Am I good? Could I be good? Do I have talent?

typewriterI’ve been struggling with feelings of inadequacy lately, so this is for all of you who are struggling with it too.

My good friend and old high school chum, Etay Zwick, is an editor of a fantastic new magazine called The Point. It’s been publishing for a couple years, and their articles run the gamut of every kind of topic. From a salient report on the barbarian-like tendencies of Wall Street, to an honest exploration of how Stendhal would view Vh1’s The Pick-Up Artist, to a first-hand encounter with popular Power-of-Now-based spirituality, their amazing writers examine anything that anyone could possibly be interested in with rigorous and well-studied observation and analysis, and if you read any article in this magazine, that odd sound you will hear is the swelling of your brain as it gobbles up all that damn fine knowledge popping into your head zone.

One of my favorite articles is by a writer named Adam M. Bright, who also happens to be an accomplished improv performer. His piece does a great job capturing the spirit of the improv scene, and though his takes place in New York, it seems like it could easily take place in almost any city with a vibrant performing community.

Among my favorite bits is when he dissects the inherent self-doubt that any improv performer is bound to face. Those pungent questions we all have to face someday:

“Am I good? Am I potentially good? Do I have a talent?”

To this Adam has no better answer than you yourself, but he describes perfectly the package they tend to come in, which is a funny, neurotic overflow of rambling questions. From the article:

This is a question the improviser asks himself regularly. It’s a question I imagine almost everyone asks themselves, at least in regards to the things they’re passionate about doing well. It is probably the defining question of a serious interest: Have I got it in me? And it leads us straight into a mess of corollary questions about the latency of talent. For example, if I really had it in me, would I even have to ask? Wouldn’t I just know? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe the not-knowing is just an initiatory hurdle-like component of my talent, on the other side of which lie my natural gifts and abilities. Or maybe everything just comes down to practice. After all, aside from military-grade savants it’s impossible to think of someone having a talent for something without having practiced it obsessively. But the fact that practice correlates with talent doesn’t do anything to help solve the agonizing question of whether there is first the innate talent which helps make the practice more fulfilling, or whether the years of practice gradually prove the innate talent. Maybe talent is simply a talent for a particular type of practice. But then what if this is the wrong practice? Maybe I’ve misunderstood my own faint impulses and my true talent is lying dormant, waiting for me to take up the harmonica or long-distance cycling. Maybe I have exceptionally efficient cardiac muscles, or perfect pitch. How would I know? How could I not know?

These are the questions that keep any struggling artist awake at night. In the early-to-middle stages of forming a craft, before success or mastery starts to trickle in (or the bitter stench of failure becomes impossible to ignore), these questions can threaten to derail you, even paralyze you, and keep you from chasing the things you really want. When that happens, that’s when you need to buckle down and remind yourself something that a good friend reminded me recently:

“Even if I fail, at least I’m gonna fail spectacularly.”

Because even failure has its price. You haven’t earned your stripes as a bona fide failure until you’ve actually tried to succeed.

You can read the whole article here. I highly recommend signing up for a subscription to The Point. They only run two issues a year, but each magazine packs enough good reading to last you until the next one.

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