I’m admittedly a Ken Robinson fangirl. I love his TED Talk on Why Schools Kill Creativity and I have read a number of his books. I’m reading one for my comps this summer and while I pretty much eat it up, there is one thing I am running into again and again in his discussions: the idea you are born with “natural talents.”
While I agree that all humans have the potential to be highly creative and innovative, I don’t quite buy the natural talent discussion. I’d prefer we talk more about innate proclivities toward certain things, like math, music, writing, or dance. We just have an interest in these things. For example, I have always been interested and enjoyed reading, and so writing came as an early interest to me. But writing and reading were not natural talents I had. I just worked at it more because I was interested in those things. I don’t think they were natural talents, just things I was drawn toward. I could have been awful at it, and maybe I was for a while, but i continued to work at it. And sometimes, I still think I am awful at it. I know I am a decent creative writer when it comes to poetry and creative nonfiction. In fact, I don’t have to work as hard at that as others do, but mostly because I spent most of my high school years in my room writing stories, poems, and plays instead of going out and doing whatever my peers did. But when it comes to writing in that academic tone, I have to work much harder, mainly because I didn’t stay up half the night writing in that way, and that is something I have been working on in graduate school.
But we may have interests that lead us toward failures, too. For example, I like Baseball. I enjoy watching or listening to a baseball game, regardless of how well I may like the team or how much I know about the team. Even though I enjoy baseball, I am not meant to play it. At all. Granted, if I had worked at it more, maybe I would have gotten better at it, and that may be the truth. But there were other things hindering it, such as when I was young I was scared of the ball (quite literally) and have no real physical strength to hit the ball very far. If I had worked on building my strength up, and realized the ball was not really that threatening, maybe things would have turned out different. As a child, I also didn’t like the constant socialization that seemed to come with playing sports. It seemed like every day there would be a game or a practice or some such thing. I just really wanted to be left alone. I guess, if there is anything “natural” about any of this, it was that I was an introvert and possibly slightly afraid of any object out of my control, such as that baseball. And really, I just didn’t enjoy being in the game, but I enjoyed watching the game. Two very different things.
So, each time I read about “natural talents” I wonder if people really mean it that way, or if they are just trying to articulate what I did above. But I think people read it to mean it is something we are innately good at, as if we were “born” to do that thing. But I don’t think we are. It is a combination of interest, environment, experience, and ability to work at it, so we need to stop talking about “natural talents” because they really don’t exist.