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#6 - Welsh Proverb: Without Perseverance, Talent Is a Barren Bed.
Reflections on the transition between talent discovery and mastery.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter that publishes reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
Talents are a dime a dozen and everyone shows up at birth with, at least, one. As we grow and transition from one season or stage of life to another, we discover more talents. By midlife, we would have cycled through five or six talents and will continue to pick up more till our last breath. A Welsh proverb acknowledges this ubiquity of talents in the human experience and states that “without perseverance, talent is a barren bed.” Somewhere in that pithy statement is an insinuation that everyone has talents but not everyone is talented. What other gems of wisdom lie in this proverb to ponder and learn? Let’s begin with definitions to set the stage for mining its wisdom.
Meanings and Contexts
Talent. The dictionary defines talent as a special natural ability or aptitude. Or a capacity for achievement or success. The late American author, Leo Buscaglia, described talent as “God’s gift to you.” Maya Angelou reiterated her belief multiple times that everyone is born with talent. From the newborn to the old and infirm at death’s door who cannot move about without aid, and everyone else in-between, every living, breathing human being is a repository of one or more talents. Our talents are like seeds. Mine may be tiny as a mustard seed while yours is the size of an avocado seed. Yet, each of our talents is capable of growth. Each can grow exponentially bigger than the seed that starts it off. And each can mature to bear fruits that’ll yield more seeds. In short, every talent has immense potential. Whether that potential will be realized depends on the talent-owner being able to go through the process of developing it.
Perseverance is defined as “the steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”
Barren. This word means “not producing or incapable of producing offspring, unproductive or unfruitful.” It is used in a variety of contexts such as in human reproduction, soil quality and capacity, seed viability, and in various other agricultural expressions.
Bed. A bed ranges from what human beings lay on to what seeds grow in. Because of the qualifier “barren,” we know that the context of “bed” in this proverb is not the one you lay on but the agricultural bed you plant in. It may be a flower bed or a garden bed. Whichever it is, the expectation is for the bed to be filled with soil for seeds and plants to grow in and produce flowers, fruits, or vegetables.
I have the exact type of bed in my backyard and in my life.
In fact, I have four of them in my backyard. My friend and I pieced them together two years ago and it took hours of hard labor to get them ready. When done, I had such high hopes for the beds. So, we planted our favorite vegetables – tomatoes, different kinds of peppers, egg plants, lettuce, kale, spinach, and lots of our other favorite salad greens.
We watered every day. We got through the scorching heat. We had skirmishes with annoying squirrels and overzealous roly-polies. We nipped the menace of gophers in the bud and foiled their attempted takeover of our garden beds. At a point, a strange, invisible enemy curled some of our tomato leaves. Its unseen hands afflicted our precious leaves with a white, dusty film. But we battled all enemies, visible and invisible, to wrestle our precious plants from premature death. We put up shade. And stakes. Did everything right as we knew it. And at harvest time, we had a big bounty. We celebrated our long journey from the first milestone of piecing together sturdy garden beds from pieces of construction wood to the final milestone of a multicolored blaze of ripe harvest. Because we persevered, our beds were not barren at the end of the season.
Our experience with tending our plants till harvest mirrors the journey of your talents and mine. Every talent is like a seed or seedling that must be planted to grow.
We wrestle to grasp the full scope of our talents in three stages. First, we go through the stage of talent discovery when we are able to identify the things that we love doing. It could be because we are impelled by an internal magnet that draws us to our talent. Sometimes, it is through the exposure to new places or things that we discover an affinity for our talents. Or it could be when others see flashes of brilliance in us and declare: “Wow, you truly have a talent/gift for this!” The perceptive can spot talents in others with just a brief flash. It’s why people who’ve known us since we were kids don’t get surprised when others begin to recognize what they had earlier seen to be our talents.
At the same time, many struggle to discover their talents. Some are not in the right environment to discover or understand their longing to do something or their exceptional brilliance at doing it. Their talent is not prized where they are and this affects their perception of it. Or they can’t process what they have a natural aptitude for because, though known in part, they are not allowed to recognize, affirm, and own their talent as a viable seed. Thus, though talent discovery is the initial stage that everyone must go through, many do not get to the end of this first stage. Consequently, their talents stay dormant or buried, not allowed to emerge.
