Friday, August 28, 2009

Secret to top-notch development of one's talent

Have you ever wondered why some people with a natural talent for something (e.g. music) are never able to develop that talent very well, while others do (assuming they want to and try to)?

To my observation, here is an absolutely crucial component to be found among the personal traits of those who achieve top-notch development of their natural gifts: you must be able to honestly and accurately criticize yourself. You must be your own harshest critic. And you must nurture this ability so that you become faster and ever more accurate at evaluating how you are progressing. Folks with a talent for something who never become good at self-evaluation will not be able to develop their talent to its fullest potential. Two elements come together here: a highly-tuned self awareness, and humility.

There are many people with a high degree of natural ability to do something who never become great at it because they are too proud to tell themselves when the result is below what it should be. Those who become great are able to tell themselves with brutal honesty when something is not right or is not as good as it could be or should be. They do not accept the status quo from themselves when they know they could do better.
[Update: Here is a good example of this in action from writer and blogger Jennifer Fulwiler]

This subject comes to my mind in the context of being somewhat of a fan of one of those TV cooking shows: Top Chef. The best chefs always have an outstanding ability to evaluate their own food--to know what is wrong as well as what is right with their efforts.

The same is true of great musicians, great athletes, and great artists. The cycling phenomenon Lance Armstrong certainly has many athletic gifts. But, he would never be the legend he is today had he not developed those gifts with a very regimented and exacting program of training during which he was keenly aware of how he was performing, always striving to push himself to his personal best, never accepting a poor effort from himself.

An Olympic-level archer knows when the arrow leaves the bow if something is off with his shot--it doesn't feel quite right. Top musicians are much more critical of their own playing than the vast majority of their audiences. They have a finely developed ear for their music and can hear and feel the subtlest of differences in tone, energy, pitch, etc., in their playing.

It is a sad thing when a person with an especially high level of talent for something sabotages himself with his own blindness. Pride blinds that critical auxiliary gift of astute self-evaluation that all great artists, chefs, musicians, etc. have. If we want to honor God and inspire and exhilarate others with our gifts to the highest degree possible we need humility, self-awareness, and honest self evaluation as constant companions. Helpful toward this end is never to forget that all our gifts come from our Creator. While He wants us to develop our gifts as best we can and use them for the benefit of others, He will not look approvingly upon our efforts when we fail to do so because of the inevitable blindness caused by vainglory. Humility, among other needed virtues, lays a foundation for the fullest unlocking of the beauty latent within our natural talents.


  1. If only we could all have the humility of Jesus, the world would be a much better place.

  2. Amen! This should be our frequent prayer.


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