For many reasons I grew up with a great deal of anxiety about myself, my competence, and my self-worth. To say that I was very insecure would be an understatement. I always had many interests and wanted very much to do interesting things. But I was always haunted by a enormous anxiety, like a great dark shadow looming over me: what if I don’t have the talent to do the things I really want to do? It took me a long, long time to eventually realize that this obsession with talent, and maybe the whole concept of talent itself, is bullshit. In fact our whole culture seems to nurture and promulgate this myth of “talent,” i.e. this widespread notion that there are some people who are just born to be good at doing stuff and the rest of us, the ordinary ones, are simply not. Perhaps this cultural myth of talent is a collective expression of anxiety about our own competence and self-worth, i.e. an expression of our basic aloneness within this neurotic culture of ours that emphasizes competition and worships celebrity, as in “You are not good enough to share what you have with the rest of us, so don’t even try.” But if you look closely at the lives of those people who are touted as being very talented, you will almost always see that they worked extremely hard to acquire the skills and knowledge that they have. There is no “talent” about it. You just have to do the work.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-40s that I started to shake off the destructive and inhibiting influence of the “talent” bogeyman. It has taken me a few years since then to really free myself from it. If I have anything to teach the young it would be: there is no such thing as talent. What there is, is this: you either do it or you don’t do it. That’s what it’s all about. Do it or don’t.

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