Tidbit # 4: “The fallibility of innate talent”

September 25, 2021

Just the other day, I exchanged a lengthy text communication with a student who needed to write about a weakness he had overcome. He wrote me to say that he could not for the life of him think of any weaknesses. Thus far in his 17 years, he had had nothing but success in life — sports, academics, personal relationships, overall health and well-being. He didn’t say he’d been lucky or that he was thankful that he’d not yet seen the sorts of adversity the question suggested. He simply said that aside from 1 academic incident, he had nothing small or large to discuss. A bit of further reflection gave way to a very valuable lesson learned or at least, introduced by this 1 incident, and sets the stage for what will surely be a few more in the years to come. What he’d discovered was that despite his innate talents, he could, would and indeed, finally had encountered a situation in which he actually had to work, study, and even, taste the bitter draft of cluelessness. He learned that talent never carries the day, though it may open a few doors sooner or with greater ease than in the case of peers. He realized that one stands to learn much more and much better when working from a space of humility, focus and hard work.

To be fair, the fall he described to me came as a biting shock, and a high achieving, gifted learner could certainly crawl away having learned the wrong lesson: “I guess, I’m not as smart as I thought I was” or “I’m obviously not as good as I thought I was”. And for us parents, surely, these are among the words that can hurt us most — our brilliant child’s admission of defeat at the most primal level — a statement that cancels the need to even bother anymore. It is true, the lesson of the fallibility of innate talent is a difficult one, and every creatively and/or intellectually gifted individual hits this wall at some point, sometimes multiple times and over a sustained period of time. Invaluable, then, is the realization that innate talent does not mean that everything comes easy. Nor does it mean that perfection rests comfortably at one’s fingertips. It also does not promise that a seemingly insurmountable challenge will never come and sting when it does!

In fact, innate talent guarantees all of these things because with talent comes the onus of having to learn humility and the uncontrollable desire to seek out new challenges that will push the gifted individual to grapple with the great equalizer amongst all people: mindset and work ethic, neither of which has anything to do with talent. And so the question of being super quick, super smart, or super talented is ultimately the wrong question. We can never allow ourselves or our children to lose the wonder of the next challenge, of all that they do not know or yet understand (and never will), or their willingness to engage fully and without ego in the great hunt for knowledge. 

Julianna Tauschinger-Dempsey, Gifted Mother of Three Wildly Gifted Children, Educator @ Scholars Academy for the Gifted & Artistically Elite & Empowerer of Gifted Youth & Their Parents

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