I’ve had this tattoo idea floating around in my head for a long time: I want to get the words “It Takes” tattooed across one wrist and “Work” tattooed across the other. I got the idea in 11th grade, after realizing how scared I am of trying to do new things. I’ve always been plagued by this idea that anything worth doing, I’d already be good at. If I wanted to act, I’d be endowed with natural talent. If I wanted to draw, I should have been able to create my own comics by the age of eight. If I wanted to dance, then I’d just be able to watch a dance video and pick up the steps almost immediately. The one thing I was good at naturally was writing, and so that’s what I did.
In the past couple of years, I feel like the universe has been throwing me a lot of lessons in this regard. I took this really amazing writing class last semester where a lot of the readings every week basically said that anything in life worth doing takes practice. I realized it was true pretty quickly. I’d stopped writing for a period of time before taking that class, because nothing I was producing was making me happy immediately and I had gotten frustrated. But while I was in this class I saw my writing improve greatly over the semester. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been practicing. Nothing I wrote ever made me happy before I turned it in, but the point of the class wasn’t to produce perfect work, it was to produce work that I could reasonably improve.
My most recent lesson though, probably came in the form of a show I was in over the past weekend. I used to love acting; it was my favorite thing in the world to do. But when I was 15, I decided that I wasn’t good enough at it to continue doing it. I wanted to be someone who could just read a text and interpret it flawlessly. I read pieces without thinking about the character I was supposed to portray or the wider story I was contributing to. I thought all I had to do was memorize a Shakespeare soliloquy and natural talent would take care of the rest. That was not the case. I was rarely happy with my performances. I was good at memorizing and reciting things, but not at putting emotion behind them. I always felt aloof from my acting, and because of that I knew I wasn’t doing a good job. So I started to sabotage myself instead. Every time I had to act in anything. I would do poorly just because I didn’t want any one to see how hard I was trying to act well, and decide that I wasn’t doing it well enough (if that makes sense).
But this year I was involved in a production where I decided I was going to try, natural talent be damned. I did research into my character, I consider the wider story she was a part of, and I did work trying to build her relationship to other characters. I created a back story for her, imagining what her life was like before she came into the world of the play. When it was time for me to actually act, I felt prepared, and most importantly connected. I was happy with my performance, even though I’d been incredibly nervous to go on stage. I did the work and I got the desired outcome.
I got a little good news about something I’d applied for a couple of weeks back and my director told me to own my success. She said I’d gotten as far as I had, not just because I was special, but because I had put in the work necessary.
I’ve realized that I can’t afford to just do things because I have a “natural talent” for them. I would never do anything if I lived my life that way. I have to try to do things even if I don’t. Natural talent is overrated. Anything worth doing takes work.