Find and be true to your talent

My Dad used to tell me, “because a bear can catch a fish it doesn’t mean it can start flying like an eagle”.

I think what he was getting at was that when a person identifies a natural talent in something, say accounting, violin, or creative writing, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be automatically talented as a teacher, a chef, an event planner or a World Champion Rally Car Driver. In essence, he was saying  find and be true to your talent. Figure it out and focus on it. He would often tell me ” It is difficult to serve two masters. Focus, Focus, Focus. Decide what you want to do then do it. Don’t waste time being scattered, FOCUS!”   He encouraged me to identify and develop the missing supporting skills then not be afraid to get up there and  take my swings at the plate.

I think of that sentence often when I think about people and their talents. Believe me, in my career as a search consultant, I have met countless talented people.  In my life, I’ve met a handful of seriously talented people. Here are a few examples of folks who figured it out and focused on leveraging their talents.

I knew a guy who studied French Horn as a kid. He was raised in a musical family. He studied at Julliard and won the Mozart Competition for French Horn. I think his parents recognized his talent and nurtured it by creating an environment for the talent to grow. They created an environment and guided him. The French Horn is known to be one of the most difficult instruments to master. Hand a Horn to an average person and they probably couldn’t even get air to come out the other end let alone win the Mozart Competition. Serious natural talent  made it look easy.

A golfer I know told me he when he was a kid he used to hit plastic golf balls over his house from the backyard to the front yard. He put an old hula hoop on the front lawn and tried to land the balls in the hoop. To the untrained eye this was essentially aiming at and trying to hit a blind target. Wrong! This fellow knew what he was doing. I asked him how he did that exactly and he said he knew where the ball was going to land based on how it took off. That where it landed was the result of the ball flight. He put a pretty darn good number in the hoop through a process of making little adjustments to the ball’s take off until he got the flight of the ball just right. Putting it in the hoop was just the result of what occurred during the swing.  How’s that for figuring it out and focusing?

A good friend of mine rose to SVP National Accounts with a Fortune 500 textile giant at age 29 His secret? He was extraordinary at building relationships. He leveraged his ability into company stardom. Without knowing he was going into broken, disgruntled, strategically important accounts, he built relationships and established himself as a key to the client’s success, who were of course giant retailers. The company recognized his impact and assigned him a mentor. The mentor helped him define problems in the accounts. The mentor didn’t do the work for him, just guided him and helped him see and understand problem areas. The company continuously challenged him to take on problem account after problem account. He relocated when they needed help in Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, or wherever. He told me he really wasn’t great at solving problems just good at listening and following through on his client’s priorities. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he retired from the Fortune 500 at age 35.

So what does all of this have to do with bears and eagles? Think about talented people you know and about your own talents. Take time to define what you are good at naturally and what you are good at because you worked at it. Your talents are those abilities that come to you and recur  naturally. Your skills are those abilities you have that have somehow been developed through training, hobbies, or other pursuits.

Whatever your abilities are they can be separated in two categories: things that come naturally and things I worked hard to be able to do. Personally I learned to do a couple of things pretty well, such as speak Japanese (badly) . I struggled to learn the language, it didn’t come to me easily. How about you? Some people can make a speech like ringing a bell. Some get lock-jaw in front of a group. I figure my strong point is not having a strong point! LOL!

What do you struggle to do but want to learn how to do?  What plan exists for the development of that ability?




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