Thursday, January 28, 2010

The World's Most Annoying--and True--Saying

"Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard."

Man, oh man! Was there ever a more eye-rollingly obvious phrase? It's right up there with "penny wise, pound foolish," another phrase brilliant in its banality. Both phrases sum up common-sense in a way that people simply don't like to hear: that success takes hard work.

The heck you say! No, really. We've all known people with an innate talent--perhaps they're astonishingly good with numbers. Or a brilliant writer. Or a phenom on the field. An artist who's talent--even at a young age--simply awes. Over time, we see them reach a certain level of success and then--bam! It's like they hit a block wall. With the passage of time, the potential they had sort of leaks away. And then... they're gone. On to whatever life they're going to lead--without the success their early talent hinted at (and in some cases, even promised).

Because talent only takes you so far. There's a certain arrogance that comes with true talent--a sort of "How could they not want me?" that is implied with the oohhs and ahhhs gifted people grow up with their whole lives. Hearing how "terrific" you are for being able to do something can actually be limiting. There comes with those compliments a sense that you're already so "good" you don't need to work on it any more...and in the meantime, the people with less talent--in some cases, much less talent--surpass you because, well, they're taking what bit of talent they do have and working harder than you.

And for those who have the true talent AND put every ounce of themselves into working hard to not only maintain but grow that talent...well, for them, the sky truly is the limit.

So what to do? If you've got one of those preternaturally gifted kids, how do you encourage talent without, well, ham-stringing them into thinking they're "so" good they don't have to keep working at it? Or, how 'bout this were one of those lucky enough to be born with a gift, and then you squandered it? Truth is, I'm no genius (what??? You thought I was, didn't you? wink wink). But it seems to me that it's never too late (another trite phrase, I'm fulla 'em today) to rediscover that talent, that gift, and do something with it.

Because I'm no expert on child-rearing, I'm going to dispense with the "here's how to raise your super-talented-kid-so-they-don't-turn-into-an-insufferable-brat" advice. Instead, I'm going to spend a little bit of time with the later scenario--the one where you were the one who got bypassed by the less-talented but harder-working masses. And at the risk of sounding uber-arrogant, I know of what I speak, because I was one of those talented kids who let it get away from me, in part because I figured that I was good enough (better than most).

I was a very talented writer as a kid. My mom has kept some of my old stories from kidhood, and I read at them and am astonished that I could write so stinkin' well. But as I grew up I didn't pursue "writing" as a career--I ended up in public relations, which I thought would be much more glamourous than sloggin' it out as a lowly staffer or intern on a magazine. I did use my writing skills in public relations--mostly to write puff pieces on how "Product A" would not only change your life, but it would make you smarter, sexier, and better endowed to boot. But the ha-ha was on me--I burned out on the hard-core PR after 10 years or so. That natural gift for descriptive passages and visual writing was stupefied by years of "state-of-the-art," "ground-breaking," and "target demographic." Ughhh!!

(Side note:I still do write marketing pieces, website text, and news releases for a variety of small clients, so if one of my wonderful clients is reading this, the aforementioned "puff" pieces don't pertain to you. I also write articles for on-line publications and the once-in-a-while article for a small print magazine that "pays" me in copies. Lucky me--my mom always asks for one)

Like many out there who hit the "40s" (eeee gads!), I find myself re-evaluating what I want to do with my life. And I'd like to finally pick up what I neglected/rejected so long ago. I can't be the only one out there who wishes they'd pursued a particular talent with more vigor when they were younger. There is no reason that at 40 or 42 or whatever age you can't find a way to resurrect that talent and do something with it--something worthwhile that makes you want to get out of bed each morning. (Now, granted, if you were the top football player on the 1980 Pop-Warner team or a Rockette circa 1988, your options may be a little limited in the post-40 world.)

So after much thought, research, and intuition here are the steps I'm pursuing to finally turn "hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard" into my own personal motto. They're writing-specific, but I figure they can be adapted into whatever you're trying to "re-capture."

1. Brush up on my writing skills. I've been writing PR & marketing pieces on and off for nearly 20 years, and I've gotten into some habits that may be making my writing a bit...tedious. I'm taking a writing for magazine class online this spring.

2. Find someone--or "someones"--to be accountable to. My goal is to transition into magazine writing; however, unless I am forced, it is easy for me to fall back into old habits and simply stick with what I know. Taking a class will--if nothing else--make me accountable to someone outside myself (because I'm far too easy on myself)

3. Detail my goals. I'm in this stage right now. I know I want to write for magazines, but I need to narrow it down. What kinds of magazines? What sort of topics? What knowledge do I have that I can share--and who wants to buy it? These and countless other details (yuck--details, not my fave subject) need to be thought through in order to create realistic goals for myself.

4. Work at it every day. And by "it," I mean spending a set amount of time every single day--every day--following through. (Working hard...ha! There is is again...) I'm going to work on "my" writing every day for 2 hours a day. So from the magic hours of 8:30 - 10:30pm every day, I am going to focus on my writing career.

5. Begin to think of myself as a "writer," rather than "someone who writes." It sounds like a non-existent distinction, but truth is, until you begin to see yourself in a certain way, it is easier to put off your dream. It's like saying, "I'm going to get fit" or "I'm going to stop smoking." As long as you have that "going to" qualifier in front of it, you'll find it easy to put off or set aside what you know you really need to do. "Someone who writes" writes when they feel like it or has the time. A "writer" writes. Pure and simple. Under any conditions. Under all circumstances. They write because it is who they are. When I begin thinking of myself as a writer, I think I finding the time to actually write will be easier--or if not easier, more important. Make sense?

So the phrase "Hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard" is a bit annoyingly obvious, but also completely and totally true. As someone who thought for years that talent on its own was enough to get by, I'm now changing my way of thinking. Whatever happens over the next few years will be determined in large part by how much hard work I'm willing to do--not just whether I had the ability to do it.

And next I'll get on that other annoyed sigh-inducing phrase "penny wise, pound foolish." (wink, wink).

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