I’m in a myth-busting mood, so here are my thoughts about a few of them…
The ‘Talent’ Myth
We tend to think that some people are naturally more talented than others, but (as I teach in my Writing Mastery course) talent is a very misunderstood word!
‘Talent’ belongs to a category of words known as a ‘nominalisation’, meaning ‘existing in name only’. It’s actually a disguised verb. Another example is ‘relationship’. We think of ‘relationship’ as a noun, as something that we ‘have’, but it’s actually a disguised verb; we can’t ‘have’ a relationship because we ‘do’ it – we ‘relate’. Likewise with ‘talent’; we don’t have it, we do it. And every ‘talent’ breaks down to a set of actions and attitudes. People who demonstrate talent are applying those actions and attitudes; it’s as simple as that.
Studies into the phenomenon of ‘talent’ have found that great ability is the result of a greater engagement in the activity, rather than it being a mysterious gift of the gods. The people who demonstrate ‘talent’ apply themselves to ‘deliberate practice’, a term that researcher Anders Ericsson coined to describe what he was observing, longer and more intently than others. When studying musicians of high ability he found there were no ‘naturals’ (people who just effortlessly rise to the top) and no ‘grinds’ (people who work hard and never achieve). Rather, results were always linked to ‘effort’/commitment.
But what about Mozart, who was writing music when he was still a child? The fact is that by age six, Mozart had already completed some 3,500 hours of music practice and training, so he was already well on his way to the 10,000 hours required to be considered an ‘expert’. And the experts reckon that the first piece of music he composed that is today considered to be a work of genius was not written until he was 21 years old, by which time he would well and truly have knocked over those 10,000 hours. So much for ‘talent’.
Or perhaps you’re still wondering about those other child prodigies and the possibility that they are reincarnated geniuses? Makes sense to me too, but what really interests me is not using an apparent ‘lack of talent’ as an excuse for not busting through limitations. If you love it and commit to it enough, anything is possible.
The ‘Mastery’ Myth
If you’ve been following my journey you know that I’ve been grappling with the idea of mastery from the outset. My youthful concept of mastery was rather immature – it was kind of Mary Poppins-ish: snap your fingers and things obey… Well, maybe not quite that simplistic, but I was imagining a life where everything always flowed easily. (See the guru myth below…) Over time I’ve realised that mastery is the ability to centre oneself in the face of challenges and difficulties.
Have you seen the film, Wimbledon? I was struck by a comment one character made that tennis pros have to struggle with their undisciplined minds – with negative thoughts while playing, with distractions such as the sight of a pretty girl in the crowd, etc. There I was, thinking that these people were extraordinarily focused and clear and masterful when actually they were engaged in the process of learning how to be focused and clear, and fighting their demons en route… Mastery is a verb, a process, and not a thing we ‘have’ – it’s another nominalisation.
And since we tend to teach what we need to learn, we can guess at a person’s core lessons from their competencies and apparent successes. Dr Demartini refers to this as ‘voids and values’: our ‘voids’, or what appears to be missing in our lives, determine our ‘values’, or what we are most motivated or inspired to achieve/acquire.
The ‘Guru’ Myth
The ‘guru’ myth carries the idea on. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘If you’re still on earth you’ve got something to learn/master/grow through’. It’s equally true for gurus. It might be something at a much higher level than the rest of us, but it’s still something! Perhaps gurus are developing the ability to manage large-scale admiration – even adoration – and/or criticism without becoming egotistical or corrupt?
Or perhaps the person isn’t a spiritual guru but a very skilful coach, counsellor or teacher of yours whose life should be wonderful on every level because they are so switched on and brilliant, but they’re overweight or they smoke, or you become aware that they appear unable to sustain a long-term relationship of their own or they’ve been flirting with you despite the fact that either you or they are married; or perhaps they have a troubled child or you find that they are impatient/negative/bad-tempered when you get to know them privately vs when they are showing their public face… There will be something that indicates that life is not all rosy for them, and it’s worth looking for that element so that we have a balanced perception of our teachers and leaders. No-one is ‘all good’; we all have a shadow side, and recognising that allows us to put people in our hearts as equals rather than up on pedestals.
The 'Hollywood Romance/Ideal Partner/Soul Mate' Myth
The Hollywood/Disneyland Myth of the ‘Happy ever after’ is one that most people are awake to, much as we might persist in bathing in the dream while watching chick-flicks. We know that a normal, healthy relationship will go through ups and downs; sometimes we’ll argue or even lose interest in each other, but if we keep the lines of communication and caring open, we can work through [almost] any challenge.
But the Myth of the Ideal Partner is more persistent. I used to yearn for that perfect-match-someone until I realised that the person most perfect for me was the one who would cause me to grow the most, rather than the one who would tick most of my boxes (tall, handsome, rich…). I realised that this person would present me with as many challenges as support; he would be like me in some critical areas and very unlike me in others. That insight has made a huge difference to my sense of fulfilment, completion and gratitude for the relationship I currently have.
While we’re speaking of ideas and ideals, if the Ideal Partner is important to us, we even more deeply love the idea of a Soul Mate, of meeting ‘the One’ – our other half. We love stories about instant recognition of ‘that’ person, of tingling at first touch, of never fighting/always being close, of feeling complete, at ‘home’, of a special psychic connection; perhaps we have heard of the ‘Twin Flame’, that being who is our literal other half from the moment of Creation…
If you’re in a relationship like that, I’d love to hear from you! I’ve heard intriguing stories about these kinds of relationships, including the possibility that one’s soul mate might be a child when we are an adult and yet the pair still experiences that extraordinary connection, but for myself, I’ve settled on the understanding that even if I did meet my divinely appointed Soul Mate/Twin Flame, he still wouldn’t be ‘perfect’ in the only-nice sense, and if all that really mattered was how much I grew in that relationship, then whether he was ‘technically’ my soul mate or not really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I’m with someone who loves me, who I love, and who is open to growing with me. And I’m grateful that I’ve got one of those.