The scale of talent to skill

Most of us find ourselves in awe of those videos of a little kid, maybe just five years old, who can sit down at a piano and pound out a Mozart sonata like he was born with the instrument in his hands. We marvel at such raw talent, and some of us might even feel a little jealous we don’t have it.

And sure, while most of us weren’t playing Mozart when we were five, the fact remains that most of us, given enough desire, determination, and practice, could learn to play that sonata at some point. While we may not have the talent, we do have the capacity to learn the skill.

I pick the musical example on purpose because it represents a category of endeavor where so many of us marvel at the notion of natural talent while ignoring the possibility of finely crafted skill. We tend to see undertakings like music and art and many skilled crafts as the purview of talented artisans even when we are otherwise interested in them.

While talent can give someone a head start in such endeavors, I posit that it is the development of skill that gives anyone, talented or otherwise, the tools to succeed. To me, talent is a starting point on a line defined by skill. Talented people start with natural skill.

Why is that important? Because, I believe, anything can be learned by anyone, as I mentioned earlier, given enough desire, determination, and practice. Yes, those three things may be lacking, and as a result, a skill may not be successfully honed, but that does not mean it cannot be.

So, the next time you marvel and someone else’s talent and wonder if you could ever do that, try. Find out. If you really want to, you might surprise yourself.


On transitions, even arbitrary ones

Over the past several years, society has developed a tradition of bashing many of our celebrated transitions as “arbitrary” and therefore lacking in value. Of all the transitions that take a beating, New Years and its attendant retrospection and resolution takes the worst beating. I blame the rise of literalism, but that is probably a discussion for another time.

What these arbitrariness claims ignore is the deep seated need we humans have for such transitions. Our history shows that such things have nearly always been a part of our culture, and I suspect that presence is a function of need.

From my point of view, we have a need to break the passage of time into smaller pieces and to be reminded that we have a lot more control over our circumstances than we sometimes imagine. We also need to be reminded that time passes and that dwelling on circumstances outside our control serves little purpose.

So, while the passing of our calendar from one year to the next may be arbitrary in some respects, the weight we put on such transitions is not arbitrary at all. We celebrate that passage because we need to, and we would do well to be conscious of why and embrace what comes from it.