Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You know Ive always

You know, I’ve always hated being described as ‘talented’ or ‘gifted’ (Although I will admit that that doesn’t happen very often.)

The reason for this is simple. It implies that whatever it is you’re good at was pre-ordained, and doesn’t take into account any of the actual effort involved. Saying someone is ‘gifted’ implies that they are good at a particular thing, and has nothing to do with practice and training.

For example, I went to school with a guy named David Greenall. Now, this guy was a stone-cold, platinum plated genius. He excelled at everything he did. He could do a pencil drawing that looked like a black and white photograph. He played piano so well that he went through every grading possible and beyond. (and this was by the time he was 15.)

At the end of highschool he graduated with A*’s in every subject. (In England you don’t get a ‘Highschool Diploma’, you get a grade on every subject you took, and that works the same as your transcript over here).

Oh, and an A* is one higher than an A+, there’s simply no higher grade.

Anyway, It was coming up to exam time, and someone said to him:

“At least you don’t have to worry; you KNOW you’re going to pass everything!”

David was not happy. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the idea that he was under no pressure, and was guaranteed to pass, pissed him off royally. Especially considering he revised for those exams for at least 6 hours every day.

So what got me started on this topic today?

Well, I was practicing drawing, and I seem to have reached a plateau. I just don’t appear to be getting any better, and from my last post, you can see I’m not what you’d call a ‘talented artist’.

This got me thinking.

You see, I’ve been ‘blessed’ with a natural aptitude for a lot of things. If I like it, and I’m interested in it, I can become proficient in it quickly. I have an accelerated learning curve.

However, once I get to a certain point, my progress grinds to a halt, and I progress as fast as an asthmatic turtle climbing a steep hill.

For example, some friends and I decided to learn guitar. At the start I outpaced them easily, and was playing songs while they where still trying to learn the chords. However, once the ‘Paulius Gene’ kicked in, learning anything new became a battle, while my friends continued on, progressing at the same pace they had before, which was about 100 times faster than me.

This started me thinking about talent.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people, who excel in one area, tend to suffer in others.

I think it’s just the way their brains are wired. You get the people who are scientific geniuses, but can’t do anything ‘creative’ (art, music, etc.), to save their lives. Then you have the people who are absolute geniuses in one area, but have difficulty tying their own shoelaces.

This lead me to a question, one that I can’t answer.

When it comes to talent, is it an in-born thing, or can anything be learned? Does it just come down to practice and sticking at it, or are some people just better than others?

Basically, if I bought a piano, sat down and practiced for 8 hours a day, every day, would I eventually be as good as Mozart? Or would I reach a particular skill level and just get stuck there?

It’s a difficult question.

So what do you think? Do we all have unlimited potential, and can be good at anything if we practice enough? Or are some people’s brains just wired to be good at a particular thing, that the rest of us can never hope to become good at?


Perdita said...

I think your analysis is pretty on point. There is a natural aptitude, there is learning and there is a plateau. After you combine all of those then it is as you say the asthmatic turtle climbing up a hill. I think you can still improve but since it becomes so hard only those who truly love it (or are those crazy driven types) can continue on further. But I believe there is a final apex. Thus the phrases: quitting while ahead, going out on top, and well, performance enhancing drugs.

OzzyC said...

A little of both.

MC Etcher said...

Unlimited potential - no. Great untapped potential, yes.

Any person can learn anything (barring physical limitations) if it's communicated to them properly and they try hard enough for long enough.

Everyone's rate of progress will vary, and plateaus are inevitable - we need time to process what we already have learned, and sometimes there is a vital 'aha!' moment that we must struggle for before we can progress any further.

Perhaps changing to another instrument would help. Changing teachers. A change of perspective of one kind or another.

Natural aptitudes will exist for certain abilities. Could I ever learn to play like Mozart? No.
Could I learn to play well enough that Mozart wouldn't want to throttle me, yes.

Eventually. After a few decades.

serendipity said...

I think with work we can improve upon talents or skills but sometimes our brains just wont cooperate with certain requests.

I can happily read shakespeare and understand it. Poetry, and prose are great. I'm creative and somewhat artistic....but i'm useless at Maths or Science....and i have really tried.

Kato said...

Everyone else took all the good comments. :) I think you are right: some of our brains are just wired for aptitude in certain areas. I excel at working with computers but I could watch dance steps over and over again and still not be able to recreate them. I don't we are all necessarily doomed to fail at some tasks, but I think we certainly catch on to some of them quicker.

As for the "gifted" thing, I was a good student in school and occasionally had people tell me, "You're lucky that you just understand everything and can get straight A's." It used to piss me off, too, cause there was no luck to it--I worked my ass off to get where I am.