Why Talents and Gifts are Overrated
Is it a talent or gift you don’t have….or is it a skill you just haven’t developed?
Some people find it natural and easy to be a good listener, organize a room, cook meals, or comfort another person who is hurting. Are you naturally good at any of these things? Or would you say these are gifts you just don’t have?
There are certain skills in life, whether we are good at them or not, that are essential if we want to be healthy, productive, and experience satisfaction. Managing our time and money, communicating in relationships, making wise decision, and managing stress when things get overwhelming.
I have noticed we often call many of these skills something else: talents. In that line of thinking, we also tend to treat talents like they are all-or-nothing. “Either you’ve got it, or you don’t.”
The convenient part with this line of thinking is that it let’s us off the hook. Personal responsibility goes out the window when we think of any skill as being a gift. Because, well, either you have it or you don’t. It’s so much easier to let ourself off the hook. “It’s not my fault I’m not good at x.” We blame our genes or parents for things we can’t do. A lot of us have very concrete pictures of what we are and are not capable of doing. We all have way more capacity than we realize.
Quick tangent as an example of what I’m talking about: I’ve never understood the person who says they can’t cook. No one is born with a genetically-wired list of recipes and instructions for how to cook food. Are there some who have seem to have a more natural sense of what foods pair well together, or an intuition about how much longer to let a dish bake? Sure. But every recipe is literally instructions on how to cook/bake/grill/prepare food. There really does not have to be any act of creativity, innovation, or discovery. Cooking is a skill, not a gift. There are gifted chefs — but what they do is not what you are aiming for on a Tuesday night when you need to feed yourself or your family. (End tangent)
Are you labeling something a talent or gift you don’t have when, really, it’s a skill you just haven’t taken time to develop?
Some people are naturally great listeners and communicate well in face-to-face relationships. I completely agree that some people seem to be more naturally wired to be great listeners. (Or maybe they grew up in a healthy environment where listening was valued and taught to them by their family. Nature v. Nurture.)
Whatever the case may be, I would argue that being a good listener is a skill anyone can develop if they are willing. And willingness, along with a mindset bent toward growth, is essential.
Let’s deconstruct what a good listener does*:
- Is present and wants to be in the conversation
- Makes appropriate eye contact with the speaker
- Has a relaxed, attentive posture and non-verbals
- Shows interest and does not interrupt or cutoff the speaker
- Eliminates distractions (smartphone, computer, the clock, etc.)
- Listens for understanding rather than loading up their response
*adapted from Elements of Good Listening by American University Counseling Center
Every single aspect of being a good listener is a skill that can be developed. As you improve in each element, you become a better listener. And even if you did not intentionally try to improve the way you verbally communicate after listening, I can almost guarantee your communication (and relationship with the person) will improve simply by creating space for authentic listening. You’ll also experience increased empathy and understanding for the other person. Listening is a skill you can improve, like so many other aspects of life.
Why does listening well matter? In our world today, simply listening is a defiant act of connection and love.
What is something you have decided you just aren’t any good at? Are you sure it’s a talent and not a skill?
There are an endless number of skills you could invest time and energy in developing. But that doesn’t make sense, because not all skills are equally important or valuable. As much as I want to be able to dunk a basketball, I’ll never be able to (physical ability is part of the equation, after all).
Talents and gifts do exist, but they are overrated. They aren’t enough to lead a satisfying life and aren’t worth much unless you develop them and intentionally direct their purpose. More importantly, essential skills have to be developed regardless of how gifted we feel in those areas. And that kind of self-discipline and growth mindset is a skill you can develop, too.
What higher-level skills do you need to spend time developing? Here are just a few to consider:
- Being a good listener
- Inentionally managing how you spend your time and energy
- Organizing (and minimizing) your physical possessions and environment
- Setting goals and creating systems to reduce obstacles and friction
- Setting and sticking to a personal budget
- Stress management and making time for margin, rest, and silence
- Making wise decisions
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