Monday, October 31, 2011

Talent Without Work Remains Unfulfilled

People often compliment on my writing and speaking ability, acting as if these skills are innate talents requiring no effort on my part.  The fact is, though, what modest ability I have in these areas is a result of study, hard work, practice, and a set of fortunate circumstances.
When I was a child I had problems dealing with people – actually, I hated being around people, preferring to be alone in a corner with a book.  My mother taught me to read when I was four, so when I started school, the first and second grade readers were a day’s work to zip through.  Recognizing that I was bored, in second grade my teacher allowed me to get books from the school library that until that time had only been used by the students in high school.  I was, as they say in east Texas where I come from, in hog heaven.  I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, Plato, Aristotle, and the Encyclopedia Americana (and read my way through every volume before I reached third grade).  This began for me a lifelong love of the written word, which has also shaped my writing to a large extent.
Because I also didn’t like being around people, I wasn’t a very persuasive speaker as a child.  When I reached high school in 1958 at the age of thirteen in a freshman class with kids two to three years older than me, I pulled into a shell.  My home room teacher wasn’t having any of that, though, and forced me to stand in front of the class and talk.  After a couple weeks of this torture, I discovered that since I read better and knew more than my classmates, as well as the sophomores who shared the room with us, I could easily regale them with stories.  Overnight, my fear of talking to people vanished.
Since then, I have worked hard to polish both skills.  I write at every opportunity, including stints as a newspaper/magazine reporter and tons of free lance writing.  I set myself a goal of at least 1,000 words a day in some form or other, even if only character sketches or impressions.  I never pass up an opportunity to speak publicly; on any subject, to any audience.  I’ve even had a stint in the classroom, teaching subjects from sociology to photography in a variety of schools.
I read books on writing and speaking, trying new things, and constantly striving to improve existing skills.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s some talent inside me.  But, without the study and practice, that talent would likely still be hidden deep inside.
Why am I boring you with this?  In my interactions with young people, I constantly remind them that the circumstances of their birth don’t have to be absolute limiters on what they do in life.  With the desire to achieve, even in dire circumstances, you would be amazed what you can accomplish.  Never let others define and limit you, I tell them.  Set your own goals, and aim high.  The only way to reach the stars is to reach for the stars.  And, even if you never actually get to where you aim to go, you’ll certainly rise above where you are.
(Note:  This article first published at