Having Talent is No Excuse

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The worlds of food and classical music don’t always intersect- beyond the artistry and passion of their respective devotees, that is. When my wife (a piano teacher) and I discuss our work with each other, one of us is usually on “home turf.” I’m a professional baker and she loves to cook, or she’s expounding on an obscure piece of music and I know a couple big names. That’s marriage for you, though- we don’t “complete” each other, but we do find ways to be complete together.

In that sense, we often discuss ideas like discipline, teaching methods, leadership (in the context of our workplaces,) and the artistic aspects of what we’ve built our lives around.

And one thing that we agree on wholeheartedly is that talent doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Photo by OVAN on Pexels.com

“How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?”

Emily in particular hates the concept of “prodigies” or “wunderkind” in her field. The concept overshadows the very real, very hard work involved in developing their craft that any artist should do. Must do. The idea that someone was “born gifted” not only cheapens that effort for them, but impedes others from pursuing their dreams.

“I’m just not gifted/talented like that.”
”Even if I tried I could never get that good.”

To quote my wife, “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, or ‘I wish I’d stuck with music as a kid,’ I’d never need to teach again. The second one especially, because they moment they say it, it’s true- just without the trying.”

Picture of Stephen King with the quote, "Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."
Arguably one of the best novelists in the world.
INarguably one of the most prolific.

Having some biological component that makes certain tasks easier does exist. Just ask your shorter friends how much they appreciate taller folks being around, or- to bring it back to music- how the length of your fingerspan does make it easier or harder to play certain pieces of music. Case in point:

Even so, if that talent is not practiced, refined, and developed, it is wasted- and you don’t do yourself any favors by thinking otherwise.

Pride Goeth Before A Fall

In the kitchen, you deal with a lot of big egos.

Some cooks who feel the need to quote their CV actually have some kind of experience or chops to back it up, but historically the best and most talented cooks I know tend to stay humble. They know there’s always more to learn.

It’s the ones that don’t have quite the skills they say they do that tend to run their mouths the most and cause the most trouble.

Some time ago, I had the (mis)fortune of working with one such baker. She had been hired above me, and as her assistant I figured it was on me to explain and demonstrate some of our standard recipes. She’d be responsible for coming up with her own menu, but we had a few staples that would keep being offered regardless- mostly our gluten-free and vegan items.

The first addition to her new menu was, apparently, the chip on her shoulder. On attempting to show how we made our GF chocolate cake:
“Excuse me, but I don’t need to know how to make that recipe. I’ve been baking for a while, you know. I made it elsewhere…”

On asking her if she had a timer for some cupcakes she had in the oven:
“Only amateurs need to use a timer for the oven. I just trust my gut- it’s never wrong.”

“Matt, once you have some more experience, you’ll be way more confident.”

These statements were, eventually, followed by:

”Matt, what’s wrong with this recipe? It’s not coming together right.”

”Dang! I got distracted and forgot!”

[Nothing but frustrated silence after I stepped in to fix her mistakes.]

Even if you know how to make a certain dish, or play a certain piece of music, everyone does things differently. When you join a kitchen or ensemble, it’s on you to learn how they do things– or else you’ll be working and playing by yourself most of the time. In the culinary world, that’s a risky business. According to my wife, “Yeah, good luck getting paid as a soloist right now…”

It’s great to have confidence in yourself and your abilities, but if you never experiment, practice, or refine them, instead of getting better you’ll stagnate– and likely be surpassed by someone who doesn’t have your talent, but put the work in to develop and improve themselves.

A quote by Glenn Seaborg reading "All my life I've been surrounded by people who are smarter than I am, but I found I could always keep up by working hard."
And that’s coming from a physicist.

Summing Up

Years ago, I got my first tattoo. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll summarize by saying that it’s a Bible quote that reminds me that talents are gifts from the divine. They are bestowed on us- but just having talent isn’t the be-all and end-all.

If you want to be a better pianist, you need to practice and accept the fact that it’ll take time.

If you want to be a great writer, you need to write a lot of material and accept that a good chunk of your work will suck. (In fact, I just got called out that there were typos and grammar errors in this post. Thanks Dad!)

If you want to be a great chef, you need to keep your skills up and be ready to learn more.

In short,
STOP READING THIS AND GO PRACTICE.

Stay Classy,

The BHB's Top Hat Logo Signature

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