(La Mirada, CA) When one is exceptional, it is hard for others to accept that this exceptionality does not extend across all areas of talent and skill. For one woman, her attempts to disclose lack of talent or skill often becomes an exercise in convincing others that really, she is not as good as you think.
In modern society, it is the common if not expected for people to boast of their accomplishments. Outward signs of success are a way for people to measure themselves against others. But as outward boasting can be gauche, and sign of trying too hard, it is modesty that has become the new way of highlighting skill and talent… by undermining them.
Physical fitness is a common area for boasting. Through theories of natural selection, it is the physically fit who have a higher chance of attracting a mate. And running, particularly marathon running, is seen as a pinnacle of fitness for the endurance to complete 26.2 miles.
The woman to date has completed two marathons, and while she may not necessarily consider herself a ‘runner,’ other runners who hear of her marathons often engage in the same conversation.
“Runner”: Wow, you ran a marathon?! (Ed. Note: Skepticism can often be detected, if subtle.)
Woman: Yeah, yeah, it was pretty cool just to finish…
“Runner”: Yeah, I remember running the _______ Marathon… I _______ (insert incident that can be used to justify their ‘slow’ time).
Woman: Oh, wow…
“Runner”: So, what was your time?
Woman: Oh, it was long… I’m a really slow runner.
“Runner”: Me too… I’m sure my time was really bad compared to yours.
Woman: No, I’m REALLY slow…
“Runner”: Me too! So what was it?
Woman: ________ (insert time)
Woman: So, what was your time?
“Runner”: _______ (insert Woman’s time, minus an hour or more)
Woman: (pause) I told you I was slow.
After three consecutive conversations along these lines, the woman definitively concluded that: 1) runners like to compare times, 2) they feign modesty in case their time is indeed slower than the other, and 3) the woman is truly a slow runner. And she is fine with that.
Talent in the arts is another area for boasting, or rather false modesty. With a musical family and a love for Broadway, singing was always part of the woman’s life. Through school and church choirs and during long rides in the car, the woman loved to sing. Unfortunately, the woman’s love of singing does not necessarily translate into any true talent or skill.
The woman and her close friends gathered for an evening of fun when someone suggested the woman sing. The group became enthusiastic over it, chiming in that she seemed like a good singer, and that others had heard her sing well. Unfortunately, these previous instances were in a group where she only sometimes managed a vibrato. The woman tried to clarify that she thought she was okay, but certainly not a great singer. But calls for singing continued and the woman, also disliking when people decline genuine requests, on suggestion, sang “Amazing Grace.”
What resulted apparently, was not the sweetest sound, as the room fell silent when the woman finished. For a pregnant pause…or two.
Her apparent lack in singing talent was reaffirmed during a recent evening of karaoke at a friend’s house. Few were inclined to singing, even when surrounded by friends, so the woman felt compelled to sing every song as enthusiastically as possible. The reaction, from two different people: “Wow, you have great… stamina.”
While the woman has accepted her fate as a mediocre runner and singer, it is also understandable. The woman’s inclination has been to quickly abandon developing those talents and skills that do not come easy, or where natural talent is absent. This results in the woman appearing to excel at everything she does — only because the woman only pursues those things she already excels in.
Lessons in piano and guitar started out well enough – enthusiasm for creating music and playing recognizable music would buoy the woman for some time. But as increased skill meant regular practice, something the woman had difficulty maintaining, her frustration with not improving would soon mean abandoning the instrument for another interest.
It was the same for drawing, for which the woman thought she had a natural ability. As exceedingly observant, the woman found sketching for a “Basic Drawing Techniques for Landscape Architecture” course enjoyable and rewarding. However, as with all art, discipline is required to complete projects and the woman moved to take an Incomplete in the course rather than muster the will to finish a beautiful, but extremely time-consuming piece.
Learning languages has also never been easy for the woman. To her parents’ delight, as an adult the woman expressed an interest in learning Korean. She attended Yonsei University Language Institute in Los Angeles, CA, for two semesters, where she learned about Korean culture and good Korean dramas…. but failed to progress in her studies due to lack of studying.
Through the years, the woman has learned that time is limited and not all pursuits can be pursued. However, the woman has also come to realize that without investing the necessary time and energy to developing talent or learning a new skill, she will never grow as a well-rounded person. So while she continues to explore her interests, and seek new skills to learn and perfect, she asks for patience and indulgence. For when she says that she is not very good – trust her. She is probably right… for now.