14 March 2011

Talent and Work

I should be working on grades right now. They're due tomorrow after school and I have a ridiculous amount of late work to grade this term because I was out with the plague of death for so long that I am showing mercy (even though I don't want to) to death-bed repenters. But I can't focus right now because something is eating at me, and until I get it out. . . there will be no focusing.

In all my time involved in theater, I have had many opportunities to greet an audience after a show and have many nice people say how much they enjoyed the show. In all this time, I've hoped that they meant it and weren't lying. None of those opportunities meant more to me than my time in Music Man last summer in which I hoped so dreadfully to hear people say what I wanted them to: "I get it now! Marian isn't an idiot for falling in love with Harold!" When people said that - life was gold. It meant that all my hours had paid off and that the show had touched someone. It was wonderful.

On the other hand, nothing made me more internally frustrated than to hear someone say: "Oh, you're so talented!" This may seem a strange thing for me to be annoyed by. And to be honest, annoyance isn't quite the right word. I know that what they're really saying is: "You're so good at what you do" - which is not a bad thing to hear at all. But there's something about the word "talent" that gets in the way of people understanding the amount of stress and hard work it takes to truly perfect something, even when you are naturally "talented" at it.

Theater, for instance. After looking through my calendar and estimating that I spent approximately five hours a day rehearsing roughly five days a week for three and a half months (and even a bit once the show opened), that meant around 350 hours of rehearsal (and it was more than that once we started Saturday rehearsals, plus pre-show runs that we would do to make sure we were still on our game.) That's got to be at least 400 hours of rehearsal alone - for one little community theater production. I'd gladly have put in more time than that if it had been at all possible, because I knew I needed it. That's not counting the 15 ish years of time spent in theater learning the craft before then.

But not many people see that. Even people who see that don't often see that. People in the ensemble of shows rarely see the number of hours put in by the leads, so it's not always easy to appreciate the weight they have on their shoulders. I've been on both sides of the coin long enough to know that it's almost always a labor of love for those who really care - you do it until the job is done, no matter the cost. I got very tired last year of people assuming that because they didn't see me, I wasn't supportive of the cast or I wasn't working. Unfortunately, this time and energy and stress is often reduced into a single word: Talent. Talent is fine and wonderful and great but without work it can only take you so far.

I've had students use the "I'm not good at it!" excuse with me before. My response (in my head, if not out loud) is generally two fold: First, if you aren't good at it, that's fine. It just means that you have to work twice as hard. It's not an insult, it's just how things work until you get better. Second, even if you were good at it, it wouldn't be easy. When you're good at something, it means you're better able to spot the flaws and less able to live in delusions of grandeur. It means setting a higher standard of achievement.

It's so easy to look at the accomplishment of someone else and assume that they must be naturally talented at it which is why they're so good. But that's ridiculous. That's not how things work. In the parable of the talents, harder work leads to greater reward. I used to think this meant more talents in terms of a greater variety of skills in different categories - but that's not the only thing. It means expanding your ability to use (or "spend") your talent. And the only way to obtain more talents is to get out of the dirt and go do something about it.

There. Now I can get back to being responsible. I can take a breath and let it aaaalllll go. . . .


The Girl in the Other Room said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart and nearly always close to mind. You might enjoy this wonderful presentation given by Howard Tayler, internet celebrity and local Utah writer/comic artist. It is titled:
Talent? Who needs talent?


Sarah Moeck said...

You would be AMAZED at how this hit SO much of what I have been thinking about lately! In general, about myself, even about things that I have been contemplating in my patriarchal blessing. You are like a muse to me Joni Newman and I love you like crazy. Wish I could give you a HUGE hug right now :)