‘Every calling is great when greatly pursued.’ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Creating legacy and finding your calling
Creating legacy presents a huge dilemma: in what area should you do it? Especially if you are multi-skilled, and have several interests, it often feels like you’re in trouble. How do you choose?
Following the talent
Some people say that you should try to see where your natural abilities lie: are you particularly good with colours? Or do you have a good musical ear? Do you have a way with words? etc. In other words: where is your talent?
I’ve been giving this view a great deal of thought, and I’ve come to find several problems with it.
The first problem is that some of us have talents in more than one area. Indeed, we could even argue that natural ability is not a matter of dichotomy (do you have a good musical ear? yes or no), but rather a matter of degree. So in a sense, we all have some degree of natural ability in most fields.
Okay, the next logical step would then be to ask – in which field do you feel you are most talented? But this is problematic too, because you may feel equally talented in two different fields.
And of course, an obvious question: what is talent? How do we measure it? Is someone talented at something because they find it easy? Or do we judge talent on the quality rather than the quantity of their performance?
Overall, the whole question of talent I feel is a red herring. For example, decades of research on top-level performers in a wide range of fields (aptly summarised in Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin) suggests that talent has a very small role to play, if any, in these performers’ success. A much better predictor of their success is the extent to which they engaged in deliberate practice activities in their fields, i.e. activities that were specially designed to improve their performance in key areas of the tasks they had to perform.
Okay, so where does this leave us in terms of finding the most appropriate area for us, in which to create legacy?
Following your calling
The solution I’d like to propose is that you stop thinking about what comes easiest to you, what you’re best at etc. for a moment, and consider what you are really passionate about. What makes your heart sing? What kind of stuff do you like doing in your spare time, once all your obligations are taken care of?
Of course, if it’s something like eating pizza or sleeping, you may have to spend some effort turning that into something you can create legacy in. But if it’s things like painting, writing poetry etc. – bingo! You may have found it.
You may find that there are several things you are passionate about; but chances are one of those things feels more ‘right’ than any of the others.
It may not necessarily be the thing that comes easiest to you, or the thing you feel your biggest talents lie. For example, prize-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo tells in every single interview how difficult writing is for her, and how she postponed writing for ten years precisely because of how difficult it felt. But as she goes on to say, just because something doesn’t come easy to you doesn’t mean it isn’t what you were put on this earth to do, if this is the thing that feels ‘right’ in your bones.
I hope this helps. Do you have other ideas about how to identify the most appropriate area for creating legacy?
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