Learning Skills for Success

There are two types of people in the world: those who believe skills are the product of innate talent, and those who believe that skills are learned through hard work. Which would you say you are? Go ahead, pick sides. There’s no wrong answers. I can’t tell you who you are.

I can, however, tell you which type of person is more likely to succeed, though I hope you can figure that out by now. Of course we all have natural inclinations towards different types of activities depending on which parts of our brains we use most (I’ve never taken psychology, please don’t judge me if that was somehow wrong), but that doesn’t make any of us automatically skillful at anything, and it also doesn’t need to stop you from becoming skillful in something you aren’t immediately talented in.

In eighth grade I was the first chair alto saxophonist in the advanced band, and you better believe I wasn’t about to relinquish my spot. Due to some musical talent I had been first chair for over a year, but I rarely, if ever, practiced. At some point the second chair alto, we’ll call her Jane, got so peeved by this idea that I was just a bit more talented than her and got to sit in first that she made it her mission to dethrone me. She practiced really hard and when challenges came around, she challenged me. I knew she had been practicing though, so for once I bothered to take my instrument home and learn the technical bits of the music, become skilled at it, if you will. I let that fear of having someone beat me in front of the class and having to sit second at performances drive me to work harder than before, and when challenges came around, I won.

So skill and talent are two different things, and while it is easiest and perhaps most effective if you already have talent in what you are trying to become skilled at, that doesn’t mean you can’t become great at something if you just have a lot of passion and put in the time to learn. Using the similar part of the brain as music, I was always inclined to be above average in math, but I never wanted to be that good, never applied myself, and therefore never particularly excelled at it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of my writing. I’ve always been a pretty decent writer, and I really enjoy short form word vomit like this blog, and I’m really good at writing academic papers, but I want to be an author. I want to write young adult fantasy novels full of twisting plots and the kind of characters that keep you up at night wondering why they can’t be real and happy. I’ve just started writing my very first novel, and I’m really kind of awful. I’m not used to all of this dialogue and description and plot devices and foreshadowing and ugh. But that’s okay, because I love writing and I love the story I’m working on, and I know that with time I’ll only get better.

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, well, neither was Christina Aguilera’s vocal control, Kyle Korver’s jump shot, or JK Rowling’s command of the English language. Don’t expect anything to come easy for you; don’t think it isn’t worth working for anything you really want (unless that thing is illegal, then don’t work for that…get a new dream).

Every night (that I can muster up the mental focus for it) I try to write at least 500 words of my first novel. It’s awkward and foreign but I know it’s the only way I can become a skilled writer like the ones I look up to. So what do you really want? And why aren’t you working for it? And if you are, how are you working for it? Don’t be worried, that fear that you’ll fail means you should be trying. Talent comes and goes, but hard work will always hold value.

Hope you’re all having a lovely, motivational Monday. x.
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