Monday, January 9, 2012

Talent Don't Cut It

I recently read over at Natalie Whipple's about when you're bad at something, and I wanted to deal with the flip of that situation: when you've got a natural talent.

I have a talent for foreign languages.

In my early years of secondary school (11-14), I was not a big fan of foreign languages. It was just another thing that the oppressive school system made teenagers struggle through. In fact, I was so opposed to languages that I dropped Spanish at the first opportunity.

Then I went to Martinique, a French Caribbean island. Suddenly French was not just conjugations. It was Montagne Pelee, and beaches at St. Anne. It was poutine and chi chi. It was reggae by Ruffneg and pop by Vanessa Paradis. It was hilarious tales of discovering that last night's dinner -lambi- was actually conch. It was my friends Glawdys, Ingrid, Cecil, Cindy, Thierry and Stefan. It was a living breathing thing. What I couldn't make heads or tails of before, suddenly turned into something so elemental that I soaked it up just by walking through it, like perfume sprayed into the air.

I ended up studying French for 11 years, all the way up to the end of university. I also picked Spanish back up. Then I did Italian for lack of a Japanese course. And then of course, I moved to Japan, and it became fairly neccessary to speak some sort of Japanese. Every time I start out with a new language, a certain basic bit of it just flows into me. That's talent.

But talent isn't the only thing.

Think of the story of the hare and the tortoise. The hare has a natural talent for moving quickly. The tortoise, sadly, does not. On talent alone, the hare wins the race, any way you slice it. But hard work, practice, and determination can overcome a lack of talent.

And just because you're talented doesn't mean you can breeze through. I recently watched a clip where Beyonce joked that she's a workaholic who doesn't know how to take a day off. Now when we think Beyonce, we probably don't think workaholic. We might think, "Dang, if I had vocal cords like that!" But it just goes to show, talent isn't everything.

Back to my languages, I don't really work at them. (Except Japanese- an absolute demon to learn as a native English-speaker.)  I can walk into France or Spain or Italy, and get by just fine. I can buy food, and find the places I want to go to, and even make friends with whom to discuss lofty topics like the last Harry Potter movie. But I know that I don't quite speak at the right level of politeness (especially in Japanese), that I make the occasional grammatical mistake and sometimes my vocabulary is missing a word that I need. I'm not "interpreter-level." I could get there, with some work. I just choose not to.

The point of this epic is this: don't rest on your laurels. You can get pretty far on talent alone. Heck, if you're talented enough, you might even be able to play with the big kids. But you won't ever live up to your real potential without putting in the work. Decide what's worth it, which things you really want to go for, and GO for them.

'Cuz talent alone? Just don't cut it!

S'Monday. That's what's on my mind.


jbchicoine said...

Language is such an amazing talent, especially now that we live in a world where across the globe is practically in out backyard. I took French for 4 years and sadly, retained very little of it. If I had worked harder (since I didn't have talent), perhaps I wouldn't have to rely on Google Translate now...

KO: The Insect Collector said...

What a thoughtful post Claire. So, so true. I think sometimes when we're naturally good at something we can take it for granted, but when we lack a natural talent we work harder.

Anonymous said...

In my case, what I truly love and my natural talents don't coincide at all. Never have. I studied languages at university out of laziness, because I was good at it, but after four years and graduation, I couldn't find the courage to go on with it... Because I lacked a genuine passion for it. And a BA level in languages gives nothing whatsoever in terms of work opportunities, only some general culture and communication skills. It's ironical that I could give up on studying languages just when it could have started to be useful, but that's the crappy thing with talent: you don't get to choose it. So there's no reason why you should especially like it.

What languages gave me was the confidence to move abroad and the ability to find employment which they wouldn't have given a foreigner who didn't speak the local language. A great experience, but by no means a career.