It’s an old analogy but when asked where his talent lies, a fish that has spent many years diligently practising the violin, making huge sacrifices to become as accomplished as possible, could justifiably cite musicianship as his or her thing… and completely ignore the fact that he or she is not only a bloody good swimmer but one that can breathe underwater.
It’s hard to identify our own strengths. Those most noticeable to us are where we’ve suffered to acquire them; where we’ve had to make an effort, or make sacrifices, usually for a sustained period of time. But we ignore those things that come naturally to us.
When we can do something without thinking, there is no effort for us and it seems too easy to be worthy. Or perhaps we think others must find it as easy and as natural as we do. This was the case with Greg Louganis, the gold medal winning Olympic diver. I heard an interview with him in which he explained how, from a very young age, he would execute all of his practice in his head, and when he had it right in his imagination, then he would execute it with his body. He thought everyone went through that mental rehearsal and it wasn’t until many years later that he realised how rare this was.
We also tend to think first of sports, arts and trades when it comes to expertise: she is a good runner, she is a good carpenter, she is a good sculptor, etc. We forget those attributes that are less visible: he is a good organiser, he is a great lateral thinker, he is one of life’s connectors and he’s the one that keeps our social network together.
I emerged from school without any A grades in my national exams (of which there were 15) and this was despite being able to choose most of the subjects myself. I didn’t win any sports events at school. If I’m looking for my own expertise then I need to look at my life in a different way. Or maybe we need our friends to tell us, because what is natural for us might not be for them.
If you’re a fish, make friends with an elephant. If you’re a painter, make friends with a mother who only has time for their family. If you’re a runner, make friends with a weightlifter. You may see in the other what you are not. You might be able to help one another. And you’ll have someone to remind you that it’s really pretty cool to be able to breathe under water.