents for good. For strength to develop them.
    3. He expressed gratitude that everyone was given different talents and asked for guidance in recognizing and celebrating not only our own talents, but the talents of others.

    I was near tears as we said amen. Near tears, and feeling more grateful for my talents than I have in a long time. What are my talents? I have many. The talent in focus yesterday was being able to play the piano well. Being able to accompany well. And being able to sight read well.

    I love your post. It means as much to me today as that prayer did yesterday. Thank you.

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  17. Well said Lara! I can't even write a sentence... KIDDING! I'm only kidding about not being able to write a sentence though. I'm totally NOT KIDDING on the "well said" part. :-)

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  18. I have a lot to say about this and I don't know if it will fit in a box. It's like when someone asks what Dustin does and I tell them and they say, "Oh, he's smart." Well isn't everyone smart? It just depends what your smart about. Like only people who are good at math and computers are smart?

    Anyway, I'm not talented in the sense that I can sing, or sew, or play or a musical instrument or fantastic at a sport, but I think I'm pretty good at making people feel comfortable and being able to talk to anyone.

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  19. I am amazing at reading blogs.
    Go me.
    I think it's the comparison that I don't enjoy, and I think I'm rare to make it because I do realize that so many people are amazing at so many things.
    I've pretty well given up... but honestly, I think I'm the best blog reader I know. Oh, and I make comments.

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  20. I love compliments on my talents and reassurance that others appreciate my work, whether if it is me singing, writing, sewing, or any of the talents I try to develope. Just on Sunday I had someone ask me where I got my dress. I told her I made it. She complimented me and then said she couldn't sew. I told her she could. But it takes patience and time. And the truth is she may not enjoy it. The thing about talents is finding the ones you care enough about to work on. Lara and the other commenters are very right, they do take work.

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  21. I absolutely LOVE this post! What you said is spot-on. I am a huge proponent of developing talents.

    I envy (a little) the musical talent of my spouse but the reality is that I don't have the passion for it he does and therefore was not willing to pay the price he did to cultivate it. However, even though I don't posess the talent, I can still appreciate the fruits of his labor.

    He envies my ability to speak in public even in difficult situations and win over the audience. He'd never want to do that in a million years!

    Thank goodness we all have different talents.

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  22. Testify, sister! I'm one of those who has been given talents that are uniquely useful in the church: I'm a musician, I'm a good teacher with a great memory for the scriptures, and I'm a good public speaker.

    So I get the question "Is there anything you CAN'T do??" fairly regularly.

    And the answer is, "Um, yes. How much time do you have?"

    But I have often wondered what the questioner would think if I burst into tears and said, "Gosh, I never thought of it before, but there are so many things I can't do I must be a complete LOSER!!"

    Satan is a divider. And I think he uses every good gift we've been given to further that agenda.

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  23. Another wonderful post, Lara!

    I fall under the non-mastery of their talents. Not by choice, but because my main desire was to be a SAHM mother and to have my children be the beneficiaries of whatever talent I have and yet to discover. Cooking came naturally to me when I needed to learn because I took Chemistry three different times to prove that I deserved all three A's! LOL

    I have an eye for making my home the most comfortable and inviting. Also working on instinct when it comes to my children, so when I see others accomplished in their talents, I feel the pull of the comparing game, but inside, all I'm really feeling is how happy I am that another person chose to excel. When I look at myself, I see many talents that people don't see because I want to know that my family sees it first and always. That builds my confidence.

    I love this post, thank you Lara.

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  24. this is an interesting topic. i guess i never thought of it, the way you did. when i make comments like "i can't even draw a straight line" i never thought i was putting myself down, i always meant that i was just in awe of someone else's talent. and, i never thought about the fact that their talent never really had anything to do with drawing straight lines.

    anyway, i really enjoyed reading your take on it. you truly have a talent for writing.

    i believe one of my talents is crafting and making my home a comfortable place to be.

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  25. I've had people say that to me too. Or, "I can't even draw a stick figure." (To which I usually say that my husband draws really cool stick figures.)

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  26. Ahh. Beautiful post Lara! I agree that we all have talents. And you certainly have put so much work & practice into your gift. I'm trying to do the same.

    My talent is...singing! Ta da!

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  27. We had the most amazing Enrichment Night the other month, where we were all asked to bring in something that represented one of our talents. It was a fun night. There were sisters in my ward who I've known for 5+ yrs and I never realized they quilted/photographed/scrapbooked/sewed/canned, etc etc.

    PS: One of my talents is writing. The other one is eating stacks of chocolate chip waffles.

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  28. Amen, sistah!

    ...oh, my talent is recognizing words well said. ;)

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  29. I have loads of talents (boy it feels good to say that out loud), and I draw fantastic scribbly lines.

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  30. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this amazing thought on developing our talents, and rejoicing in the talents of others. I identify exactly with you in this. My best friend actually told me, "Mary, if we weren't already friends, I don't think I could be friends with you, you are so talented." While I think she meant it as a compliment (I think), it made me feel really bad. It made me feel like I must be totally unapproachable to other people. So, thank you for the reminder that we all need to be thankful for own talents, use and develop them, and rejoice in the talents of others - I needed that today.

    And, I think one of my greatest talents is that I LOVE to learn, which has led to the development of many other talents...

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