Talent is often seen as a marker of success; a determinant of what you should do in life. However, being talented can also trap you into thinking that you’re one thing, when you’re actually another. The world we live in today is so dynamic and fluid that our occupational roles are almost as flexible as our gender. Given that the label of “talent” is static, however, the same flexibility is not offered to those who are precocious but to those who are adaptable enough to avoid being labelled “talented”. As much as it is a blessing to have your ego stroked when you’re young and praised as “talented”, it can also be a curse. I have observed that people who are highly praised from a young age in a particular field tend to stick to their chosen field because it is where they receive the most praise and attention. However, in this day and age it is all the more important to deviate from your passion and experiment, because inspiration comes from diversification, and although being a specialist is a good thing, being creative is far better in an increasingly globalised world.
From the tender age of four, I’ve always been told by teachers that I had a talent for art. I always loved drawing as a kid, and would sketch for hours at a time, immersing myself in the imaginary world I created for myself. I had an avid interest in nature, and would draw animals and plants for hours on end. My parents sent me to art classes to further my talent, but somehow I squandered my chance at becoming a young prodigy by fighting the older kids at art school (classic me). Later on, from primary to secondary school, art was an easy A. I took up the Art Elective Programme at Victoria School during my secondary school days and subsequently A Level Art. Art was never too far away in my life, and I realised at some point I felt like I wanted to become an artist.
Whenever my brush touched the canvas, I would be in the zone. If you’ve ever had a similar feeling, you’d know how great it was, just to let your hands do the work, being in a semiconscious state, concentrated but effortless. I loved that feeling and it really took me to another place.
I had works put up for exhibitions, and I continued to pursue my passion for art while struggling to cope with the demands of A Levels. When I graduated, I had this romantic dream of becoming a full time artist, doing nothing but painting all day and having people sit for me as I painted their portraits. The “talent” that I had for art helped me become confident in my abilities, knowing that if I could pull this off I would have taken one big step for myself. I started going around town, looking for potential patrons and business opportunities. With the help of a friend, I managed to secure one of my first patrons; they were running a cafe in one of the art districts in Singapore.
The cafe was modelled after a metro stop in the UK called Richmond Station, and the owners were so enthralled by the station that they branded their cafe as such; serving quintessential British treats. Working on a few works for them was one of the best moments of my life, when what I did had a real and immediate impact on the environment. I could use my talent to create a different world; a world of my vision. Putting myself on the map this way helped me develop a lot of confidence, but also led me to some pretty dark places.
It is a universal truth that confidence leads to arrogance, and it is a very fine line. Sometimes, having confidence in your abilities helps to give you a firm sense of self, but the same confidence can be mistaken for hubris when you’re too stubborn to face certain realities of life. I spent 2 years looking for inspiration, being trapped in the cycle of trying to pursue an artistic career and being rather disappointed with the results instead of letting nature take its course. Twice in my life my art lecturers have told me at point blank: “You shouldn’t pursue art. You were made for business.” One was when I was 18, another was when I was 22. I suppose a part of me was in denial, trying to prove them wrong, but now I can see that they were right the whole time. They saw me better than I saw myself, and that was because I was holding on to my “talents” for dear life. Your talent cannot define who you are, and if you build your self esteem based on your talent alone, you will be a stunted individual. You have to go beyond your innate gifts and see how best you can apply them, and the journey will most definitely not be a linear one.
Talent is not an indicator of what you might excel in; passion is. I am still a consumer of art till this day, and I enjoy going to the theatre to watch Swan Lake with my girlfriend, but I know now that it is not art that I love, it is the humanities. Philosophy comes up very often in our conversations (partly because my girlfriend is a philosophy major), and I don’t deny that my background in art has helped me understand the world a lot better than if I had been a plain vanilla engineering student (pfft, boring). Talent helps you take the first step towards self-discovery, but passion leads you to self actualisation. One is not the other, and it is important not to confuse them.
Passion arises out of a sustained interest in a particular subject or activity, whereas talent is more of a gift. Over time, as I spoke to more business owners and entrepreneurs, I realised that I’m passionate about business in general, how the modern economy functions, how businesses are built and how to think clearly and strategically. My talents have helped me to help business owners build their brands, and at the same time gain insight into what makes a business successful. Starting a company at 23, I have also learned valuable lessons in the world of the hustle, and more importantly, I know now what I’m truly passionate about. Having an artistic background and design skillsets give me an edge in thinking creatively in the business world, where structure and form has been traditionally placed above creativity and freedom (but is no longer the case).
What talent is good for is helping you understand your God-given abilities and keeping you in tune with your intuition. I know I will never be as good a physicist as I am a humanist, and talent helps narrow the field of vision. Talent can show you which paths you can take and how you might be able to connect the dots of your life even before the pieces fall into place. Learning to leverage on this intuition is important, because our world is increasingly filled with irrelevant noise, and we need to know when and how to tune out the noise. When talent is grounded with self awareness, there is a lot of room for the individual to grow. Those who can nurture this synergy will tap into the “collective unconscious” as described by Jungian psychology and dare to take the path less travelled.
My talents have helped me learn the ropes in User Experience design, and I’m currently a Client Advisor working at a financial advisory. Humanities and the arts still influence my decision making even though I’m working with dividend yields and interests rates, and that has made all the difference in connecting with people, especially my clients. In business, as in life, people build your world, so focus on them, help them build their lives and businesses, give freely with your talents, and you will be rewarded in turn.