What Does it Mean to Be Gifted?


With the return of “American Idol,” I’ve been hearing that tired cliché about people being born to be a star, possessing a God-given talent causing their parents to notice something in their child, apparently the second they are born, that they are different, gifted.

There are videos of these starry-eyed contestants at 2 or 3 singing along to animated musicals or Frank Sinatra to prove their point. The gushy judges say things like “You were born to sing, man!” (Steven Tyler) or “You sounded like an angel just then,” (Jennifer Lopez) and it must be rather heady for these kids to hear these compliments from their American idols.

The elimination rounds are somewhat heartbreaking. You literally can see the dreams of these castoffs crumbling at their feet. “I was MEANT to be a star,” some say, “I was BORN to be a singer.” I respect them for putting themselves out there, and hope that such a very public blow won’t shatter their determination.

Do we all secretly feel that we were born with a gift? Do we all want to be stars? Why do some make it and some don’t? If we don’t have people telling us we’re gifted at something, how do we know if we are?

I have a friend who is the textbook definition of self-actualization. She lives her full potential every day. One day she decided she wanted to be a window dresser, found an internship and within less than a year was dressing windows for Barney’s. Soon after, she discovered her great skill at jewelry making, got a website up, and has sold many a ring. At the same time she tried her hand at different art mediums and recently had a piece chosen as a part of a very cool group exhibit. She made loads of money making these unbelievable spicy nuts out of her kitchen, getting them into the hands of the right connected people. She married her best friend, has two great kids, and is in awesome shape. Best of all, she is incredibly humble and funny as hell.

I’ve had some really smart friends yelling at me lately for not promoting my writing. They tell me I could be rich, famous. I counter by reminding them that there are zillions of people who want to be famous writers and who think they can be. I tell them I’m a dime a dozen in a very crowded field of friends yelling at their friends for not doing something with their talents. I read some other blogs and think that I am nowhere near their level of humor and intelligence. Do I think I have a gift? Do I want to be a star? Is this what I was born to do?

Quite frankly, I don’t want to be a star. It would be fantastic to have a writer that I have tremendous respect for think my writing is different, that my voice is unique, and that I’m funny in all the right places. I wouldn’t turn down a back cover quote from, let’s say…Augusten Burroughs or turn down an interview on NPR. That’s where my dream takes me, but then I think of the writer’s equivalent of an actor’s cattle call and I get slightly embarrassed for myself.

Yes, I’ve certainly got a story to tell, as we all do, and I really hope that it will eventually reach a wider audience than just the 100 or so people who have subscribed to my blog. It would be so fantastic to be a self-actualized person, to live my potential and see where it takes me. (I actually just smiled, ear-to-ear, when I typed that sentence which I guess is a really good sign.) Maybe in the process I’ll stumble upon a different gift, like, having an amazing fastball or eating more hotdogs in a shorter amount of time than that guy who does that every year. OR, maybe instead, I should just focus on what may be more a talent, than a gift and make my friends stop yelling at me.

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1 Comment

  1. Dan

    Toby Wolff said he knew he was a writer when he realized he'd "painted himself into a corner" and could think of nothing else he could do with his life. Of course, that realization came after a tremendous amount of hard work. The reason your friend was so successful in all her endeavors was, I'm certain, because of how hard she worked at each of them. Same with your American Idol contestants. Maybe some people are born with more talent than others, but it's the commitment to sit down and DO the thing that makes for greatness in the end.

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