At the other end of talent discovery lies the stage of talent mastery. This is the final stage, akin to harvest season. It is the stage when the talents discovered at the initial stage are measured against time, opportunities, other resources invested post-discovery, and the accomplishments of others with talents in comparable situations. To liken it to a race, this stage is the finish line after which a group of runners will be assessed against a number of factors. It is the stage when judgments of participation are in order and declared based on performance. In the words of this proverb, this final stage of talent mastery is the end of the season. It is when the garden beds of those who had seeds at the start of the season will be reviewed. The overarching question then will be to determine the fertility or barrenness of each bed.
Sandwiched between the initial stage of talent discovery and the final stage of talent mastery is the transitional stage of talent development. However you discovered your talent—whether on your own or through someone else—no one can develop your talent for you without you doing the bulk of the job. Your talent discovery stage may have been a sprint but this transitional stage is a marathon. You will not be able to glide through this phase without exertion. It is where the majority dig graves and bury their talents, unable to cross over to the final stage of talent mastery. It is where this Welsh proverb targets with the insight that, “without perseverance, your talent is a barren bed.” Stop at this stage and you will retain your talent with its immense potential, but you will not proceed to the stage where you get to actualize those potential. Getting stuck in this middle stage sucks and eliminates any possible ‘talent discovered, talent mastered’ happy ending that many have persevered to enjoy.
Need some examples? Let’s review some sports greats that walk and talk among us.
Simone Biles was once a tossed-around kid of an absent father and a drug-addicted mom. She showed signs of loving gymnastics at six years old. Now, at 25 years old, Simone is the most decorated gymnast in history with 25 World Championship medals and considered by many sources to be the greatest gymnast of all time. She is retired from gymnastics and has moved on to discovering and developing other talents.
Serena Williams is the sports legend who won an exceptional number of 23 grand slams in female tennis. She started playing tennis at age four and continued till her retirement at 41. Serena is almost indissoluble from the game of tennis, having blazed several trails in the sport and been part of changes that have made it better and one of the most popular sports around the world. Many tennis players and non-playing enthusiasts credit the talented tennis player as the one who inspired their love for the sport. She has sealed her place in history as a formidable, unforgettable athlete. Not one to sit by idly, Serena is retired but not tired. She is still busy doing what she does best—persevering through obstacles and challenges to become talented at other things she has discovered an aptitude for.
David Phelps is the 36-year-old swimming legend who won 28 Olympic medals in his 21-year career, which makes him the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time. According to the Guinness World Records section of his Wikipedia page, Phelps holds 20 Guinness World Records, a lot of which are “accumulative Guinness World Records ("Guinness mosts", records formulated starting with "most") for total number of accomplishments and victories in swimming.”
But what about you? What about me?
For athletes like Simone, Serena, and David, their talent beds are fruitful with record-breaking accomplishments. We saw glimpses of the discipline that got them to where they are now and know that accomplishments did not magically attach to them. They worked hard to earn what the world now applauds them for. Their records are a reminder that talent discovered is not enough but that talent mastery is the stage that life really is about. Those records declare that the dash between the two stages will take years of sweat, tears, and blood. That the process will rarely be smooth and the road will seldom be straight. And that though there will be clouds alternating between blinding glints and dampening gloom, it is possible to make it to the end of the final stage of mastery. But only those who persevere will get there and the grit to outlast the long stage of talent development is what this proverb zeroes in on.
Serena, Simone, and David almost quit during this transitional stage several times. Their paths were not paved with gold or satin. But, they persevered. Their aches and pains were many. But, they persevered. They shed sweat and tears in bucket loads. But they persevered.
