"I don't have any skills."
I looked up from my reading to see my 9-year-old son walk into the living room and slump in the nearby chair. After listening to a pathetic sigh resonating from deep within the couch cushions, I asked what was on his mind.
"I'm not good at anything," he replied.
And so began my speech about how "everybody has talents you just need to find those talents. Don't get caught up in comparing yourself to your brother. Mom and dad love you and think you're cool."
My son just stared at me. It seems, I wasn't convincing.
Just think for a moment what a difference it could make in our lives and the lives of our children if we were skilled in identifying hidden skills. Here are some points to consider.
1. Realize that everybody does something well
I'm talking about unearthing strengths as well as talents. In his book, "Authentic Happiness," Martin Seligman explains the difference. "Talents are relatively automatic. There is no choice about possessing it in the first place. A strength involves choices about when to use it and whether to keep building it, but also whether to acquire it in the first place."
While recognizing certain talents is unique for each individual, we all have strengths. Developing strengths give us purpose and a strong feeling of accomplishment. Your daughter may not become an Olympic swimmer, but she may have what it takes to be an engineer, a champion hot dog eater, a motivational speaker, a rock climber or an expert in organization.
2. Identifying talents is often influenced by our own experience
Stop me if you've heard this. "I played basketball all through high school, so my kid will play," says the parent. In childrearing, parents are drawn to what is familiar. While this may pay off in discovering a multi-generational powerhouse in racquetball, it may also create a stifling scenario when the child does not display the same ability. Parents need to keep an open mind and embrace a broad perspective when helping a child discover her own talents and strengths.
3. Focus on talents that enhance your child's life experience - not yours
Because of the time commitment, sometimes our social circle is influenced by our kids' activities. Enter the world of "soccer dads" and "dance moms." As adults, we need to step back and evaluate if encouraging our child to pursue a particular activity benefits the child or positions us in a desired social setting. We may gain popularity for pulling off a successful fundraiser, but the experience may be offering very little to our child in discovering and developing a talent.
4. Encourage interaction with others that share the same talent or strengths
Parents seem to select sports programs for their children often for no other reason than they are accessible. One can find a youth soccer team through any recreation center or athletic club. But what if your child excels in science or art? What if your child is interested in English poetry, playing the sitar or archery? Clubs supporting those types of activities aren't as prevalent in some communities. The good news is that you can find sites that offer support and information on any type of group. These sites may direct you to local programs in your area. For example, through a quick search I discovered an astronomy club, French club, ski club, golf league, hiking club, cooking classes, quilting club, garden club, roller derby and a club for break-dancers all within a 10-mile radius from my home. Now, I just need to find my old boom box and genie pants and I am back in the game, baby!
5. Use the pursuit of one talent as a springboard for another
Every team has one. It's the child that believes his ability far exceeds what is actually happening on the court. His vision is one of swift lay ups and smooth fade away shots. Meanwhile, he passed the ball to a player on the opposite team whose size measures a foot taller than he, then tripped down the court during a fast break play. Despite his desire to play and the time he spends practicing, he will never be mistaken for Blake Griffin on the court. As a result, he will not experience the zeal of accomplishment because his struggle is constant. However, with your newly-trained eye for hidden talent, you may discover your Lebron James wannabe has an impressive endurance for distance running.
A child who dreams of singing on Broadway may lack perfect pitch, but she picks up foreign languages quickly, or has a talent for writing poetry. Sometimes, children know what they want to pursue, but may not understand the message behind the struggle that prevents them from achieving success. Finding your talent should be easier than this. It should feel natural.
While life does not guarantee equal performance levels in the talents of your choice, every person deserves to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Finding hidden talents provides that feeling.
In his article, "5 Easy Steps to Find Your Hidden Talents," Mike Michalowicz sums it up. "When you know what your talents are, you feel more in tune with your life. The sun shines brighter. Jerks are less jerky, and all is well with the world because you're on track. You have a purpose."
As parents, we have an opportunity to encourage our children to participate in life and discover unclaimed talents that will help them identify who they are. But, we need to realize that, despite what the motivational speaker told us, we can't do anything and everything we desire. He may be the next Lebron James. But, if not, keep your eyes open for the next Einstein, Joey Chestnut, Tony Hawk, Dan Brown, Tom Brokaw, Laird Hamilton or Steve Carell. They can take that talent and make it uniquely their own. Everyone has been blessed with God-given talents. Which one will you discovertoday?