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You’re Really Good At That!

February 22, 2020
Image result for proud child

Can you remember the first time somebody told you “You’re good at that!”? How’d it make you feel? Good, right? When was the last time you heard it? Still feels good, doesn’t it? It’s one of the most powerful things anybody hears, and I don’t think we ever grow out of wanting to hear it. The power gets drained off of it when everybody gets a medal or a trophy for participating, but hearing and knowing that somebody thinks you did well means a ton, even to grown-ups. (Don’t worry. This isn’t an old guy rant about participation trophies. I could go off on it, but I won’t…)

So how did you get good at what you’re good at? An interesting book, Talent Is Overrated, offers that the top performers in any field are as good as they are because they have put in 10,000 hours of practice at their particular thing. But not just any old 10,000 hours. Ten thousand hours of specific and excellent practice. It’s not plunking around or just piddling. This is 10,000 hours of intentional and directed practice. Which partially explains why not every professional, even professionals who are quite good at what they do, are at the top of their field.

I’m not sure I’ve ever put in 10,000 hours of practice for anything. No offense, but I’m pretty sure you never put in that many hours, either. That’s 1250 8-hour days. Which is about 3 1/2 years. That’s a ton of practice!

Thankfully, not all of us need to be at the top of our field. But, still, being recognized for your accomplishments, even if you’re not taking home the $1,00,000+ income from it feels good. It motivates you to keep pressing on with your best effort. On the other hand, not being recognized does the opposite. It almost always demotivates.

Right. Back to the question, how did you get good at what you’re good at?

Raise your hand if you were just excellent at whatever you’re good at the very first time you attempted it. There are savants in the world of whom this is true. But they’re in such short supply that the percentage they comprise of the general population is nearly zero. Most of the rest of us had to work through a process of failure, correction, failure, more correction, forward progress. Rinse, repeat.

For some of us, there are things that took fewer rinses and repeating than other things. But for virtually all of us, this process was what we went through to discover and then build a level of skill and competency.

Have you been to a Middle School band concert lately? Unless it was hosted by the Savant School of Music, it was probably a bit of a gut-wrencher. Especially if you’re a musician. That’s the nature of getting good at things. You start out and go for a good while not being good at it. There’s a huge and wonderful difference between a Middle School band concert and a University band concert.

Competence isn’t THE holy grail of the good life. There are other things that are more important. But having competence and being recognized for it is a need none of us outgrow. Even in our mature adult years, we still want to (I’d even say we feel we need to) be recognized for what we contribute. I suppose the more mature a person gets, the less driven by this they are, but I still say we never outgrow the need to be good at something and to be noticed for it.

When children are young, They feel this need strongly. They want to be good at something, and they want to be recognized for it. There’s no rigid standard for how and when this happens, but you can be sure that at some point in their development, your kid(s) will stretch toward achievement. This sets you in a sometimes awkward position of having to help shepherd them toward attempting things that they might be good at, and away from things they’re not so good at. There are a couple things that make this awkward. First of all, you’re not likely to instantly know what they would be good at. You might, but the odds favor you having to try more than one thing.

The other thing that makes it awkward is that you may have to break the news to them that they’re not really cut out for the thing they’re trying to do. This is a delicate thing. If you tell them in a harsh way, you can crush them and they will carry the wounds of this through their adult life. But if you’re too soft, they may not get it. It takes grace and wisdom to do this, and lots of both.

We’re working against some cultural trends on this. One is the idea that “You can be anything you want to be.” I get that the point is to shoot for the stars, because even if you never reach a star, you’ll go farther than if you hadn’t tried. The problem, though, is that there are things a person actually can’t do or be. For instance, a short white boy (me) with a 2.5 inch vertical leap, who doesn’t have a 3-point shot is never going to play in the NBA. For talent to be developed, there’s got to be talent. So there are things a person isn’t going to be able to be or do, skills that aren’t within reach. If you’re tone deaf, you’re probably not going to be the 1st violinist in the Philharmonic. (Although, Beethoven composed his 9th Symphony while being totally deaf, so there’s a chance that even with real handicaps of various kinds one can still do amazing things.)

