I don’t want to talk about talent. I want to talk about skill. Skill is different than talent because talent is like crude oil. The resource is there. It’s deep in the ground (or deep inside you, to continue the analogy), but the drilling of it—the refining of it—that is where the knowledge, the craft, the skill comes from. Just being a “talented” person isn’t enough. A talent is considered something you are born with. (Or call it “aptitude.”) But if you just leave it in the ground, if you refuse to drill it, to refine it—it just sits there, unused. I feel like I was born with a modest amount of talent.


My interest in writing, my passion for it, found me early. I come from a long line of memory-keepers, journalers, amateur geneaologists. So, I suppose it isn’t surprising that writing is the thing I love the most. But my skill… I feel I have a great amount of skill. I can turn a phrase, rock the grammar, and turn out pages of type that is compelling. But my belief in my skill, my trust in my refined talent, is limited. It’s like having a large reservoir of oil beneath the ocean—so far beneath that no equipment could ever sink down low enough to mine it. And I’m afraid that this failure to believe in my ability to succeed has made me an unpleasant person.


I wonder often how people with less skill, who have worked less at honing the craft than I have, who misspell frequently and avoid grammar entirely , can be so successful as writers, while I, full of self-doubt and angst about my skill, despite the number of man hours and the amount of money spent for the credentials and study, essentially fail all the time.


I have become close friends with failure. Failure greets me every morning when I wake up. It’s my constant conversant in dinner conversations. It showers with me, sleeps with me, works out with me. It’s the critic in the back of the room while I teach students about grammar and the importance of its everyday applications. It’s with me at the law firm, when I’m translating the honest answers to discovery questions into passive voice designed to lessen the impact of a client’s culpability. It’s with me when I meet people who worked at the job I was considered “unfit” to do. Every day, failure and I play a little game where I try to tell her my successes, and she lessens them into dog shit on the bottom of my shoe.


The problem with skill is that it opens the way for doubt. And the problem with doubt is that it’s the byproduct and evidence of failure. There is always something else to learn, some aspect of writing to refine. If the poem is great, its performance is likely to be sub par. If the plot is fantastic, the dialog needs work. There is always some skill to hone; there is always some voice to disrupt the confidence gained from mastering aspects of the craft.


So, while others are succeeding because their belief in their skills outweighs their actual skills, here I sit, glass full of skills and with nothing to show for it. I wish I could step outside myself, discover my brand, become “accessible.” But, I fear that my version of accessibility will never be suitable. I talk too much. I tell corny jokes. I love puns. I use big words. Not because I’m trying to confuse, but because that’s how I talk. I don’t realize that I sound inaccessible.I don’t realize that the way I am isolates people.

My belief in being the best you can be makes anyone who might show me their work feel like I’m going to rip their self-esteem apart and tell them they have no talent. I won’t. Because this isn’t a question of talent. Everyone has talent. Maybe it’s unrealized, but it’s there. This is a question of skill. I might say that something could be more skillful, but I’ll show you how you can make it so, if I know. I don’t always. I have some benefit of experience. I don’t have ALL the experience. And I am surprised by the massive amounts of failure I face every day. I want people to write. It’s an amazing activity that we have been using for centuries to share our feelings, to make sense of our lives and our environment. But personally, I do want to be rewarded for my skill, and for the time I’ve put into crafting writing. I don’t want to play the trumpet. I don’t want to advertise on a bullhorn. Unfortunately, before I can get to the point of reward, I have to silence my nemesis: myself. My doubt-ridden self. I have to make friends with failure, to dismantle doubt, and to say, even if it’s only for a minute, that where I am right now, what I’m doing right this minute, is enough. That even if no one ever notices how skillful it is, the writing and the expression is beautiful and worth doing. Undoubtedly.




~ by ImaginaryCanary on April 27, 2014.

2 Responses to “Doubt”

  1. I think that there are those of us that are stuck in our heads. I’m sometimes jealous of people that act a certain way or say certain things without regard, but I can’t imagine ever acting that way myself. I was reminded of that when you talked about people whose “belief in their skills outweighs their actual skills.” I suppose it’s about confidence more than anything. Even if you’re doing the wrong thing, if you do it confidently, then fewer people will question you.

    I think confidence can be faked, though. Not caring can be viewed as confidence. Do it for you, and let that be enough. Putting yourself out there regardless of whether anyone else is even noticing is tough, but if you’re doing it simply because you want to, then the doing becomes your satisfaction. Whether anyone else notices is just bonus.

    One last thought: I think that fun/enjoyment is an important part of what you do. Don’t let your passion become a chore. If it is, then it may be time to step back and reevaluate.

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