On “Talented” Being (Unintended) Blanket Praise

When I was about 14-15 years old, my teacher told my class she believed talent was 50% natural and 50% work. She was talking about me. That year, I’d begun shooting off the grading scale in English, consistently scoring 13s. In the Danish grading system at the time, 13 was nearly impossible to get. And not in an A+ way, but in an A++++ way. It was meant to be that way. It was the ultimate grade you weren’t meant to achieve, but which was (almost begrudgingly) given to you in a “congratulations, you’ve beat the system” sorta way.

The point here is this: I believed my teacher back then.

I believed my “talent” was 50% natural and 50% hard work.

Now, however?

Now, fifteen years later, I view “natural talent” and “hard work” as synonymous—not dichotomous.

Being called “talented” feels a lot like your book being called “unique”. It doesn’t actually say a whole lot about your achievement beyond the fact that you’ve achieved. It’s like an umbrella term. It’s safe. It’s easy. It’s a blanket compliment, really. To me, calling someone “talented” feels like diminishing the time they’ve spent honing their skillset to this point. Not only that, but it makes their skill level sound unattainable to others. You put the emphasis on the result instead of the process—on what you have achieved instead of what you did to get there—which can be discouraging to other creatives. And the last thing we need in our creative industries is more discouragement among each other, am I right?

“Talent” is a work ethic, so praise the work ethic.

Praise the expertise.

Praise the niche knowledge.

Nurturing an ethic/expertise/niche knowledge sounds far less intimidating than nurturing a “talent”. It sounds accessible. Safe. Like this is something you could do, step by step, and not lose your way while doing it. It sounds like a hill to cross, not a mountain to climb.

Discourse is powerful like that.

Discourse can make us stumble—or push us along.

The once popular idea from Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) that 10,000 hours of work made you an expert has nowadays been debunked by the authors of the original study referenced in Gladwell’s books—yet I think the concept itself still holds true, even if the exact hours don’t.

Time equals expertise.

time = hard work = talent = hard work = time

And it’s different when people find this time. Some people are lucky their parents help them find it, so they get an early start, but this doesn’t mean their start is better or more valuable than someone who starts at age thirty or sixty. This brings me to my next point.

If parents recognize what their children love and help them nurture it, teaching them that spending time doing what they love is acceptable no matter what it is (and especially if that love is one the parents don’t understand themselves), then chances are the child will grow up to become an expert in what they grew up loving. What they grew up loving will become their field of expertise. Their livelihood.

Their “talent”.

Because they were encouraged to spent time on it.

Because they worked on it.

Because they loved it.

Let me end this self-indulgent blabber on the quick note that sometimes “talent” has a physical element that’s easily mistaken for natural ability. Such as a pianist having large hands, a basketball player being tall, and just being able-bodied in general. This physical elementhas nothing to do with hard work (hard work can’t give you bigger hands, or make you taller, cool as that’d be), so this element often ends up being perceived as natural ability. Which is then conflated with talent.

But I wouldn’t personally call this talent. I would call it having the upper hand. I would call it luck. Would call it recognizing your advantage.

 But that’s just me.

What about you?


Sources:
http://www.6seconds.org/2020/01/25/the-great-practice-myth-debunking-the-10000-hour-rule/

On the Toxicity of Twitter & Authors Migrating Away

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of authors migrating their presence from twitter onto other social media platforms. Toxicity, doom-scrolling, mental health, and time-wasting are cited among the reasons. This raises the troubling question that if we, writers, find ourselves escaping a platform built for writing, then what does that indicate for and of the platform as a whole?

This is what I hope to partially unpack here, through the lens of existentialism.

I wrote my postgraduate thesis on Kierkegaardian and Sartrean existentialism. Kierkegaard and Sartre would’ve been all over today’s social media if they could. Social media is all about existentialism. About being perceived. It prays on your identity.

Existentialism understands identity as a process, as something that changes and develops according to the choices you make in life. On social media, groupthink robs you of your choices. Robs you of your identity. It leaves you in despair, as Kierkegaard would say. Despair arises when the self is unable to confirm itself. In order to become yourself, you must first conquer the negativity of not being yourself. You must face what you are not in order to acknowledge what you are. Otherwise, you end up in despair.

To me, this is often the nature of twitter’s toxicity.

Your choice, your identity, is robbed from you by groupthink.

In the writing community, there are specific accounts dedicated to spilling the tea and keeping you updated on the latest problematic discourse. You know, the thing that perforates your timeline, but you have no idea what it’s really about because it’s all subtweeting? Yeah, that thing.

That very unhealthy expectation, right there.

The writing community expects you to comment on every discourse that blows up. If you don’t, you’re an enabler, or a silencer, or a whole slew of other things. Now, there’s no doubt that enabling cruel behavior and that staying silent in the face of inhumanity is wrong (and I won’t go into what constitutes inhumanity because that should be obvious to everyone), but despite what the community expects, you can be on twitter without inserting yourself in every discourse that blows up. It’s okay to be on twitter and mind your own beeswax.

In an ideal world, you should be able to step away from a single discourse rather than stepping away from twitter as a whole to escape this despair. In an ideal world, groupthink should not result in a despairing self.

Lastly, we also shouldn’t discount how the pandemic has forced everyone to be online for different reasons than before. We’ve been forcefully overexposed to groupthink as a cultural consequence of the pandemic, so the toxicity has grown exponentially. The potential for our selves to despair has grown. I think we’re all feeling this, which means we need to be ever more vigilant about it.

So, don’t feel bad.

Don’t feel forced.

Don’t favor the group to the detriment of your own despair.

Don’t feel that you have to leave because you’re not “vocal enough” online. You can be vocal without doing it online, but let’s leave that discussion for a different day. Bottom line is this: avoiding toxicity in general is about building an awareness of how the toxicity works, so it can’t victimize you.

Build your awareness and you’ll build your defense.

You can start by engaging in critical thinking of online behavioral patterns, both your own and those of others.

(More) Commissioned Art for my Adult Fantasy

Maybe some of you remember my blog post from December when I finally mustered enough courage to commission art for my adult fantasy, The Deathsea Dyer (working title).

Here, friends, is MORE ART!

I don’t do things by halves, so when I do them, I do them (after way too much research, but that’s my Type A showing, so don’t mind that). Like I said in my other commissioned art post, I compiled a list on twitter of artists whose style I loved. More particularly, I wanted to find an artist with a style that matched the mood and aesthetic of my WIP. In this case, that aesthetic was color and whimsy. A fairytale for adults. Think Brothers Grimm meets Studio Ghibli. Even before I compiled that list, though, I reached out to an artist whose style I absolutely loved: @popcorncheek. Their service was incredibly safe and thorough, and when they weren’t satisfied with the first sketch they made, well, then they made a brand new one entirely from scratch. Without me requesting it. That, to me, is the sign of an artist who cares about their art. I initially picked them for their incredible skill in depicting lighting, and I’m so inexplicably overjoyed with how the commission turned out. Look at that lighting! Look at that color! Look at those lines!

And now go commission some art from @popcorncheek yourself!

(do not repost!)