Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Is My Talent?

Elizabeth Zelvin

Not long ago my older granddaughter, just turning nine at the time, asked me what I thought her talent was. I don’t know where the question came from—school? her peers? a book she’d read in which the character’s quest was to find her talent? I think kids nowadays start far too early to worry about what they’re going to be when they grow up. In my parents’ generation, most people made a choice, got education or training, and had one career during their whole working lifetime. Mine was the generation of which it was said we had seven different careers. If we substitute “roles” for “careers,” I’ve had many more than that. And if my granddaughter is anything like me (which she is), she has a multiplicity of talents already. May she never have to choose between (or more accurately, among) them!

In the creative arts alone, I’ve been a writer since the age of seven and will always be one, whatever happens in the realm of publishing. Also at seven, I studied piano and modern dance. I started singing in Girl Scout camp, learned to play guitar at age 13, and studied cello in junior high and high school. In college, I got a taste of acting, playing Juliet’s mother in Romeo and Juliet. I published my first poem at 37 and my first novel at 64. I’ve done my share of painting, and you can see my drawings on my therapist website. I’m a photographer, and I designed all three of my websites and my album of original songs. I hope all of the above doesn’t make me sound insufferably conceited. I’m just saying, Talent? Singular? Why?

My granddaughter has been taking the stage since she got her little pink karaoke set and her first tutu at the age of two and a half or so. At six, she was performing to a cheering audience in a state-of-the-art theater as part of her dance school’s hiphop company. She’s still dancing (and her little sister now dances right along with her). I forget at what age she wrote a “book” (a charming illustrated story which she folded and stapled and had me edit for spelling errors) one afternoon. She asked me how many books I’d written, and when I said, “Five,” (true at the time) she said, “Is that all?” Her six grandparents are all still kvelling about her first piano recital, which we were able to see on YouTube. Dressing up and getting photographed is an everyday part of these kids’ lives, and I’m proud of their parents for letting them enjoy it.

I googled “What is my talent?” and found listings ranging from quizzes to personality tests to essays on finding your secret talent, your God-given talent, and your psychic talent. From “Talents are different from skills, in that they tend to be innate rather than learned. Once found, they can be nurtured and developed, but finding them can be tricky. It's partly a process of self-observation and honesty. The rest is learning and practice.” From “We discover our God-given talents through trial and error. If you fail in one area, keep searching until you find something that you can master.” From “A lot of people are good at things they didn't even know they were good at.”

What I wish for my granddaughter is that she will enjoy her talents; that she’ll never think she has to choose just one or that having more than one means she’s somehow unfocused or “master of none”; that she won’t feel pressured to decide which of her dreams she’ll follow for the rest of her life—and that she’ll cultivate some of her more marketable talents, which include mathematics and the intuitive grasp of technology that’s her generation’s gift, to make a decent living while finding joy through her artistic gifts.

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