“So What’s Your Talent?”
From the time I was very young, I knew I was born into a talented family. My great grandmother was a water-color artist and hosted an on-air radio show in the 1930’s, my great aunts were published authors, with their books on the New York Times best seller list and movies on the big screen, my grandfather sang, and played the piano with Frank Sinatra as did his sister Lola, my father wrote-still does, painted and sculpted- and I have numerous cousins who lucked out and also fell into one of these categories of talent. So, at the age of around 6, I was sarcastically asked by one of my family members, “So, what’s your talent”? I had no clue. I was 6!
I recall sitting down at my grandfather’s beautiful grand piano shortly after that query to test out my fingers and see if my talent was laying in waiting. I put my my fingers to the keys and waited for them to glide across, creating some beautiful tune or miraculously playing Beethoven’s 5th. But, alas , there was nothing. My fingers only banged a few notes and I thought to myself, oh the talent of mine is just hiding somewhere else. I’ll find it shortly.
Around 7 yrs of age, I walked into my Dad’s painting studio. My little brain still heavily pondering this question. My brother and I had been surrounded by pen and paper all of our young lives and we had been taught some techniques, to properly shade a fruit bowl on a table or bleed a sunset, but now I was on a mission. Was I a painter like he and my great grandmother? I painstakingly, with the utmost focus, got out a piece of good weighted paper and picked a nice watercolor pencil. Placing it in my left hand, (I already had a leg up because lots of artists are left-handed), I carefully placed the pencil down and willed my hand to start to take over and show me its first real masterpiece. For sure my family would be saying “Ooh and Ahh”. And…nothing. I tried again, this time, moving the pencil just a little to give my talent some momentum. And…nothing.
This was to say the least, very saddening for a 7 year old. How could this be possible? I thought talent was innate. Surely it had to be one of these two things. Ok, there is still singing left, maybe another instrument, maybe I write sonnets, who knows? I just have to persist to find this darn talent I want to own so badly.
Fast forward to 7th grade. Our school production of “Bye Bye Birdie”. I am trying out with the choir for back-up, secretly hoping I get discovered and put in one of the lead roles because my voice is that great. From age 7 to 7th grade I had still been searching for the elusive “it”, but since having fallen flat previously, I had relegated my self to simply being a kid and playing like average kids; climbing trees, swinging on monkey bars and playing tag. How dull! (Not really.)
So, back to the singing. 25 of us are all lined up on rows of the choir bleachers, we go through a couple of the songs, hitting low notes and high notes. I think all of my singing in the car to the top 40 songs on the radio with Casey Casin are paying off. Tryouts are now over. I sounded great and knew all the words! The choir teacher approaches me at the end of the class and says, “Marilyn…I think YOU would make a great stage-hand.” I was devastated. I think others were upset too when they were also asked to paint scenes and cut wood instead, but they had know idea what had been riding on this answer for me. Ugh. Disastrous news.
I’m now 19. I have been living away from home at boarding school since age 13. I have had two years in Switzerland, speaking fluent French and doing plenty of skiing. Surely that ought to count for something. I’m in my 2nd year of college in Texas. Jazz-tap class is my PE elective. I just bought my first pair of high-heeled tap shoes. $27 I spent. It was expensive as I was working a front desk hotel job at the time, making $5.02 per hour. But that $27 was worth it because I was going to be using these babies for a long while.
Kick Ball Change. Repeat. Got it! Nailed it. Cross- back, kick, got it. Nailed it. Wow. I think something is happening here. Next move. Jazz hands….right. This one too, and spin. Oh my. Is it happening? And the 4th move. Plié. Terrific! I feel on top of the world. I love this dancing thing and I adore these shoes!
“Now” says the instructor, “let’s put them all together and go”. …. Um , brain? checking in… can you hear me? Nothing is happening. Feet are not moving. Hey foot! Why are you going that way? Wah! Don’t…know…which…move…is…next. Help! Nothing computing. Ahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!
When you live in a family like mine, it is hard to find your place if you don’t have that gift. I have also talked with my younger sister about this who has the same “nope. nothing.” curse I do. You want to yell from the mountain tops, “What about me?” I am cool too! I am worthy. Somebody, look, listen, recognize me!
And then somewhere along that road of sorrow you have glued yourself to, you start to have other experiences that have nothing to do with family supposed expectations. And one day, by chance, you have an idea for a baked brownie and Kashi Foods decides to put it on the shelves in grocery stores. It’s not a published book or an album, but consumers really liked it! Or, when you weren’t even looking, you come up with this eclectic and crazy leadership program for a company of 1,000 people and…it becomes really successful! You go back to school and shock- love all your classes! You travel to places you always wanted to, with your OWN money, because you actually learned how to save some! You buy a house with land, that is your vision of heaven on earth. You plant fruits and vegetables and flowers and throw parties with twinkly lights for friends and new family. You play music as loud as you want and even though you can’t sing or dance, it’s your house. You can sing and dance whenever you want, with the windows and curtains open! You no longer care who hears or sees you. So, the next time, when you reunite with a long-lost cousin in LA for a drink in a bar she recommends, which is where she just happens to end up singing with a jazz quartet that night; really? again? - the talent thing does not bug you quite as much.
That elusive talent. It really would have been nice to have just a skosh of it. Making my life of fitting into my crazy, sharp-edged, self-focused, look at me family, a little bit easier. What my talent-seeking journey did instead, was give me crazy amounts of curiosity to turn over every rock, ask a zillion questions, make connections with so many types of people, climb mountains, jump out of airplanes, go for every job I ever wanted, and ultimately give me the ability to connect all the dots. This talent-seeking gave me this beautiful, colorful, deco-page path to walk, run, stumble and dance upon through life.
Today, I get paid to act as a Career Coach. Absurd as that calling may seem, I help people follow their passions; their dreams, their whimsies. I help them search and turn rocks over too, try things on and then try on something else. My professional career makes perfect sense now. My “non” talent has helped to encourage other to run and leap after their whatever.… What a journey for me to be here now, (Be here now, please pick up on that) and reflecting back, to that shy and sometimes lost little girl who was constantly asking, “What am I doing here?”
You, my dear sweet Marilyn were doing exactly what you were meant to be doing, all along. Please, keep on doing it. XO