This past summer, the world was introduced to Tobi Amusan, a 25-year-old hurdler. She broke the 100m hurdles world records in several competitions and is the current World, Commonwealth, and African champion in the sport. Tobi’s journey started when she was 14 years old at a national sprints meet. She arrived late for most of the sprint events and decided to compete in what seemed the most fun of the sports remaining—hurdles. Surprisingly, she won her race. Afterward, she started training in the strange new sport she accidentally found herself in and enjoyed. Later, Tobi became the African champion but struggled on the world stage. It was tough to overcome the doubts and depression from defeat after training for four years. Dwelling on her consecutive semi-final finishes and fourth place finishes in the finals of two Olympics and three World Championships got her depressed. She considered quitting in 2021, weary from the rigors of disciplined training. Her coach helped her through the pain and uncertainty. Her faith helped. And she held on to her one tweet of 2016 with which she promised the world: “Unknown now, but soon I will be UNFORGETTABLE … I will Persist until I SUCCEED … .“
Tobi chose to persevere. She trained harder, keeping alive the hope that by continuing to develop her talents, she could achieve her dream of being named among the great athletes. It took nearly 10 years since her accidental introduction to hurdles, but on July 24, 2022, Tobi Amusan became the name on every sports commentator’s lip at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Speaking as a world champion hurdler, Tobi recalled the difficult times when she almost quit because of too many defeats. Speaking as a world champion hurdler, she reflected on the pain from doubters who described her as too short for hurdles and as “a giant in Africa, but a wounded lion on the world stage.” At the start of her journey, her father pushed for her to focus solely on her studies and once burned all her training gear to get his point across. She had to relocate from the country where she was raised to a new country where she could train and grow to become better and faster. Through doubts, defeats, depression, and difficulties of injuries, insufficient finances, and discouragement, Tobi persevered. Today, her bed is not barren. Her bed is laden with trophies, awards, and prize earnings that many who discovered their talents at the same time as her, with perhaps more opportunities, do not have. Only the ones with her talent for speed who persevered through the rigors of training have comparable mastery as her.
You don’t have to be a hurdler like Tobi. Or a tennis player like Serena. Or a swimmer like David. Or a gymnast like Simone. You have your own talent. You have your own pathway in life. Your journey to becoming talented will be similar, strewn with discouragement, defeats, doubts, and a myriad of difficulties. Listen to the Welsh elders: “without perseverance, talent is a barren bed.”
So, what are some of the obstacles that require perseverance during the talent development stage? There is a pattern of 5D obstacles from the experiences of many who have mastered their talents in sports, entertainment, the sciences, and in various fields. Similar obstacles await us in whichever paths our talents lead us.
5 Common Obstacles to Talent Development
Discouragement. There will be many things to discourage you as you develop your talent. For instance, you may not have the best instrument, if you’re developing a musical talent. You may not be able to afford the right training gear if your talent is in sports. You may not have enough funds, time, space, support from a loved one or person of authority. There’ll always be one thing—tangible or intangible—that you may need but not have. What you lack may slow down your progress or grind it to a halt. Disasters may blindside you. Uncertainties may confuse you. Limitations may incapacitate you for a while. Any of these is a potential downer and can discourage you. But please don’t succumb to discouragement helplessly. Don’t wallow in it needlessly or perpetually. Persevere. If you need to set a timer to process your discouragement, do it. If you need to mark your calendar to bound your grief in allotted times, do it. You want to cry? If you must, find a safe place and bawl your eyes out. Once your timer goes off, give your face a good rinse, then go for a walk. Find some upbeat music. Or comedy. Dog or cat videos can be hysterical. Videos of babies laughing can make you cackle. Switch. Reset. Get back to your focus. Persevere, and you can gain mastery and become talented, not just known as the person who discovered their talents. What is the point of holding seeds in your hand at harvest time when you could be gathering bounties from a fertile bed? Persevere!
Defeats. However passionate you are about your talent; your talent development journey will not begin with the perfect step. Like a seed, your talent must grow. You will have false starts. You will miss the mark midway after you perfect your start. Prepare for those times when you will not be good enough. Know that you’ll fall short more than once. People will witness you fail consecutively. Your defeat may arm them with armchair opinions about your capabilities and suppositions to pack up and give up. Check out the Wikipedia pages of Simone, Serena, David, and Tobi for their experiences. Refresh your mind with the records of their many defeats during the transitional stage of developing their talents. Had they given up as you may be tempted to do right now, they wouldn’t have the fertile, beautiful talent beds that we celebrate now. So, you tried once and failed? Or you tried five times and failed. Then what? You were defeated. So? You almost made it. And? Rest a while because you’re tired, but don’t quit. Take a break if you’re depressed, but plan to press on to the finish line. A barren bed awaits if you give up now midway. Please press on to gain mastery. Keep your focus on what is possible for you to achieve. Persevere!
