Talent, old and new vision. [Sport and inspiration – part #2]

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On Thursday, December 1, I had the wonderful opportunity to give a live talk (yay!) on the stage of Ambrosetti TEH’s AP program in Udine together with an Italian tennis champion, Adriano Panatta.

I share my speech here by dividing it into 5 “episodes”:

  • inspiration and my role
  • talent
  • mindset
  • the context of talent and mindset
  • Take aways

We continue after the first article on inspiration, with talent.

Talent, old and new vision.

Talent is a big topic, debated in many ways, very often in conjunction or antagonism with the topic of working your ass off… . I would like to try to question this pairing.

But what is talent?

Definition from Cambridge dictionary:

/ˈtæl.ənt/

(someone who has) a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught.

I consider myself really blessed that in the last 24 years of my life — half of my life but mostly the part of the development of a certain awareness of self and others — I have been able to live alongside or have come into contact with real talents. Of the caliber of Adriano Panatta although in very different sports and recognized in their own sphere as talents due to objective results.

Simone Moro – mountaineer, Manolo – climber, Killian Jornet – ultra runner, Tom Kristensen – Mr. LeMans, Ivan Basso – cyclist, Karina Hollekim – first female ski base-jumper, … – I am mentioning to you only some of the athletes who have achieved their success, some more well-known others less so, but who have achieved their results.

What do they have in common?

I can tell you that none of them ever labeled themselves as talented.

Yet, in retrospect, after a lifetime of objective successes therefore also recognized by a more or less extended community, we who observe them or have walked behind or alongside them could say that they are talents.

What they have in common is this:

They have had a dream and have dedicated a lifetime to making that dream a reality.

They turned it into a goal, into a project, they understood what resources they had and what they had to get, they equipped themselves, falling down and getting back up they kept going until they made it.

By investing in a dream and working their butts off, even if they were not born talented, they became talented nonetheless.

Having a unique dream, or at least a bigger one than the others, allowed them to define the goal or goals related to that dream fairly quickly. 

Not only that, it allowed them to keep their gaze fixed there, without distraction, and to accept – more or less easily – defeats with a view to victory.

I’m not saying it was an easy path, indeed!, but straightforward maybe so, looking at it at least from a distance, always in retrospect, in its macro value.

Do you know that you are a talent? And me, asking you, what talent do I have?

I asked myself this question in 2017 and after two decades of the same profession.

A little late…

Understand well that asking myself what my talent is, after twenty years of professional life, is equivalent to. 

“who the heck am I in this life?” 

And given the age at which I ask myself this question, it might even be depressing as a question….

It is not an easy question especially if the answer is BOH! 

The litmus test for this answer of mine is my mom’s fear of someone asking her the question, “What does your daughter do?”

You also understand well that surrounded by objectively recognized talents, I asked myself this question in unfortunate duck mood… 

They superheroes and I Donald Duck.

Who did things, saw places, met people…

If I had kept trying to figure out what kind of talent I have based on the talents I had and have to deal with for professionally – so close to me, within reach – I would have used them as a distorting mirror that would have shown only a loser duck,

and I would never have gotten to the point of figuring out what kind of talent I am anyway, at least accounting for having one of some kind, perhaps not easily identifiable.

The beauty of asking questions, seriously, is that after a while the seed is buried an answer begins to grow.

I had to run into a platypus and see myself as a platypus in the mirror to realize that there is another path to self-fulfillment, in a sense there is a broader and higher meaning of talent.

Do you know who the platypus is?

It is an animal that has a beak and paws like a duck, a tail like a beaver, fur like a coypu, is a mammal but lays eggs and then nurses its babies…and those are just part of its quirks… or uniqueness.

If you want to learn more about it this is my talk on the platypus.

One of the key points of the talk is this:

Philosophers have adopted the platypus as the perfect example of all that is unclassifiable. Consequently, in our minds first and then in society, if something is unclassifiable it does not exist, or at most if it even exists anyway it is not to be taken as an example.

Yikes! I am a platypus! I am Ornitorianna! I am not classifiable!

Maybe this is of little importance, but it certainly explains why my mom has a hard time saying what I am, what I do.

If my athletes had a dream, turned it into a goal, created a path of successes and failures, worked their butts off, came to be recognized as a talent….

What have I done?

Probably, at least in part, I did exactly the same thing as my athletes only, instead of going in one specific direction, I explored multiple paths.

I had more dreams and more goals with an attached risk: that of energy loss….

 Among the many dreams, I also had dreams that were not very identifiable with a goal:

e.g., I want to speak English, I want to live in the world. Good thing at least these two are functional to each other, but they are dreams that need a specific dream and goal to become possible…

What did I do?

I dreamed a lot, set different goals, worked my butt off, etc. etc. exactly like my athletes. However, I set out in different directions, with some more related complexities….

Did the fact that I was not clear what talent I had or a unique big dream stop me?

NO I just did the same!!! (Remember, my mantra is WHO CARES, I DO!).

Only recently – in mid 2022 – thanks to my friend Elena, I have come to understand that I am a multipotential person. That is a title that somehow classifies me (yay!) and And it seems to suggest that I have some kind of magical power… But beyond being ultimately classifiable, how did I act? 

Ornitorianna, a platypus, a puzzle of identities.

How did I come to be who I am now?

At 50, I connected the dots, I put the puzzle together.

Connecting the dots is an operation that our mind does at some point – post narrative – because it needs put some order to chaos. This operation is useful not only for yourself – to give meaning to your life, to your path – I would say it is a primary need – but also for the narrative of you that you need for the world.

It’s not like you can go around saying, “How do you do, I’m a platypus, a puzzle of different pieces that eventually come together…” 

And then the point is another. 

Are there really people graced by heaven who have a talent and people who don’t?

To answer this question, it helps us to know that there are two views of talent today.

Old vision of talent: exclusive

The old view of talent, considers talent a thing for a few, exclusive, then it is normative – there are those who define and judge a talent, and it is superficial in the sense that the criteria for defining talent are limited to assessing skills and achievements (knowing/being able to do and doing).

New vision of talent: inclusive

The new view of talent is said to be inclusive because it also considers attitudinal and cognitive traits (it makes an assessment of the individual also with respect to interaction with the world), it is identity-driven considers personal characteristics (personality, character, propensity…) and existential – it is related to being, wanting, daring, being able to do and doing.

At this point, this inclusiveness determines that even those who do not have a specific, unique, recognizable and recognized talent have a talent.

And what is the talent of the untalented?

It is the skill set that is part of identity:

  • experiences
  • network
  • assorted skills
  • ability to connect the dots

Speaking of global, nonspecific identity related to a single, specific goal there is another important point to be made, which is good news:

The different pieces that make up identity – private, personal and professional indifferently – become amplifiers and optimizers of this skill set and lengthens the list of capabilities!

Everything I am and do in life becomes a tool-skill, knowledge, or whatever – all of my being is at the disposal of what I do and the result I want to achieve.

A virtuous circle in short!

Think about it then, take a moment to reflect on yourself. 

Now that you know about this new vision of talent

Do you still feel like Donald Duck or more a happy platypus?

Marianna Zanatta