Writing Me

When I was 11, my mom made me take piano lessons. This, I discovered, was the fastest route to realizing I had no musical ability whatsoever. Not long after that, I joined a soccer team and I attempted to play with my non-existent athleticism. Somewhere in my mid teens I discovered I had some passable talent for drawing and painting, but quickly realized I was a ball of suck compared to real artists.

The one thing that I could do that set me apart was writing. I attracted the attention of multiple teachers in high school to this fact, and they encouraged me to focus on it. I even wrote a play that won me a scholarship and introduced me to my first wife. Although in retrospect that whole wife thing wasn’t as good as the scholarship.

But writing really wasn’t that much different from all the other talents I attempted to not suck at. It was hard. Even as I write this post, I’ve written and rewritten sentences in the same way a painter makes multiple brush strokes to get that happy-little-tree just right.

My wife and I talked about natural talent yesterday and it got me thinking about my writing. I may have gotten a scholarship, attention from teachers, and compliments from friends, but why do I think I suck at it?

It seems that human nature is for people to always think they are bad at what they’re good at, which is kind of a dick move on human nature’s part. Even Kanye West probably thinks he sucks from time to time, he’s just perfected the ability to not project those feelings. He’s gotten damn good at that. It does make me wonder though, when do people begin to accept that they’re good at something?

Back in college I had a friend who was by far the best comic artist I’ve ever known. His ability is what made me realize my own artistic skill was painfully lacking, and I envied the hell out of him. After twenty years, I still have an amazing drawing of Magneto being assaulted by all of the X-Men that he drew for me. I framed it. But not once did I ever hear him say he was good at it, quite the opposite actually.

In high school I was acquainted with the varsity quarterback. He was incredibly smart, ridiculously good looking, supremely kind, and immensely talented at throwing the pigskin to moving walls of meat in uniform. Yet despite all of his ability, never once did he take himself or compliments seriously. To this day he stands in my mind as an example of how amazing a person can be, yet his humility about it all was oddly infuriating.

We all seem to spend our lives trying to find something we both enjoy and are good at, and at the same time we knock ourselves for doing it. I don’t generally like to make broad generalizations like that; I personally believe the word We shouldn’t be used lightly. But when I think about it, nearly every famous person I can think of never has claimed that they were good at what it was that made them famous.

If you’ve never listened to The Nerdist I highly suggest you do. The host, Chris Hardwick, is an amazing interviewer and he’s had a staggering number of incredibly famous people on his show. One of Chris’s best abilities is to get people to let their guard down and have a regular conversation with them. It’s less like interviewing and more like eavesdropping on a couple having a first date, and that, as it turns out, is immensely interesting.

One of the most common threads in these interviews, particularly with those who are mega famous (Sir Ian McKellen and Jeff Bridges for example) is the lack of hubris. These guys won’t say they’re good at what they do, only that they enjoy it. Is it that they don’t believe they’re good at what they’re paid millions to do, or that they’re afraid what people will think of them?

Most of the people I’ve met in my life, whether it’s acquaintances, friends or family, seem to enjoy taking others down a peg. And believe me, I’m not removing myself from that group as I have been known to do it as well. We all have enough time to knock someone down a rung on a ladder while we try to climb up our own.

And that makes me wonder. If I acknowledge that I have some skill at writing, does that make me an ass? Does it make me delusional? Or does it make me confident enough to try and pursue it? Haters are always going to hate, that’s a lesson Taylor Swift taught me, so maybe I should just try to accept what I’m capable of. Maybe I should go for that novel, or try to make more regular blog posts, or even just try to enjoy the talent I have.

I’d at least be better than Kanye. Dude’s such a talentless hack.

One thought on “Writing Me

  1. There’s a difference between acknowledging your own skills and being conceited about it. So, a likely response to someone telling me “You are very good at that” is going to be “Thank you. I’ve worked very hard at it”. I’m not good at something, I worked very hard at something and succeeded. Good is an external, relative measurement. Working hard is an internal, absolute measurement. (There’s evidence now that praising children for working hard is a better motivator and predictor of success than praising them for doing well, or worse, saying they did well despite doing badly.)

    Natural talent is, at best, a lie. Passion and training defeats aptitude in every single way (as Jake says: Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something), and often the difference between being just successful and being meteorically successful boils down to luck. What people who seem talented really do is care enough to not let sucking at something stop them from trying to do better at it. That’s why those people you mention aren’t conceited: Their passion made them try, their luck gave them opportunities, and their continued practice made them succeed at those opportunities.

    And honestly, believing you’re good enough at something is telling yourself that you have nothing more to learn about it. Where’s the passion for doing something that has nothing left for you to accomplish or discover? Relatedly, how often have we been demotivated by someone telling us our hard-won accomplishment was meaningless?

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