On Talent

You don’t have to be good.

I don’t mean virtuous here. I do think it’s important for all of us to do the best we can to be that kind of good..

What I’m talking about is talent and ability and the idea that we can’t do things because we’re not good at them.

Of course we can do them. And we can keep doing them even if we never get “good” enough to be a superstar.

I’ll start with self defense. Far too many people — particularly, but not exclusively, women — believe they can’t defend themselves, can’t fight back.

And it’s not true. Everyone can learn some self defense skills. They’re not particularly difficult or complicated.

The best part: you don’t have to be good. If you’re ever actually attacked, a couple of quick strikes and running like hell will serve you very well.

I know, because I’ve done it, and believe me, at the time I was very far from good.

The best part is that learning some skills like that gives you the confidence to stand up for yourself in the more common struggles of life, the ones that involve words and insults and gaslighting.

Knowing that you can fight if you have to means you aren’t likely to have to fight.

Knowing that you don’t have to be the super hero (which only happens in the movies anyway) or even a black belt makes that even easier.

But this applies to more than self defense. 

Say you want to dance, but you’re told you’re too clumsy or too tall or too fat or too male, so you never really get to try.

Or you want to learn to draw, but on the first day of class the teacher insults your efforts.

Maybe it’s singing they say you can’t do.

Too often the rule seems to be that if you’re not good at it, you don’t get to do it.

And that’s neither true nor fair.

Now it is quite likely that if you take up any of these things you will never end up dancing with the Alvin Ailey Company or singing at Carnegie Hall or having your paintings on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

But you know what: most of the people who were told they were good at those things will never hit that level either.

Only a few people get recognized for their talents and there are many others who are very good who don’t get picked.

I mean, I know a lot of writers, many of them superb, and very few of them make their living from their words, much less win the most prestigious prizes. Even some of the ones who do win nice awards don’t make much money.

Include poets and the numbers are even worse. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write poetry.

Now I do think if you take something up you should strive to learn to do it well enough so that you can improve over time. It will give you more pleasure if you develop some skill.

But you still don’t have to reach the level where everyone thinks you’re “good” to get something out of it.

Doing things that you love is its own reward.

So don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough to take care of yourself or write poems or run marathons or whatever else it is you want to do.

You don’t have to be good.

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