Natural Talent

This is something interesting that I’m going to post here even though I wrote it for somewhere else first. On the Wesnoth forums, we’re discussing the question of natural talent, specifically in the disciplines of art and music. Is it actually natural? Are they related to each other? Etc. My answer to the (rather open-ended) question is as follows:
With respect to both art and music, I fall into the same category [as Eternal] – I naturally had above-average, but not exceptional skill, but was not motivated enough to actually pursue it, and so now I fall into the category of being better at it than everyone who never took it seriously, but worse than everyone who ever did take it seriously.

For music, for example, I’m pretty sure I was better than most people; in the school orchestra I would always make 1st chair (I play(ed) cello), make all-city and all-region, etc. But I never practiced more than an hour or so a week (they tell you to practice three). When I got to 11th grade, I kept playing it, but not as often because my high school didn’t have an orchestra and I had to take private lessons, which are only once a week and didn’t motivate me to practice as much. Now, I’m in college and haven’t picked up my cello for almost a year; if I picked it up now, I could probably carry a tune on it, be mostly in tune, and maybe even be somewhat musical in my performance, but I’d be much worse than anyone my age who played an instrument regularly.

So, right now I don’t consider myself an art or a music person, even though I sort of did when I was a kid. But it’s not that I wasn’t encouraged, or was disappointed by the realization that I wasn’t really very good and had a lot to improve (I knew that fairly soon) – it was more that I realized just how much damn effort would be required to actually become good at it, and decided I’d rather become good at other things. I could have tried to be a jack-of-all-trades, and become good at mathematics, writing, music, drawing, and maybe a few other things, but I decided to focus on a few.

And, actually, it really was Wesnoth that helped choose the things I would focus on – I started writing campaigns, and found I was decent at it and people kinda liked them, at a time when I was not nearly good enough at art to do portraits (though I tried for a while – the results can probably be found around the forum – and in theory I’m still trying to improve, just slowly) and nowhere near good enough musically to contribute (obviously – musicians here are amazing). So I kept writing, got better at it, and now am in love it and am willing to put a lot of effort into getting better.

I’m also a math nerd, though that doesn’t really show up on the Wesnoth side – but that’s also really more natural talent than actual willingness to put effort into it. I’m still doing math, and plan to major in it, but I don’t yet know whether I have enough internal motivation to keep me at it when I could be writing instead.

So, basically, (like most people here) I am fairly intelligent and, when you are young, that corresponds to being naturally good at most things you attempt. Art, music, writing, mathematics, science, whatever. It’s just a question of which ones you are motivated to get good at – because you can’t be good at all of them. I don’t think it’s so much a question of giving up on one, as of embracing another and thus necessarily abandoning the others along the way.

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