My point here is that there’s got to be a careful balance of idealism and realism. Idealism promotes the positive and powerful idea that you can do something great. Realism promotes the sometimes not-so-positive idea that you can’t do every great thing, just because you want to. And in a family, guess who gets to help the kid(s) figure this balance out? Yep. You.

Where do you start with this? Great question. There’s more to a really good answer than I can write here, but let’s start tugging at it.

There’s some low-hanging fruit to start with. Sports is one. There are lots of sports to choose from. You may have to fight the desire to get your kid into the sport you did, or one you wish you had done. But you’ve got to start with your child, their interests, their general make-up. If you child is an extrovert, a team sport might be a better fit than an individual sport. If they’re an introvert, an individual sport might fit them better. And then there’s the possibility that they have neither the interest nor the latent tools to make a good run at sports.

Music is another low-hanging fruit. There are so many approaches to music. Dozens of instruments, dozens of styles of music, hundreds of contexts for it. If you’ve got a trumpet in the basement or attic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this should automatically be your child’s instrument. The same principle applies here as in sports. Start with your kid and their interests and general make-up. And then there’s the financial aspect. Good musical instruments are not cheap! This is where idealism and realism sometimes collide. The financial piece has to be factored in. My advice is that you don’t start your child off with an expensive, professional grade instrument. Start with a reasonably reliable and low priced one, and if they excel with that, move up toward a better one.

There is a form of music that has almost zero cost. Singing. Almost everybody can sing. Obviously some people are better at it than others. And if your child shows interest and aptitude for it, you will eventually be spending money on it in the form of formal training. But the joy of musical expression through singing doesn’t have to be expensive.

Art is another low-hanging fruit. Painting, drawing, even doodling can be a wonderful and expressive outlet. I was never good at this, though I wanted to be and tried. Today, when I draw something to illustrate a principle in my counseling, there are times that even I can’t tell what it is.

Art goes beyond painting and drawing, though, when you think of it as “the arts.” Dance, for instance. Drama, too. Artistic endeavors of many kinds fit here.

There are so many other things that your kid(s) might be good at. Math, Science, English.

My youngest daughter had a rare talent from the time she was in preschool. It was so natural to her that I don’t think she thought of it at a talent. And at one point, she so wanted to have other outstanding talents, but had them only marginally, which was very sad and discouraging for her. The talent? Making and nurturing friendships.

Today, edging toward her late 30’s, she’s had a 15 year career as a children’s pastor to more than 500 elementary school kids, which means she had more than a hundred volunteers to recruit, equip and nurture, not to mention a paid staff to manage. In my 45 years of ministry in churches, I have never known or seen anyone who could do this better than Jenny did. She’s a relationship genius. For the last couple of years, she’s been the City Director for the Cupcake Girls in Las Vegas. It’s incredibly hard work for many reasons, but the biggest challenge is that she has to do her work through volunteers. She’s great at it. I would say this even if she wasn’t my daughter. She knows how to lead and nurture people without manipulating them. She’s one of my heroes. (If you’re curious about the Cupcake Girls, check them out at

Your kids’ talent may be rare and outside the normal box, like my Jenny’s. So try to keep from letting the box box you and them in.

The thing is they need to discover their talents and gifts and derive satisfaction and fulfillment from them, and you get to help them in the journey of discovery and development.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO: Don’t ever define you kid by what they’re good at. What they do is NOT who they are. It’s only an expression of who they are. Don’t fall for the temptation to value them for how good they can do what they’re good at. If you do, you’re setting them up for a potential lifetime of disappointment and endless effort. And you’ll be cheating yourself out of the love and affection you can give to and receive from them.

START HERE. With a prayer that might go something like this:

“Lord, you know (your kid’s name) perfectly. You know how they’re wired because You wired them. Give me wisdom and grace to help them discover their gifts and talents.”

It’s not a big theological treatise. It’s not a poetic psalm. It’s just a cry for help from the only One Who can actually help, and the One Who most wants to help. Lean into the promise He made in James 1:5. You might want to print that verse out and put it where you can see it often. And then pray a simple prayer every time it comes to mind. Trust that God wants to answer that prayer, and pay attention for it when He does.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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