Are we all just wasting our natural talent? – Part 2

Ebz on drumsFollowing on from yesterdays post, it really got me thinking about personal development and this topic of focusing too much on our weaknesses, how this effects our level of success and happiness, but more importantly, this way of thinking is ingrained into our society.

I thought back to being at school when I first started playing the drums. I had a natural ability for being able to hear sounds and music and literally play back the whole thing on a drum set without needing to hear it again. Dr Parmley our head of music spotted this talent and shipped me straight into see the drum teacher. Over a period of a couple of months he put me forward for my grade two exam which I passed with flying colours without being able to read hardly any music or play any of the rudiments. After seeing how that went, Mr Huxtable (not the guy from the Cosby show!) decided he was going to jump and enter me in for Grade 7, something which should have taken years to learn for some, but he was confident with my natural talent for memorizing sounds and being able to get enough points to pass without the ability to pass the technical points.

On the day of the exam I remember feeling unbelievably confident, the sound of the songs I needed to play were etched in my brain. 60% of the marks were based on the ability to play the set pieces, and 40% of the marks were based on reading and rudiments etc. We knew if I were able to absolutely nail the set pieces I would only need 1 mark from the rudiments and reading. I remember being nervous in the exam room when I saw the the examiner had a bit of a stiff and twisted face, after all this was the Guildhall School of Music and Drama! I remember having to start with the parts I was not very good at, and all I needed was 1 mark out of 40. As he put the sheet music up I laughed to myself internally because it looked like it could have been Chinese! I knew not to worry as my teacher had told me and to spend time focusing on strengths and knowing I have the ability to play the set pieces perfectly. The time came for the set pieces, and I knew once finished I had nailed it. I waited for the examiner to give me my the final verdict…

He turned around to me and said something along the lines of – “I am absolutely horrified and disgusted. You have made an absolute mockery of the Guildhall School of Music, and should be ashamed”. The examiner felt I had attempted to cheat the system.

Later I found out we had achieved the 62 marks we were after and although I was happy to have got my exam result and I can always say I have Grade 7 in drums, I have to admit as a 16 year old who had been playing the drums for a few months and only just discovered a natural talent, I was put off and felt a little bit embarrassed. Although I still play drums for personal fun, it is not something I pursued as much as I should of after that. That memory has always stayed with me since I was a kid (admittedly it is time to get over it!).Yes I could have spent a year or two learning to read music before going for the exam, but the truth was I was able to play drums to Grade 7 standard. Spending a few years to achieve the same result would not have been a smart use of natural talent, it would have been falling into the culture that it should have been a slog to get there.

What is maybe even more interesting is that many of you after reading the story may still agree with the examiner, which is fine, I love different points of view and enjoy a good debate, so feel free to leave a point below. I didn’t have the ability to understand this as a kid, but now 13 years later I realised it was smart to have used my natural gifts to pass the exam, and listening to Tom Rath’s book this approach makes complete sense.

I personally believe one of the challenges we have in society is we don’t support each other enough. Period. The examiner in this case rather than focusing on the ability of a young kid to play a piece 100% perfectly and store copious amounts of information in the brain, focussed on giving criticism for not being able to read it on paper.

However the more I thought about the example I realised this issue is not just with the examiner, this plays much closer to home. This definitely effects most of us in the workplace, in the home and in personal relationships. It can be much easier to throw out a criticism than praise and focus on areas of weakness than areas to maximise and grow. The book personally has given me a wake up call to make a mental shift to focusing on the strengths in others and hoping in turn that they return the favour.

