We all Have Natural Talents and Strengths
I was checking out some books from the library about two weeks ago when a middle-aged man beside me said something along the lines of: ‘I haven’t read a book in a long time. I am an engineer. I am a slower reader’. The last two sentences got me laughing because he said them in a way that suggested that one was the reason for the other and also because he wasn’t the first engineer to tell me that he wasn’t a voracious reader. So it got me thinking: Was he a slow reader because he was an engineer or was he an engineer because he was a slow reader. I thought the latter was the case. It reminded me of how much the careers we choose are largely influenced by our natural strengths and talents. Engineers are generally good with numbers, lawyers with letters.
Talents manifesting themselves at a young age when there has been little time for nurturing or developing them shows just how natural they are. Years ago, I visited my sister and on one occasion, I had just finished applying my eyeliner when my little niece, Mma, who was about six at the time came up to me and pointed out how I could have applied it differently for an improved look. I looked in the mirror and saw that she was right. (I know, I am not trendy). If you need a make-up artist, you would probably know who to hire between my much younger niece and I.
Just among my friends (and siblings), I know one who is gifted with an amazing swiftness and organizational skills that she can plan an event in no time; one who is so shrewd and frugal that I can trust her to keep afloat a company that is in the red; another who can effortlessly write a beautiful poem because of her contemplative nature; and yet another who has the gift of persuasion and is so passionate about the cause of the less privileged that I believe he can successfully establish and raise funds for a charity if he chooses to. I have a friend who is intelligent and very enthusiastic about eradicating corruption in Nigeria that she is courageous enough to resist bribes being thrown at her in her present job that I am convinced that she can be the next Akunyili.
Big Dreams, Then the Big Derailment
As children, we all had lofty ideas of how were going to change the world, and barring WAEC and Jamb setbacks, many of us chose careers that would keep us on the track to realizing our goals. But once we left university, the pressure to make money made many of us settle for the nearest job that we will put food on the table, however unrelated they may be to the career we once had a passion for. I once asked a Nigerian who works as a nurse in the United States if she liked her job and she simply told me,’It pays the bill’, and she has her beautiful suburban house to show for it. Of course I admire her hard work and I don’t know a profession that is more honorable than one that involves saving lives. But I wonder if she could be much more if she does something she is passionate about.
About ten years ago, the Nigerian banking sector got a boost (after the consolidation of banks) and was thriving so much that it became a key employer in the economy. Much as I love that the sector provided the much-needed jobs to many unemployed graduates, I am worried that it derailed many talented engineers and scientists from their careers. Nobody will ever know what these people would have become if they had continued to be engineers etc. We would never know if Nigeria would have had an Edison or Ford from those crop of graduates. With the promotions and decent salaries they now make as marketing executives and portfolio managers, my guess is that many of them will not have the enthusiasm to go back to their dream careers for entry level opportunities.
The Difference Between a Decent and a Great Career
Following one’s dream can make a difference between having a passable career and a remarkable one. Nigeria’s popular author chimamanda Adichie had studied Medicine and Pharmacy in University of Nigeria Nsukka for about a year before she left for the United States to get a degree in Communications and Political Science and her masters in Creative Writing. I can imagine that with a brain like hers that she was under pressure to study a ‘professional course’. She said that till this day she teases her parents that the only reason they eventually let her study her dream course was that her sister was already a doctor. I have no doubt that Chimamanda would have made a good medical doctor if she had got her degree in Medicine. But I doubt that millions would have been blessed by her literary works. She definitely wouldn’t have won an Orange Prize for fiction. It goes without saying that when one’s job is related to something they have talent for and are passionate about, they tend to achieve more and hardly feel the drudgery of work as they are getting paid for doing something they love.
The pressure to make ends meet shouldn’t stand in the way of our pursuing our dreams. While it isn’t prudent to idle away while waiting to realize one’s goals but is ideal to do some other things temporarily, we shouldn’t lose sight of our dreams and aspirations. Like I wrote in this post, all the odd jobs etc we do all help somehow to make us realize our bigger goals. I have always been inspired listening to many Hollywood stars talk on TV about how they started out small, waiting tables, flipping burgers, sharing room etc until they eventually got a role that brought them to the limelight. One told of how even between acting gigs, she still had a baby sitting job until she was certain acting could sustain her financially. The important thing therefore is not to lose focus of what we have always wanted to be.
The key is Fulfillment
One’s passion doesn’t necessarily have to lie in a big idea about changing the world. It could be taking up a business idea based on one’s natural skills and talents. I know someone whose kids always stood out because she always had them ‘cooly’ dressed. Because of her passion for having kids well-dressed, she opened a shop that sold high-quality and trendy stuff for kids. Needless to say that her business was successful.
I understand that some people who have deviated from their careers find fulfillment in their present jobs anyway and I do not encourage them to seek fulfillment elsewhere when they already get it from what they do. I wrote this for those who feel that they aren’t maximizing their potential and that they have skills that are currently underutilized that if they put to use would benefit the society more.
Untapped Talent to the Grave
Finally,one reason we should find ways to put our natural talents to use is so that we don’t end up like the servant in the Holy book who buried his talent and didn’t put it to use. We should rather be like the servants who utilized their and got rewarded with even more. Even if we don’t find ways to use our talents in our day jobs, we can find avenues to use them informally even if not for pay.
So if you have dreams you have given up on, consider rekindling that flame that once burned within you because there are many people waiting to benefit from your talents. Now you wouldn’t want to go to the grave with your talents unused, would you? The decision you make today may determine the difference between, at your death, an epitaph that only mentions what a good soul you were and one that also mentions a Nobel Prize you won.
Got stories to tell? Have a passion of yours you want to share? Got ideas on how one can keep their day job while pursuing their dreams? Please inspire us in the comments section.
PS: For more on this subject, see Larry Smith’s TEDTalk “Why you will fail to have a great career” and also this previous post in my archive which is based on a true life story.