Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Talent, Skill, Trophies and Excuses

My favorite thing when it comes to trying something new isn't when I get it right; its when I reach the point where doing it right is consistent.  When something goes from the excitement of the first success to the confidence of performing the task at will, its like a veritable peak on the bro moment roller coaster that I can chose to share with the world or not because I know that I can do it.  Not only can I do it, but tracing back my path to arriving at that point, I can help others do it too.

Talent is a word we see sometimes, one that has differing opinions depending on the context but generally means

a special ability that allows someone to do something well

When it comes to most things, that "special ability" is usually hard work in disguise.  Nothing is more aggravating to the brain surgeon or fighter pilot than to have the work they put in dismissed as talent.  Dont get me wrong, some people are obviously more genetically prepared for certain things than others; Im never going to realize my dream of playing in the NBA because I didn't put in the time...and im not exceptionally tall, or exceptionally agile, or a fan of Wheaties....or basketball; I also didn't have any dreams regarding playing in the NBA so there's that as well.  But some people seem to be built to do certain things, physical things, anyway.

You don't often see an architect described as a natural because he looks good in Dockers and seems to have the hands to work a stack of blueprints.  No, his talent may be identified after he showed an aptitude for the study and at some point it may be used to dismiss all the work he put in; make it seem easy as if you can simply be born into Frank Lloyd Write-ing your way into history.  Hard work and dedication get dismissed as luck as well, and in the grand scheme of things I find that even more aggravating but it can almost be forgiven because its such a common, automatic response to someones skill that it might as well be asking "how ya doin?" without sticking around to hear the answer (fine, by the way).

In reality it may only be your ability to learn and to replicate techniques that garners the kind of success people will call talent.  Participation Trophies and the entitlement generation aside, its fairly well known that some people are smarter than others and this directly reflects on what they are able to accomplish.  As a PC society we don't want to admit this; kids are told they can be anything they want to be from a very young age though if this was true the world would either be full of unemployed astronauts or dangerously over populated with rock stars, princesses and despotic warlords ruling their fractured domains from tree forts.

You can be anything you want to be; but you have to be able to do the work and your quality of work will determine just how much of that thing you can actually be.  I don't believe in participation trophies anymore than I believe in sugar coating the truth.  Things are as they are and changing them is largely a personal problem.  If you want to be better at something, you have to develop the talent to do so and talent looks a wholesamedamnthinglot like work.  In Sage classes, students can earn a Sage Red Patch; the only way to earn it is to best demonstrate the instructed skills and show up with a firm understanding of what you are about to get into.  I dont give these patches out to make those who dont earn them feel bad, I give them out to make those who get them feel good about the work they have put in.  The idea of the trophy is to identify achievement, not highlight other's failure.  I do it without large ceremony and often hand them to students privately.  Its not a big deal, its my thank you.

When it comes to guns, athletics or anything that's Alpha, everyone is an expert until they aren't. People get comfortable with their performance and dont push the envelope or they are afraid to move forward because it means sucking at something for an unknown period of time until they begin to improve.  I see a man on occasion who is a very accomplished marksman with the handgun; he shoots long distance and well with a simple, no-frills 1911 and does so to a degree that I might not believe it if I was seeing it on youtube.  He shoots well, but he shoots slow and no prodding in the world will speed him up.  Hes an EDC kind of guy, but has little to no interest in any type of self-defense focused shooting.  "I'm too old to go down that road."  I'm told in conversation.  I disagree, he shrugs and the conversation stalls like it always does, comfortable but rock solid impasse.  He shows an obvious aptitude for shooting, just not for more self defense focused shooting.  Even at speed his draw is slow and deliberate and while some readers may be thinking slow is smooth, smooth is fast I have to say that Slow never equals Fast.  Proper technique can be performed at any speed, and slow is the least desirable of all of them.  Should he be comfortable with his performance? Thats not my call to make.  I would like to see him widen his skill set but I can force no one to do so.

Talent is putting in the hours.  Making the mistakes and never reaching a point where you are unwilling to pick up the next skill.  Everyone is going to have a "wall" they cant get over with performance and the height of that wall is directly related to how honest you are with the skills you arrived there with.  If your draw stroke is sloppy, you will suffer the clock.  If you lazy eye the sights, you will suffer the shitty grouping, if you slap the trigger for speed, it will become obvious. If you cant handle constructive criticism and good advice, you probably wont improve.  We can keep doing all the things we are good at, and that's going to do nothing to help us get better at the things we don't do at all.

Talent is unconscious competence.  its confidence (sometimes mistaken for arrogance) and it should be the goal for each and every skill.  Proper practice, proper training and dedication to the skill, the technique.  If you are waiting to discover a natural talent, chances are you will be disappointed.  If you think you have a natural talent but its scope is narrow, it may be time to broaden your skill set.  If you want to get better, you have to be willing to do the work and fail repeatedly until you have covered all the ways not to do something.  The best shooters didn't get anywhere doing anything that you cant do.  You can dismiss them as having access to ammo and time, the best gear showered upon them or any other manner of excuses but the fact is they likely sat there one day and decided it was time to put in the work and that work was more than others were putting in.


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