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Plain and Fancy: Talent really is a thing

It wonders me how awful a 110 camera can beThis is the third installment of a series, Lessons from Musicals.

It wonders me how I was able to land a spot in Reseda High School’s prestigious Vocal Ensemble. Although I could read music, stay in tune (well, most of the time), and hold my own in harmonies, I clearly wasn’t a star. You could pick me out from the rest of the chorus because my choreography was off from everyone else. I didn’t feel bad about it, because I knew I was in the presence of remarkable performers, including those who went on to successful stage and music careers.

From them, I learned something about talent.

One of those performers is Catherine Fries Vaughn, who we knew then as Cathy. (Typesetting was expensive back then, which is why my name was often misspelled on programs with one T.) My role in Plain and Fancy as Papa Yoder was to walk her on stage, say some lines about Ezra being a good farmer and how happy she looks, and then step aside and let her do her thing. When you watch someone grab a high note and hold it firmly and confidently for a whole measure, you know you’re witnessing talent.

We don’t feel comfortable talking about talent these days because we feel it implies elitism and exclusion. We worry about our children’s self-esteem, so we hand out participation trophies and tell them that the dream that they wish will come true. As adults, we talk about 10,000 hours and “fake it until you make it” (which actually works at times). It’s true that you master skills through persistent, focused practice, and any amount of innate ability is useless if you don’t work hard to develop it. But talent really is a thing.

You can be born with certain advantages. You may have excellent eye-hand coordination, greater flexibility, or a more vivid imagination. Even apparent disadvantages can give you advantages. Losing one of your senses forces you to develop the others. A learning disability can help you find solutions others can’t. These advantages aren’t just for a few gifted people. Everyone has their own.

I couldn’t sing and dance like the stars in our musicals, but I was really good at putting my ideas into words. I didn’t have the skills for sports, but I was able to learn things quickly and use that knowledge creatively. I wasn’t going to be named Most Handsome, but I could be recognized as a Class Brain. I was able to create my own place by being myself and finding what I’m good at.

The key to happiness and success is to discover and develop your talents. This is one of the most important lessons I learned in high school.

Next: How to grow up.

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