Figuring out your talents is hard. Crucial, but hard. Especially your major talents, the ones that aren’t just, you know, “I happen to do this pretty well” but that are “Oh my gosh! Did you really just do that? That’s amazing!” — the ones that you can make a living off of because you do them better than almost anyone else.
And the really frustrating thing is that your major talents may be the things that you think are weaknesses.
Let me ‘xplain….
A semi-irrelevant book reference
I’m was reading my copy of The Gammage Cup (not an affiliate link because this isn’t really a recommendation, just a point of reference. Although it is a lovely children’s book, and certainly wouldn’t be a waste of your time, if you’re into children’s books). And the main character, Muggles, is kind of the town dunce. Everyone’s very kind to her, of course, because it wouldn’t be polite to taunt someone who’s simple-minded.
…except, as you read the book, you realize that she’s not, despite what everyone, including her, thinks. She’s very practical and thorough, and has a great talent for metaphor and simile that makes her advice very poetic. The problem is that no one else in the village is used to thinking in terms of metaphor or allegory. So when she says (in relation to the puffed-up village leaders in their fancy clothes) “A trout made into fish cakes is still trout” — everyone just thinks that she’s stating the obvious, and sympathizes with her foolishness. And when everyone you know tells you that you’re foolish, well, of course you’re going to believe it.
Do you think you’re bad because you are? Or because they say you are?
Many times, when someone says that you did badly, what they mean is that you did it differently than they would have. The question is which method is better, theirs or yours?
In many cases, this is obvious. If someone says that you threw a free-throw badly, it’s pretty clear whether it was bad or not: if it missed the basket, you did it badly.
But in many cases, it’s not obvious. In writing. In relationships. In business. Elvis Presley was kicked out of his high school’s glee club because they said he’d ruin their sound. And it’s entirely possible that he would have — he does have a very distinctive voice, which wouldn’t necessarily blend well with others’ voices. But does that mean Elvis’ music is bad? 147 best-selling albums say it isn’t.
What works better?
Of course, just because no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist. But even in cases where there’s not a clear objective test, you can still watch for tendencies.
Do you have an easier time writing emails than the person who’s criticizing your writing? Who has more miscommunications? Who takes more back-and-forth iterations to get their point across? That person’s probably the worse writer.
Who spends more time fighting with their friends or family? Who has more friends? Who has closer friends? If your relationships are more successful than theirs, why are you listening to their advice?
What you have to remember is that most other people don’t know what they’re talking about any more than you do.