Denials. Someone said “no” to you, and you took that to mean that you’re not talented. Or the person said no to you several times and you’ve translated that response to mean that, in their superior knowledge/judgment of your capabilities, your talents won’t fly, or won’t take you far. Who told you that they are right? What makes you think that your interpretation of their response is apt? How do you know the person is not a ‘No person’ with the mindset to say no instinctively to anything they hear without thinking through? Being told “No’ goes with the territory of talent development. Prepare to hear it more than once. Put in the proper perspective, “no” is one of the most beautiful gifts in every language. When used as it ought, “no” can be an invaluable gift for your growth. The next time you hear “no” when you wanted to be affirmed or approved, however it is stated, brush off the sting and move on. Find alternatives but don’t quit or stall. Persevere!
Doubts. People will doubt your ability, your sanity, and maturity. They will question your right to be in spaces where you are testing out the progress you’ve made in the course of developing your talent. They will doubt your stamina when showcasing your progress. They will doubt your eligibility to compete, continue, or gain mastery of your talent. Some will do it out of ignorance. Some, out of malice. Whatever the motive, you can’t afford to let doubts or doubters crush you. Need earphones to block out the noise of doubt? Get the biggest and most colorful you can. Need to shut out social media on a timed break to focus on your next move? Post a notice to your followers about your need for solitude and delete the apps from your phone for the period you’re off. Don’t make it easy for doubters to get to you. Don’t open your pores for doubt to seep in under your skin. Guard your heart and tame your inner voice from sowing seeds of doubt in the path you must take to develop your talent. Shut down every contrary inner and external voice of destructive doubt. Nurture the budding of your talent. You have all it takes to gain mastery. You can, beyond reasonable doubt. Persevere!
Distractions. You’ll need time and focus to develop your talent. Overcoming this obstacle is fully on you and you won’t be able to pin the responsibility on someone else. Whatever divides your attention; whatever dims your concentration; whatever dilutes your passion for the goal you seek to achieve with your talent, recognize it for what it is—a distraction. It could be a relationship, an activity, or even a person. As much as you love your friends, you may need boundaries to prevent them from becoming distractions to the sleep, practice, and rest times you need to be in top form for developing your talent. You may need to curtail your passions against conflicting hobbies that can dilute the energy and focus you need to pour on your process. How many hours a day do you need to practice your craft? When is the best time of the day to devote to it? If you must wake up early to spend time on your talent, when is your cutoff time from activities at night to guarantee that you’re up at your talent development post bright and early in the morning? Whatever non-complementary things or persons consistently compete against what you need to be and do to develop your talent may be a distraction. However busy, loving, or passionate you are, don’t deprive yourself the opportunity of gaining mastery of a talent you have discovered. Keep developing it. Persevere!
In conclusion, all talents are intended to grow and bear fruits. To grow, each talent, like a seed, has to be planted, not left dormant or killed. To bear fruit, each talent will have to be nurtured and given the time to develop and mature.
Remember my four garden beds?
My friend and I got busy last spring and summer. This year was even worse. So, we have the beds there, bare and barren. With the right seeds in them at the right time and the right amount of work, we could easily have had two additional seasons of transforming them to lush, vibrant hotspots of fresh vegetables. Yet, I have packets of seeds with lots of potential. I know the seeds won’t plant themselves. And until I plant them and nurture them to maturity, my beds will remain barren.
Unlike my garden beds, the bed of your talent does not have to be barren.
Who would you have been today if you hadn’t believed those who doubted your talent 5 years ago? Where would you have been now if you had rested when you got tired after practice 10 years ago rather than quit? Could you have become one of the ‘greats’ that we applaud? Could you have become the answer to one of the many local or global problems that plague our world? You have, at least, one talent. That’s one valuable talent too many to waste. Developing your talent may not be quick. Gaining mastery in your talent will not be easy. But persevere.
There’s a reason why I have my talents and you have yours. Why bury your talents when you can plant them? Why walk away at the first indication of doubt, denial, or defeat when persevering to the end can deliver on the promise in the potential? Why allow yourself to get distracted by things that are no match for the talent that you’re developing? Why allow discouragement to immobilize you from persevering through inevitable obstacles and challenges?
Remember, you can have talent but not become talented. You have to develop the talents you discover to gain mastery in them. From the Welsh, keep in mind that you can’t give up midway. Press on, for “without perseverance, talent is a barren bed.”
Do you have any tale of buried or undeveloped talents? Which of the 5 obstacles made you give up while developing them? Please post your insights in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
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