130 - The expectation of our talents.


Hello and welcome to the The Spark & The Art creativity podcast. Thank you for subscribing to our weekly podcast, where we alternate between interviews with creative folks from all different career levels and insight and inspiration episodes. All with the intention you’ll get what you need to get your creative projects started and, more importantly, finished.

I’m your host Tucker and this week we talk about knowing how good we are at things.

I don’t think we can know where our best talents lie. I’m only just starting to get my head around this so bear with me things may change over time. 

This whole theory relates to how we perceive our talents and how others perceive them. What got me to thinking about it is my 8yo daughter was mentioning that she wasn’t good at math. She says it makes her head hurt sometimes to think about it. But when we talked to her teacher she said it was one of my daughter's strong subjects. 

Now there are two things that could be going on. One my daughter is convinced somehow that she isn’t good at math so she is finding ways to confirm it. I’ve never heard her say that girls aren’t good at math so that’s why she isn’t but who knows, that could be in there somewhere learnt somewhere along the way. 

The other thing, and this is what I want to talk about, is her expectation of her talents. She’s pretty bright. Of course I say that as a parent so you’ll have to take my word for it. I think she knows she has some skills in the realm of figuring things out. Patience though is not a strong skill for her at the moment. She can tell that she should be able to understand the math. She should be able to figure it out. She should be able to do the work but when she can’t get it as easily as she would like the frustration and the ‘hurting head’ set in. This is when the ‘I must not be good at this’ thoughts sneak in. 

She has an expectation of her talents and when those expectations aren’t met she gets frustrated. With dance and acrobatics though it's a different thing. She sees that she can do things that others can’t (like front to back splits) and it encourages her to try new things. So, while she could barely do a teddy bear stand last year now she is doing headstands and working on headstand to bridge which basically means she’s standing on her head and flipping over backwards till her feet touch the ground. 

There is also an expectation we set for ourselves based on watching other people. We have an expectation of other people's talents “Everyone can do this why can’t I? I must not be good at it.” The challenge is - what you perceive as everyone being able to do something may not actually be true. Others may be struggling just as much as you are. People may be looking at you and wishing they could do what we can do. What we see others doing may have come from hours and hours of work just to get to a point we think we should be at already. 

When I took clarinet lessons as a teenager I was pretty good at music just from my humming around and exposure to it around the house. There may be some innate natural talent in there as well but I’m not sure that’s the case. I feel like I enjoyed it a lot so I did things that allowed me to improve my skills. Anyway, I was taking clarinet lessons and I got through a few and the teacher was impressed with my progress. We got to a point and he told me that this next bit shouldn’t be too much trouble for me. I was doing great so far and this should come easily too. When it didn’t come easily I got discouraged. I felt like maybe I wasn’t as good at this music thing as I thought. It was a combination of my expectation of my talent and not being able to perform to the level I thought I should be able to and the fact that I was told that it should come easily. I just thought “Well, I guess that’s it. Maybe that’s as good as I get on clarinet.” It was like not only did I not live up to my own expectation of my talent but I didn’t live up to my teacher’s expectation either. 

Really my expectation shouldn’t have been in my ability to play the clarinet. The expectation should have been in my ability to learn the clarinet. I did eventually learn guitar as an instrument and struggled through many hours of not finding the right chord so I don’t think my ability to learn clarinet was as issue it was just my expectations of my talent. 

Your expectation should not be in your ability to draw or paint or sing or sculpt or whatever it is you’re trying to do. Your expectation should be in your ability to learn that skill. Your ability to improve in that skill. When you feel like you are meeting your expectation you get to up your expectations of yourself and your talents.

Past guest Tanya Ryan recently posted on her Instagram and photo of her grade 5 student self-assessment. Tanya is a singer-songwriter who has won several awards and grants for her musical talents. She has done a week long residency at the Calgary Stampede’s Nashville North tent for the last couple years. She performs regularly around the province of Alberta and has songs played on the radio. 

In her grade 5 student self-assessment she lists Math - Excellent, Language Arts - Good, Science - Good, French - Good and Music - So So. (I’ve linked to the post in the show notes at TheSparkAndTheArt.com/130)

Something along the way kept her going towards music from a so-so evaluation to keep going now. What kept her from moving forward on her Excellent evaluation in Math? Why didn’t she pursue what she perceived as a strong skill? She could be in physics or launching rockets or something now. 

My guess, and this is just a guess, is that she felt the reason she was so-so in music is because she had higher expectations of her music ability. Perhaps the reason she didn’t pursue math - the reason she rated herself as excellent is because she felt closer to the top of her ability. She had more room to grow and explore in music so that’s what she pursued. When I asked her in her interview about why she wasn’t as excited as other people were when she got radio play for her song she said it was because she only saw it as a step in the process. She has a longer view of where her career should be and this was just one step along the way. That feels to me like she has a higher expectation of her talent and her career. 

So, if we are blind to our talents and can often minimize the skills we do have how do we know what to do? 

First, pay attention to where the most internal reward comes from when a task or project is complete. What part of it gave you the most satisfaction. 

Second, share it with people. Let other people give you the hint you need to continue in a direction or switch to a new one. 

As Dulcie Foofat said in episode 123 there are ‘crumbs of reward’ that can help choose a path. Perhaps Tanya had more positive feedback from her music. More people praising her for her singing/writing/playing ability than praise she got for her math ability. I should just ask her rather than guessing. But since this is an exploratory thought episode I’ll continue with my guessing and ask her on another day. 

Perhaps if my clarinet teacher had praised my ability to work through and understand a concept rather than telling me it shouldn’t be a problem I’d be wicked clarinet player. As it is I can play the melody from Somewhere Over the Rainbow and an ascending and descending major scale. 

Like I said at the beginning this episode was an exploration of an idea and I didn’t really expect to be able to give you any actionable tips and tricks but I sure hope I gave you something to mull over. 

The closest I can give you in actionable steps is to ask yourself where you sit within your exceptions of your talent. Also to switch your exceptions of yourself from your ability to do something to your ability to learn something. In your ability to improve in something.

- Links for this episode -

Tanya Ryan's Instagram Post - https://instagram.com/p/BORHQjugGiN/