There is clear distinction here. At NO point am I condoning laziness. Tony Robbins always says – “Repetition is the mother of all skill” and honing your craft is an extremely important part of the jigsaw puzzle to deliver the best results. As Tom Rath suggests in the book, to get the best out of ourselves we need to apply the below:

Talent x Investment = Strength

Talent = (Natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving)

investment = (Time spent practicing, developing your skills and knowledge)

Strength = (The ability to consistently provide a near perfect performance)

If we can spend more time identifying what we do naturally, practicing those skills offering the world near perfect performance consistently this has GOT to be good. By being aware of our strengths (and weaknesses), we can align ourselves with other people who have complimentary skills and ensure we get the best of ourselves and others around us. The goal must be to take the path of least resistance, not putting more value on the hardest route.

One of the questions I asked myself in reading the is why do some many of us do this to ourselves!? It is not good for self-esteem and our happiness, but yet still it is evident that our culture focusses on this. I have come to conclusion the why answer is a never-ending rabbit hole, and most probably help us to achieve absolutely nothing!

It makes me realise now why the significant amount of time spent in the later part of my cricket career attempting to play the sweep shot; something I was completely uncoordinated at, could never judge the length and would just get hit in the face was an unproductive use of time. I didn’t have the natural talent for the skill, and with all the hours invested I played it about 5 times, and connected about once! Reinvesting that time in strong areas of my game would have been more beneficial.

The book has given me significant food for thought and a major area for personal development.

The BIGGEST challenge I believe is this drives the need for acceptance from those around us, and us giving complete acceptance to others.

It requires us focusing on what someone is good at rather than picking out the one thing they do badly. This is hard, but I am sure it can be achieved.

It also requires us to stay strong in the pursuit of the goal, looking at the way we can get there maximising our strength and those around us, rather being swayed by the need to prove to others we can do the other stuff, which if it is a weakness it is quite likely we can’t.

If we can convert 1% the 7 million of us surveyed who are focusing on weaknesses to a strength focus first I am sure this world will be a happier place.

A brilliant quote from the book to finish this off and leave us with food for thought.

“You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a lot more of who you are.”

As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below or share!


Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent

4 Replies to “Are we all just wasting our natural talent? – Part 2”

  1. Colette

    Great morning reading! I’m going to research the book you mention too.
    It definitely seems to be a culture thing, growing up catholic you have the whole guilt thing anyway and then on top of that the belief that the harder way is the best way even if its not the correct way for you personally! I am still working on this 😉
    Why do we not push what we are good at as opposed to what society tells us we should be good at! It’s a shame that it is more acceptable to demean a person rather than praise them.

  2. Ebz Post author

    True! The most important thing is that we have an opportunity to slowly educate our circles of influence to operate this way. I am sure if we each individually made an effort to look for the strengths and positives first it will have to rub off. But it will take mental disapline not to slip into the other way of thinking! Might try and get some hypnosis for this one!

  3. Tickle

    This all rings so true! I think it also comes down to the fact that, particularly in the workplace, we have been conditioned to always challenge what is put in front of us. Don’t get me wrong, challenge is always good if warranted but I often see colleagues challenging for the sake of challenging. Rarely do I hear people say… “You know what, that was bl**dy brilliant and there’s nothing I can criticise” even when this praise is due. I think focusing on the negative aspects of something or someone is often a way of us justifying our own position and value.

  4. Caroline Atkins

    Awesome blogging Ebz and the comments from readers too. Please keep sharing your insights and I hope an outrageous debate comes out soon. Meanwhile, I agree with you and yet am guilty of favouring those that have worked harder for success. In coaching, it’s not always as temptng to work with the best players, but the ones that want to work the hardest.
    I really enjoyed your drum story and am really pleased you’ve challenged the path choice of least/most resistance. I had been thinking that Katherine Grainger’s gold medal was better than Anna Watkins’ gold…how ridiculous?
    I’m all for focusing on strengths, spending time making them ‘super strengths’. A top adage to follow is “To be yourself, with skill”. I’d liken being yourself to doing what you find natural (strengths) and I liken doing it with skill as knowing your weaknesses so you can understand yourself, others and then get the right environment, role and support to have success and happinness. Plenty more interpretations available, just remember to ‘be yourself, with skill’

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