Natural Ability vs. Making Conscious Effort

Everyone has things that come naturally to them, while other things seem completely insurmountable.

Some examples from my own life: I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was almost 21, I didn’t go on a single date until I was in my 20s, and probably the scariest thing I ever did was starting a business, because the entire time I felt like I was failing miserably at every step of it (and on more than one occasion, this was true, which made it even scarier). Selling feels like the weirdest, most unnatural thing in the world to me, and I am the actual worst at delegation.

Alternately, some things I’m naturally gifted in are writing, music, organization, and remembering movie quotes.

monty python tis but a scratch

“What are you going to do, bleed on me?!”

Plus, I pretty much made it through the entirety of my school years—including college—without having to study.

But in all seriousness, we’ve all got strengths and weaknesses, and while our strengths are fun to play up, our weaknesses is they make us feel…well…weak. We also tend to fixate on what we’re bad at more than what we’re good at. It’s an affliction our entire society suffers from.

I hated my weaknesses for the longest time. I thought they were my limitations—my barriers.

What it took me a while to realize was that they were actually one of my greatest assets.

Here’s how it works out, at least to me:

When things come easily to us, we don’t think much about them. This is fine—it can be a lot of fun and a nice break from the things we stress out about.

But the things that don’t come naturally? They push us. They challenge us. They demand we become more.

You have to think about those things, and that’s what makes us conscious. That’s what makes us actively think about and consider our actions. “Oh, hey. I need to do this thing and I can’t…why? How do I fix this? What do I do now?”

The things I’m not automatically good at have turned out to be my greatest gifts. They challenged me, they pushed me, they taught me how to overcome things and make myself into something greater. Life is boring when things are easy. I may have a college degree, but the fact that I barely had to work to get it means that it didn’t teach me half as much as my failed business ventures did.

The only way we grow is when we do something that pushes us out of our comfort zone, and makes us approach a problem from a new angle.

Our “weak” points also make us carefully evaluate our priorities. What’s the most important thing for us to do? To learn? Our time on this earth is limited, so we’d better make sure that, with the time we have, we’re focusing on the things that matter most to us.

So maybe you’re not good at sports, and maybe you don’t care. But maybe you’re struggling with music, which is something you very much want to be good at. Let the sports slide—let the music flow.

And the fact is, regardless of however talented (or untalented) you are at something, it’s going to take a lot of work to master it. There’s a level of dedication required in just about anything, and if you’re going to achieve any level of mastery, you’re going to have to commit for the long-haul.

This is probably discouraging. I know it always was for me. I knew where I wanted to be and I wanted to be there YESTERDAY, so hearing that I wouldn’t get where I wanted to go for a few years was just agonizing.

But I was lucky enough to get this piece of advice early in my life, and I cling to it in times of self-doubt and fear:

“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”

– Earl Nightingale

I was given this quote by my mother when I was a child, and I hold on to it like a rock in the middle of a storm at sea. Anytime I want to quit on something because I’m not getting the results fast enough, I remind myself that I can’t actually give up on my dreams. Not the real ones. They’ll claw their way out of me. They’ll eat me alive if I don’t give them the space to breathe.

So I press on. I try new things. I reassess the situation and form a new plan of attack. And I let go of the things that don’t serve me—the things I don’t really care about—so that I can focus on what I do love.

Will I ever be a pro basketball player? No. I don’t want to, so it’s pretty easy to know that I won’t put that effort in. But I will also probably never be a world-class violinist. I’m good at music, I have fun with it, and I might even be able to do something with it, but it’s not my focus. It’s a hobby.

Writing, though? That’s where my soul spills out. That’s where I put my energy. Even though it’s hard, I keep at it, because in this case, the struggle and pain are worth it. Writing isn’t a hobby, it’s my purpose.

A lot of things won’t feel worth the effort to you, and that’s fine; you don’t need to put your heart and soul into everything. Dabble, feel around, find the areas you love, and throw yourself into those with everything you have. Let other pursuits either be relaxing pastimes, or let them go completely. Only you can determine where your time is best spent, and where those creative energies need to go.

And one final note: “Finding your purpose” doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll always be easy. It’ll be damn hard work—you’ll know you’re in the right place when, even at its absolute worst, you know you can’t quite. You won’t want to, not really. You might stop for a while, but it’ll always draw you back in. Keep at it; what you’ll produce will amaze you.