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How to discover your talents—especially if you think you don’t have any

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Hanna Kowalska - published on 06/17/21

Everyone is good at something, and there's joy in developing these skills and learning new ones.

If you were to list the talents that people might have, you could say plenty of things: singing, painting, sports, playing musical instruments, culinary skills, sculpture, writing, and a variety of other human activities, most of which translate into a tangible result or display of delightful skills.

It’s a pretty long list, but a finite one. What if I told you that twice as many talents, or even more, can be found in a second “unofficial” list? 

Of course, there is no official list of talents, but I’d like you to think about whether you’re missing something if you have a hard time identifying an ability in yourself.

Even though I don’t know you, I know you have talents! More than one. How do you discover them? Here are four things that can help.

1Change your perspective

If nothing on the “official list” describes you, throw it in the trash. Forget it exists. Think instead about what you love to do most. It’s that easy. It might be baking cookies or having long phone conversations.    

I’d say that if you like it, and it comes easy to you, then … well … you have a talent for it! And while it may not seem as if talking to friends on the phone is a super talent at all, it actually is, even if it’s unconventional to say so. A good conversationalist is a good speaker and storyteller, and is also a good listener—thus, probably also a good counselor.

The starting point should always be to look at your own favorite activities, unique to each and every one of us.

2Try new things

Never assume you’re not good at something until you actually try it—even if it’s similar to an activity you’ve tried and don’t think you’re good at. Maybe the similarities between the activities aren’t as great as you thought.

There might be differences between the activities that you, as an observer, can’t see at first. Those differences might turn out to be what that makes you perform poorly at the old activity and great at this new one. Either way, trying new activities is a fascinating adventure in itself.  

3Try old things again

We’re constantly changing throughout our lives. No one can say for sure that if you were the worst at playing an instrument when you were 10, you still won’t be able to do it when you’re 25. What’s more, unlike when you were a kid, you may find it fun and highly engaging this time around.

It’s also worth remembering why we didn’t like certain activities in our childhood. Maybe it wasn’t that we had poor coordination or no ear for music, but that people who were important to us told us (or implied) we weren’t good at it.

I have my own example in the area of physical education classes.

Throughout elementary and high school I lived with the deep conviction that I was absolutely incapable of playing sports. Because of my petite physique, I was always ostracized by my peers when volleyball or basketball teams were selected, and the teacher didn’t intervene.

None of these people did anything on purpose to make me uncomfortable or dissuade me from playing sports, but that’s how it worked for a not-so-confident girl.

It was only during my college studies that I rediscovered sports. I fell in love with them, and they reciprocated! My small body turned out to be an advantage in many sports, and when I tried one thing and another, it turned out that this inconspicuous body hid great muscular strength, agility, and flexibility.

Since then I enjoy dancing, slacklining, windsurfing, and at one time also Brazilian jiu-jitsu. If it weren’t for my second attempt at physical activities, I would’ve missed so many wonderful things! 

4Get a good teacher

Trying old things again on our own won’t always be a success. Sometimes someone has to guide us down the right path. If you’ve made some efforts at music in the past and really used to dream of singing, but gave it up because you turned out not to have a good ear, I encourage you to try again, this time with the help of a good teacher.

In most cases, it turns out that after putting in the right amount of work, under the supervision of a true singing expert, the out-of-tune notes become more and more similar to the correct ones. You can end up singing as well as people with innate musical talent!

What about things we’re demonstrably bad at?

What should we do when we realize we have a complete lack of talent for something? We usually give up on these things forever, never intending to touch them again. In the meantime, they can be a real gold mine! They’re a great tool for self-development, and even relaxation.

Just think: If you know you’re not good at something, then you can do it without any expectations to live up to. What does this mean? First of all, it teaches you to give up the bane of our time: perfectionism. We’ve all trained ourselves to expect the best results from ourselves, to perform every task to perfection.

Have you already learned not to expect perfection from yourself? Give it a try—it’s hard! But when you do, you’ll reach an incredible state of relaxation.

For example, a while back I tried painting. It’s a field in which I have absolutely zero talent. When I dance, I try to make beautiful or satisfying movements; when I sing, it has to sound great. When I paint, on the other hand, I don’t expect it to come out 100% right. I can breathe easy, and so when I get an unexpectedly good result, it’s incredibly liberating and relaxing.

Certainly, your hobby will relax you and developing your talents will give you wings (and I highly recommend you do that!). But it’s worth seeking out the other kind of relaxation I mentioned above from time to time. It’s a really interesting experience.

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