Category: Featured

It’s not talent, it’s just work.

"It's not talent, it's just work" Annie Dillard, on work and talent

People often ask me if I discipline myself to write, if I work a certain number of hours a day on a schedule. They ask this question with envy in their voices and awe on their faces and a sense of alienation all over them, as if they were addressing an armored tank or a talking giraffe or Niagara Falls. We want to believe that other people are natural wonders; it gets us off the hook…People can lift cars when they want to. People can recite the Koran too, and run in marathons. These things aren’t ways of life; they are merely possibilities for everyone on certain occasions of life. You don’t lift cars around the clock or write books every year. But when you do, it’s not so hard. It’s not superhuman. It’s very human. You do it for love. You do it for love and respect for your own life; you do it for love and respect for the world; and you do it for love and respect for the task itself.

Annie Dillard, It’s Not Talent; It’s Just Work, Seventeen Magazine, 1979

Crafting a life worth respecting is hard work. There is not some kind of natural aptitude that blesses the worthy and talent isn’t gifted equally to everyone. What is it that sets apart the people we hold up as examples of brilliance, goodness, or grace? They are not somehow better or more than us, they just did the hard work. Maybe it makes us feel better to think our heroes and inspirations are supernaturally gifted so we can assure ourselves we are somehow less. Thinking we aren’t capable makes us easy targets for all the predators who want to sell us a shortcut, as if their product will magically erase years of effort and experience.

Every one of us has the capacity for greatness.  It does not take talent, an expensive class or degree, to be born under a lucky star, or anything at all but our own willingness to make something of our lives from the raw material we are given.

Do you ever confuse hard work for talent? 

Start Over Again

Start Over Again

People whose lives have been shaped
by history—and it is always tragic—
do not want to talk about it,
would rather dance, give parties
on thrift-shop china. You feel
wonderful in their homes,
two leaky rooms, nests
they stowed inside their hearts
on the road into exile.
They know how to fix potato peelings
and apple cores so you smack your lips.
The words start over again
hold no terror for them.
Obediently they rise
and go with only a rucksack
or tote bag. If they weep,
it’s when you’re not looking.
To tame their nightmares, they choose
the most dazzling occupations,
swallow the flames in the sunset sky,
jump through burning hoops
in their elegant tiger suits.
Cover your eyes: there’s one
walking on a thread
thirty feet above us—
shivering points of light
leap across her body,
and she works without a net.

Lisel Mueller, “Virtuosi” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. 

Every day comes complete with 86400 seconds, each one a tiny opportunity to remake ourselves. We can start over again at any time, take the mismatched threads of our lives and weave them into something new. Survivors learn the hard way how everything can be lost in an instant. Jump at every opportunity to live a good life, savour it down to the last scrap.  Why wait?