I remember the moment I realized I could draw.
I’m not sure how old I was, but I was young enough to be in the church nursery. I was given a piece of paper and a crayon, and I drew a circle. And I remember looking down at that circle for a prolonged moment and thinking to myself, “Damn, that’s a perfect circle.”
Okay. Maybe I didn’t say damn. But I did feel pretty proud of myself. I was also a little surprised by my ability to draw such a rockin’ circle.
In Kindergarten, I was drawing Disney princesses with strange accuracy. By fifth grade, I took my Star Wars obsession to the next level by sketching my first realistic portrait. Yes, it was of Queen Amidala, and no, I have no idea what happened to that drawing. But it was kickass.
In high school, I hit what I thought was my ceiling. I struggled with shading and perspective, but no matter how much time and effort I put into improvement, I just could not get better. This was because I had been riding on my own talent for so long, I’d never taken lessons or sought the knowledge and expertise of other artists. I thought I could be the best on my own. And I was wrong.
I was maybe sixteen when I was wandering around Barnes and Noble and noticed a book called How to Draw Realistic Portraits by artist Lee Hammond. I used my hard-earned movie theater popcorn girl money to acquire it, and my life was forever changed. This was the Holy Bible of drawing. Everything I’d been missing—from graphing to tools to structure—was there. I became a drawing machine. My abilities skyrocketed overnight. Knowledge. I had knowledge! I was saved.
Talent can only take you so far. Yes, I was born with raw talent, and with practice, I saw steady improvement. But without knowledge, I peaked as an amateur at best. The world of art only opened up for me when I decided to become a student instead of an expert, and the same is true for anything. Writing, acting, sports, cooking, sales, insert talent/interest/career here.
The first thing I did after completing my last book, Devil’s Grotto, was order eight more books on how to become a better writer. My goal isn’t to write a good book and be done. I’m happy with Devil’s Grotto… I honestly don’t know how I can make it any better… and that’s how I know it’s time to improve my craft.
As Americans, we live in a society that holds talent as a virtue above all else. We adore everything that glitters. And in this day in age, where 15 minutes of fame has been reduced to 8 seconds, everyone is clamoring to be seen and appreciated for what they have to offer. Entertainment has become about who can be the most distracting, and whoever succeeds gets to enjoy their moment of glory for as long as it takes for the next video to go viral.
If we not only want to succeed, but to contribute something that will be loved and remembered, we need more than luck, and we need more than what we were born with. Talent isn’t your ticket. Talent is your opportunity. It’s a foundation, and will never become anything more unless you build on it, using the proper tools, materials, mentorship, connections, and manuals.
To grow stronger in the Force, even Anakin Skywalker had to become a padawan with a hideous ponytail/braid hairstyle. Talk about a lesson in humility. It was only when he thought he’d arrived that he turned to the Dark Side.
Success isn’t arriving. Success is growth. And as soon as you stop, you’re out of the game.
So I challenge you: whatever it is you do, how can you do it better? Find someone else who has achieved excellence in your field, chase them down (or buy their book, subscribe to their podcast, etc), and learn from them. Don’t just embrace your talents. Be worthy of them. Feed them. Give them time, and energy, and resources, and education to grow. You’ll be amazed by what they—what you—can become.
Let’s become more than clamoring, entitled, fleeting distractions. Let’s become legends.