I don’t know anybody who has watched an amazing athlete, musician and/or performer and didn't think “I wish I had their natural ability that enables them to do that.” Probably the most common temptation is the desire for what someone else has–Maybe, that’s why God added it the 10 Commandments! However, I believe that skill, developed through hard work and discipline, is actually more valuable and rewarding than natural-born talent.
Let’s define some terms before we continue:
Talent is something you’re born with. An ability to naturally understand something which others who are talent-less have to develop.
Skill is a product of focused time and energy. Skill does not require any predisposed natural ability.
Of course there’s a spectrum that each of us fall into with varying levels of Talent and Skill. But, for the sake of clarity with the following perspective, we are going to maintain each one as mutually exclusive.
When I first moved to Nashville I came to the full realization that much, if not all, of what I am able to play on the instrument is attributed to skill. Having just graduated with honors from Musician Institute I was feeling pretty confident that I had a handle on this whole drumming thing.
Within the first week of being in this new city, I saw a flyer for a 6-Week Master Class with amazing drummer/educator Johnny Rabb, who would be teaching the Freehand Technique (aka One-handed Roll). Always being interested in learning new techniques, I signed up that day.
The first class was on a Wednesday night at a local drum shop. The class of about 15 attracted a wide demographic from a 10-year-old girl to a 70-year-old man and everyone in between. Johnny explained and demonstrated the technique very clearly with a lot insight and humor. Then he asked us to try the technique on our individual drums so he could walk around and check our progress. Cue “Twin Peaks” soundtrack…
This was a technique I’ve never tried nor could relate to anything else I’ve ever practiced. When Johnny got to me I was basically a Neanderthal trying to understand what these wood things were doing in my hands. I did not understand this technique at all.
After spending a little “extra” time with me and still not making any progress, he politely said “just hang out after class and I’ll spend some more time with you.” Meanwhile, everyone including the 10-year-old girl is shredding on this technique!
On the drive home that night I was reminded, yet again, of how almost everything I’ve learned on the drums have required a lot of work. I wished I had the natural talent to not embarrass myself that night, but in the long run, I’m happy I’m mostly talentless.
How can this be? Who wants to be talentless?
We value things by the work required to obtain them. If someone gave you a BMW X6 you would be thankful for it. If you worked for 15 years washing lettuce at McDonalds to pay for it yourself, you would value it. The same goes for ability.
How many naturally talented musicians and athletes have we seen throw their careers away by making poor decisions? We say, “Why would they waste all of that talent?” Well, to a degree, they don’t value it.
On the other hand, how many people do we see reach amazing levels of ability by overcoming tremendous obstacles that by most standards would seem impossible. As a result, their fulfilled lives are a humble reflection of that hard work.
Of course, there is many anecdotal stories to refute these polarities. But in general, I believe these to be true. I, for one, am an example.
Almost everything I’ve developed on our instrument required a lot of work – my students reinforce this reality to me all of the time. Often, I find myself shaking my head while watching one of my students play something that took me 10x as long to develop!
But I am grateful. The “extra” discipline required for me to play drums has influenced many aspects of my life. Because I value the work and time I’ve dedicated to the instrument, I don’t want compromises in other areas of my life to diminish it. Being talentless has holistically improved my life.
So, the next time you feel life has dealt you a weak hand. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t complain. Don’t wish you were someone else. Be thankful for the opportunity to experience true fulfillment through the hard work required to develop your [talentless] abilities.
Stay Focused and Practice with Purpose,