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Activating Your Talent Potential

What American Idol Doesn't Know About Talent 
By Peter Weddle
Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter

Whatever the judges on American Idol may say, all Americans are created equal in terms of talent. That's right, every single one of us is a person of talent. We may celebrate the sounds of Taylor Hicks or Kelly Clarkson, but that doesn't mean they're talented and everyone else isn't.

How can that be? Because talent isn't the exceptional feats of exceptional people. Talent is the capacity for excellence, and that is an attribute common to all people.

Talent has two aspects. It is what a person loves to do — their passion — and what they do best, i.e., their area of peak performance. As American Idol proves every season, a person can be passionate about singing or dancing, but not good enough to earn a living at it. They can also be very good at their work, but hate every minute they spend on the job.

When a person is working at their talent, in contrast, they are engaged and challenged by the tasks they perform and even the obstacles they face. They are also able to excel at those tasks and thus feel proud and fulfilled by the outcomes they accomplish.

Talent, however, resides in each person as potential. It must be activated to be used. And, that activation involves three distinct steps:

  • Self-Discovery: A person must first figure out what it is they love to do and do best.
  • Self-Development: Next, they must pick an occupation where they can effectively use their talent and then acquire the knowledge and skills required to do so.
  • Self-Improvement: Finally, they must continuously practice the application of their talent so they hone their on-the-job performance to its peak.

Each of these steps is vital, but it's the first which unlocks a person's capacity for excellence. The people who never make it past the tryouts on American Idol don't lack talent, they just don't know what talent they have. Simon Cowell can tell them what their talent isn't, but only they can figure out what it is.

Sadly, many people never give their talent much thought. They spend 30 or 40 years in a career field, only to figure out at its conclusion that they've wasted their chance to excel. They bought into the silly notion of a work life balance. They thought they had to endure their work in order to enjoy the rest of their lives.

Happily, exactly the opposite is true. Each of us deserves work that is every bit as good as the rest of our lives. All we have to do to ensure that happens is take a simple test. We need only ask ourselves what kind of reward our work gives us.

We can be acknowledged as an expert at what we do, but if we have to drag themselves out of bed each day to go to work, we aren't employing our capacity to excel. Alternatively, we can earn a lot of money in our jobs, but if we never feel satisfied or fulfilled by them, then we aren't working with our talent.

Those rewards — satisfaction and fulfillment — may sound ephemeral, but their roots are deeply embedded in our culture. They are precisely the form of compensation the founding fathers had in mind when they declared that every American has a right to "the pursuit of Happiness." In this country, we are guaranteed the opportunity to have some of our best moments in the one-third of our lives we spend on the job.

So, how do we make that opportunity come true? How do we figure out just what our talent is?

Some people are lucky; they have a calling and that inner voice leads them to their talent. For the rest of us, however, the discovery occurs only if we take the initiative. And, there are only two ways to do so:

  • Serial searching: shifting from one occupation to another in an effort to find the kind of work that satisfies and fulfills us. This approach is basically a process of elimination so it can be frustrating and difficult to sustain. With perseverance, however, it can bring a person's talent into clear relief.
  • Self-exploration: investing the time and effort to dig into one's mind and heart to find that unique intersection of passion and practicality. This approach requires more candor and honesty than most of us have ever devoted to the appraisal of ourselves. If we put aside any inclination to be judgmental, however, we can find the truth.

However it's done, it's imperative that we do it. We must find our talent and put that capacity for excellence to work. The judges on American Idol can't, but we can. And, we deserve to experience the self-fulfillment that results.