Don’t ask this question: “But what happens if I _________________ and then it turns out that I don’t have talent?”
Oh this question is a tricky one. It seems so, so innocent. Seems so clear-headed, the right question coming from a very careful thinker.
Just because we can ask a question doesn’t guarantee that the question: produces any sort of helpful answers, has the potential to produce any answers, or even has the capacity to stimulate further inquiry. “What happens if I, start writing everyday and I don’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2026?” Hey, that’s a question. There should be an answer, right?
Huge questions are like a rock in our shoe. Rocks hurt. Questions with no real answers cause pain. Pain of non-action, of ruminative stress, and the pain of indecision. Instead of sitting in the chair, classroom, conference, cafe, studio, or other work space, working our tails off doing our thing, we focused on that damn pain in our foot.
Huge questions can’t be measured, tested, or grasped by the brain beyond speculating. The speculating mind works differently than the specific, get down to work mind. The speculating mind can speculate on practically anything, including speculating on the speculating mind, speculating.
The Knock-Out Question, “But what happens if I _________________ and then it turns out that I don’t have talent?”, really is a shield for other things going on in the questioner’s head. First, the question begs for a guarantee from the future. As I have said before (link), demanding that the future be anything than what it will be is….is nuts. The ain’t going to sign any contracts. Don’t look for guarantees.
A second thing in this question is an unconscious vision of future rejection and regret. I can see it so clearly now: there I am, up on a stage for the world to see (a.k.a. on television). I have given “it” my best shot and then the learned judges speak. Of course, today’s long Rogue’s gallery of screaming TV critics come to mind. There I am, the whole world is watching and the judges rip me apart. Act 2 (1 hour later): I’m at home, crying into the night: “Oh, how I have wasted my life. Oh, how I was sooooo stupid. I should have devoted my life to science, to curing the world’s diseases. Why was I so deluded in thinking I had “talent”.” Such melodrama. Such use of negativity-laced imagination. Very crafty of our old companions, fear and regret, taking on this new guise.
If we continue to turn The Knock-Out Question over a bit, listening very, very carefully, we hear not a question but a self-statement: “I will only work if I can be in the spotlight of success. I’m actually that great, you know.” A surprising twist here. It is not an underlying inferiority driving The Knock-Out Question, but a little or a lot of grandiosity. “I’ve got to have big results, or forget it. Who do you think I am?”
To get unstuck, we have to learn to reduce our demands for a guarantee from the future, get control of our negativity-biased imaginations, and reign in our grandiosity. We also need to think smaller, like small actions we can take everyday.
1. Drop huge questions.
2. Whenever you have doubts, concerns, good ideas, bad ideas, etc. take some time to slow down and turn inward. Relax and keep inward. Relax some more. Next, bring up your question, your doubts, and see/feel what’s inside of those questions/statements. Turn the questions/statements over in your mind as you would some sort of special object that has captured your interest. Slowly, you will find more about the questions than you ever suspected was there. (For additional instructions on how to do this work, see our sister blog, Fireball Imagery).
3. List out all of the good benefits that come with being being on the journey (process versus strictly focused on final product) within your field of creativity (i.e. how you will grow; friends you will make; things you will discover, etc.). Really soak in an understanding of the benefits that will come your way regardless if you crowned “Artist of the Universe 2031” or not.
4. Take a manageable risks. This blows away much of the excuse not to take action because such a huge loss is waiting. Small, steady risks, small potential downside loss.
5. Give some time to your grandiose side. Enjoy the “big person on campus” feeling. Relish it. When you are done, make a date to be grandiose again.
6. Get humble and do the work you need to do to move your creative life forward.