I remember being about 12 years old and sitting at a desk with my father who was trying (and failing) to help me with my maths homework. This was no isolated event: almost every day, I’d wait for him to come back from work and plonk myself down next to him, desperately trying to grasp what he made look so effortlessly simple. I would understand what he was saying for all of five minutes, but when I’d try to do the same thing by myself I would literally feel like there was a thick, high wall between myself and the answer.
To say it wasn’t my strong suit is putting it extremely mildly. I was passionate about the certainty of numbers and how absolute they were, but sadly, they weren’t as sure of me. Suffice to say, when it came to choosing what subjects I would continue studying, it didn’t even cross my mind to go down the maths route. Despite the fact that I had a lot of help and support and my grades were always okay, it was unthinkable of me to choose something I was so obviously lacklustre in. I wish that others would follow suit.
Last week I put up a Facebook status about talent and passion not being the same thing, and while the response was overwhelming, it was not altogether positive. Many people didn’t understand what I was trying to say and others just went on a complete tangent. I want to start by saying that talent is talent and can be seen from a mile away. You don’t have to have a diploma in photography to be an amazing photographer; in fact, many people who do have one aren’t. The point I was trying to make was that in Malta we simply don’t have the right mentality when it comes to being told that while our stuff is okay, it’s about as far from being genius as I am from being Angelina Jolie.
We have hundreds of people whose mothers are telling them they could be the next Celine Dion
Of course, there is always room for growth and learning, however, even that can only take you so far. There has to be raw talent or actual potential to begin with, something which is sorely lacking in many people who seem to think otherwise. If you’re born with a beautiful voice, that voice can be made to be even better, but if you’re tone deaf then quite frankly all the lessons in the world are not going to save you. The problem is that very few people in very many industries, and particularly the creative sector, come out and say this clearly, which means we have hundreds of people whose mothers are telling them they could be the next Celine Dion.
Self-belief and self-confidence do not come from being told that you can be the best at absolutely anything but from being able to self-evaluate and realise what you are actually really good at and working on it. I might have wanted to be the next Margot Fonteyn but the minute my hips and chest started expanding, it became pretty clear to me that professional dancing wasn’t going to be the road for me. There will be those who claim that I’m advocating unkindness, but that is simply untrue. Indeed, I think it far less kind to let people believe that they are going to be the next Claudia Schiffer and then watch them fail the minute they leave the confines of our Maltese safe space.
There is space for everyone to grow but there should also be space for both informed criticism as well as an understanding of what quality should look like. We seriously need to stop being at the mercy of this predominant mentality that places people’s feelings over the actual reality of things. Dreams are not rigid things, and just because one thing doesn’t work out for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue another. Just because you surround yourself with people pleasers who tell you what you want to hear not to hurt your feelings, it doesn’t mean that you should continue down a path. Compare yourself to people who are better than you and then be self-critical and humble enough to know your own limits. It’s better to be an excellent cook than a mediocre designer.