I'll confess I haven't been watching a ton of the current Olympic Games, particularly since my daughter left for a weeklong trip to Oregon. She's the one with a real interest. It's not that I don't find the competition worth attention. It's that there's only so much beach volleyball you can watch before coming to the conclusion that there's a reason they wear bikinis, and it's not athletic. (Same is true of men's swimming and diving, by the way, minus the bikini tops.)
Nonetheless, from the broadcasts I have watched it's clear the coverage of the Games is devoted to our understanding of the hard work each champion undergoes to reach his or her goal. Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of training necessary to becoming an athlete worthy of competition in the Olympics, and we are invited to join along via the ever-present video camera every step of the way. The message here is clear, and it's a similar one to that we are fed in many movies, television shows and, yes, books: Hard work and determination will overcome any disadvantage and lead one to glory.
Well, I'm here to tell you it ain't like that really.
I don't know, well, anything about being a fantastic athlete. I could play a little second base when I was 15 and even then would have been easily outmatched by anyone with real talent. And maybe that's the point. Because I played most days and worked very hard on improving. I have been playing acoustic guitar for, no kidding, 45 years. And yes, I've gotten better and I have practiced many hours. I have worked very hard and been quite determined.
I am not yet at the Jimi Hendrix level. I'm not holding my breath.
The fact is, hard work and determination will help--but you have to be born with some talent to begin with. If not, you're just going to get better at not being as good as those who do have the genetically communicated ability. That's just how it is.
I was born with some facility for language and communication. I can write, and I always could. So I've been doing that professionally for a now-impressive number of years. I have put in the work and I have practiced and studied and worked very hard for many hours. And I have indeed gotten better, thank goodness. I know a lot more about storytelling, character development, dialogue and the work of writing than I did when I started writing my first (dreadful) screenplay at the age of 20.
But if I did not have that initial talent, would I be able to make my living doing this today? I argue I would not. I'd have found another line of work more suited to the abilities I did have under those circumstances, which could have been pretty much anything.
I do some teaching at the college level, and my students are always required to do a good deal of writing. Some of them are endowed with the ability to manipulate words in an entertaining and perhaps enlightening fashion. Most can just communicate thoughts through words. There's no shame in that. Some people play in bar bands. Some people gave up the guitar after college because they no longer needed to meet girls. Only one person is Paul McCartney.
I grade all my students by the same standard, and that is what they do with the talent they possess walking into the first class. I don't penalize people for not having the skill of an Olympic athlete. If you can play pickup basketball and do okay, the key is what you do with the knowledge you're being given. Does it make you a better pickup basketball player? Great. If you pay attention and apply what you learn, you'll get a good grade. I don't expect every student to become a successful professional writer because they're not all born with that talent. They have others. That's fine.
So if you're an aspiring writer, stop being that. You're either a writer or you're not. It's something that's part of you. Everyone can learn to be a better writer. No one can learn to be a writer. Being published doesn't make you a writer. It makes you a published writer. That's great; it's reason for celebration.
Just forget the myth that determination and grueling practice can turn you into something you're not. If it's not inside you, something else is. Chase that.
There is something legitimately, verifiably inspiring about watching Olympic athletes like the USA women's gymnastic team. There is a genuine uplift for all of us in seeing them do things we could never dream of doing. But the lesson to take away from it is not that if you work hard enough, you can be a gymnastics champion. The lesson is to take what you are given, what makes you undeniably you, and run with that. Because you already have that within you.