Let Yourself Be Rare

American Idol is back. This most guilty of pleasures is gracing our television screens once again with a new season. With voyeuristic ferocity, the Idol fan can watch the latest incarnation of William Hung in his or her spectacular fail, while—possibly in the very same episode—also witnessing the first televised performance of the singer who will eventually win this extravaganza.

But something happened on the show the other night that made me sit up and take notice. One of the contestants received a golden ticket to Hollywood. That’s not notable, you might say, and you’d be right. But this particular young lady, whose full back story I can’t now recall, waved it in the air and said something like, “This proves that if I can do it, anyone can.”

Is that so? She’s clearly never heard me sing.

This brings to mind how easy it is for people who have talent, and who have worked hard to develop that talent, to minimize their ability. How simple it is to believe that what we can do ourselves is easily doable for others. But is it?

I can write. I’ve always been a good writer, at first for my age, later for any age. I was precocious when I was young enough to be labeled precocious: the highly peculiar child who enjoyed writing essays and enjoyed getting them back even more. Writing is pretty easy, isn’t it? If you read the books, do a little thinking, spend the time to craft some good sentences and put those together to make great paragraphs: voila! It’s not magic or even rocket science.

I can see this attitude already manifesting itself in my 13-year-old daughter. Like me, she’s good with words and consistently receives not only high marks in English, but high praise from her teacher (and from several teachers over the years). I see her shrug it off, as if being good at writing is a given. Anyone can write, right? Wrong. I know, after several-and-a-half decades, that many people cannot write a decent sentence to save their lives. Some people can cook, some can sing, draw, do math, write, grow green things, sew, knit, train an animal, shop, or program a computer. Some people do those things poorly, or can’t do them at all.

However, if a person finds success using their innate talent, they’ve likely also honed it. Practiced it until it comes easily and what they do is of high quality. When you enjoy doing something, practicing it is less of a chore and more of a joy. Athletes who eat, sleep and breathe their sport do so because of how much they love it. NHL hockey players, LPGA golfers, Olympians and other elite athletes practice their sport for the love of the game. So, too, do writers, painters, actors and singers. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

Of course, it’s best to spend time practicing a skill in which you have a hope in hell of achieving a level of proficiency. I could practice singing all day long but I’d never do better than Hung’s painful rendition of She Bangs. Plus, I’m sure I’d realize this and wouldn’t enjoy the journey. Writing’s my gig. And with every finished piece, short story or novel, journalistic article or technical manual, I know I’ve learned in the process and am improving.

If you’re good at something—math, English, sports, drawing, video gaming—don’t devalue your skill by assuming that anyone could achieve the level of skill and accomplishment that you’ve achieved. As Christopher Robin said to Pooh in A.A. Milne’s classic stories, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Let yourself be rare, or even unique, in your ability and accept the praise as it comes. We who are willing to work to achieve our goals deserve nothing less.

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