This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.
A few years ago*, I wrote about what I termed “The Tyranny of Talent.” A good (re)-read, and it still rings true for me. Perhaps even more so now, in that I think it dovetails nicely into my more recently created “Olympic Distinction,” specifically in the area of the arts, hobbies, or other areas of self-expression. Even more specifically, in the ways that we shut ourselves down from playing in those fields of self-expression.
Briefly, the Tyranny of Talent (ToT) noted that our wonton use of the word talent is problematic on two fronts, the second of which is of import here: that because talent has the association with innate ability or aptitude, when we see someone performing something with great skill we all too easy can fall into the pitfall of “I wasn’t born with it like you were, so I’ll never get there.”
The thing is, where is “there?” Is there an Olympic level of performance? If so… why do we need to be in the Olympics? Or on stage performing to millions of people? Or in a prestigious gallery? Or in a stadium chasing down a championship? Or a bestseller?
It’s a double whammy we give ourselves. “I wasn’t gifted with talent, so I’ll never be all that good,” and “I’ve got to be good, because this example here is what people expect/is right/is what it takes to look good/is the only endgame.”
Self-expression is self-expression. It’s not about making a living (or just making money), it’s not about fame, it’s not about accolades**, it’s not about winning that prize. It might be about putting something out into the world that you want heard, but it also might not. At its core, self-expression means something that arises from your authentic self and manifests into the world in a way that lights you up. It is a way of being and acting that calls to you and you put forth into the world. An audience may be nice, but it isn’t always necessary. Dancing alone in your apartment could totally be a self-expression.
I do get there is a dilemma if the self-expression does include sharing with or involve others, especially in this day of the internet. For that is the most readily available and easy place to share, and many have gotten so used to sharing what they had for lunch that it’s automatic to post that which we want to self-express. And certain folk on the internet are not always kind to beginners, to non-Olympians. And it readily bleeds into daily life too. Take up soccer late in life with little experience, and depending who you play with you may not be treated all that well. ***
Insults, harshness, recriminations, they all can all to easily push us back into the dual contexts of “I’m not talented (and I never will)”**** and “You gotta be an Olympian to do this “right” and/or to show your face” leading to the very logical “Since I’m not talented, I’ll never be an Olympian, and so should never show my face/work.”
There is mindfulness to cultivate here. To remind ourselves that our self-expression is for us. We paint because we enjoy painting, we practice kung fu because we enjoy practicing kung fu, we jam out beat poetry and elsewhere because we enjoy jamming.
There doesn’t have to be an end game beyond that. We can share our work within a small circle, we can practice and play only with those who share our unhindered fun, we can send work out into the world anonymously, we can dance in the dark. We can practice, play, grow, learn, learn some more, and just enjoy the pure joy of the activity.
Does it make us feel alive and fulfilled?
If so, then we’re doing it right.
** And boy, is the number of likes or accolades or comments ever seductive in its own right. This too is a whole other inquiry, how we’ve collapsed likes/accolades with “I am loved and worthy of love and belonging.”
*** Why people are this nasty is a whole other interesting inquiry in of itself. For here, though, it’s quite interesting to consider that the same tyranny and Olympic ennui can manifest itself as harshness to assuage the pain of repressing one’s self-expression…
**** More rightfully put as “I misunderstand how skill and aptitude is developed, and I fear it is magically assigned at birth and I got skipped over so I’m screwed.” ******
****** That’s not to say it will be quick or easy to develop the skill, of course. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and there tends to be a lot more to do in a day now…