Here's a cool thing: Sometimes Karla and I get to go to elementary schools and talk about what we do in front of a gymful or libraryful of kids. (Pictured above is a medium-sized group from the greater-Denver area. As an aside: Special thanks to the kid in the first row, second from the left, who is pretending that he's a narcoleptic. Our presentations aren't THAAAT bad. C'mon.)
Anyway, one of the central messages that Karla and I routinely share is how we believe that anyone can become an author or an illustrator. We tell the kids that we weren't born with talent, but rather that we developed an interest in our particular craft, which led us to practice until we were skilled to an above-average degree. Thus, the secret to becoming an author or an illustrator is not "talent"—it's only practicing the fundamentals.
The kids, naturally, love this concept. They get it. They understand that the more you practice shooting a basketball, the better you get. The more you practice your violin, the better you get. The more you practice writing, the better you get. The more you practice drawing, the better you get. The kids know that their peers who are good at something—whatever it is—are the ones that do that thing the most.
We generally drive this point home with a couple of slides. Karla's slide is a writing sample of hers from first grade. I've heard it a billion times and it goes something like this: A dead end is, well, let's say Sam was walking down a road and the road came to a stop. Well, that is a dead end.
All the kids agree that even the most basic first grader could write such a sentence.
My slide is a drawing from my first sketchbook, which I was given as a 10-year-old. This is an example from said sketchbook:
All the kids agree that even the most basic fourth grader could create such a situation (wow, that's a lot of sparkles... or whatever).
Oddly, the only people that have a hard time grappling with the concept that Karla and I weren't born with some sort of talent-pre-approval from god are adults. Not every adult. Just certain ones.
These adults tend to be the kind that have dreams of becoming a ____________ (fill in the blank), but haven't realized their dream for one reason or another. They're the ones that use the "talent" myth as a way to explain away their own lack of dream-realization. I've heard these adults—in schools, yes, but more often at festivals and craft fairs—explain to kids that not just anyone can achieve these type of dreams... that it's only those who are born with "talent" who can reach their goals. They identify themselves by saying things to us like, "I always wanted to do a children's book, but I don't have talent like you do." Have you ever heard yourself say something like this?
If so, to you I say, "Shenanigans!"
The so-called "talent" thing is an excuse that only grown-ups lean on to make them feel better about not accomplishing what they want to accomplish. In my experience, kids don't learn the concept of talent until they've given up on something. They (and I) still believe that any regular person can reach a goal if they put in the effort necessary to become proficient at their craft. Malcolm Gladwell puts that effort at approximately 10,000 hours. You may have your own benchmark.
But the point is, when anyone comes into a field cold and expects to succeed, they're setting themselves up to take a backseat to those who have logged more experience at the same game. Doesn't matter what discipline. This kind of adult perceives their lot as "failure on account of no talent." And then they fill kids' heads with nonsense like, "you either got it or you don't." And then kids don't try. (Isn't anyone making kids watch Sesame Street anymore?!)
I guess what I believe is that everyone is given a different aptitude—a head start, if you will—but every aptitude can be made or broken by a willingness to try, practice and persevere. And, aptitude or no aptitude, real skills are made from practicing your craft—there are no shortcuts and no free passes. Not for kids, but also not for adults.
And we adults should hold ourselves to the same standards that we instill in kids: practice makes perfect.
No blog post of mine would be complete without a youtube video to illustrate my point, so I present a vid that always brings a tear to my eye (even after 4 years). By no means do I intend to appropriate Danny MacAskill's awesomeness to prove a point, but I'd be willing to bet that Danny wasn't born with the incredible bikey skills he demonstrates herein. I bet he had to learn to ride that bike just like all of us. Then, I'd wager, he logged a lot more practice hours than just about anyone on earth. I like this video because the beginning shows Danny's process of trying a new stunt. He fails a number of times, but he never throws down the "no-talent" card like most of us are eager to do.
So, while it's convenient, let's all stop using that tired "no-talent" excuse, if only because it encourages the kids to give up before they've really tried.
Then, reflect on your own dreams and figure out what's keeping you from getting there. Always wanted to pen a novel? Join a writers' group and invite them to pick apart your oeuvre. Always wanted to "make it" as an artist? Put together a portfolio and make sure your audience can see it. Whatever you want to do, research how to be successful at it, practice and experiment. Practice, then trust that the talent will follow.
5/2/13 - 3 hrs
Welcome to the accountability area of my life, where I will be posting process sketches and other important stuff I let myself avoid when I'm "busy."