Each morning, usually after my routine, I go to my desk and pull out two small notebooks. In the first one - a small diary book - I write one sentence about the day that just passed. In the other, a black moleskine, I journal two to three pages about what I did yesterday, any notable occurrences, and some lines about any thoughts, feelings, desires I have, or important things I need to keep tabs on.
When I'm finished, I study what I've written. I do this with free intelligence. By observing. This is very meditative in itself. The whole ritual takes about 15 minutes. By the time I'm done, I am centered, I am calm, and most importantly, I am primed to do the actual work by which I make a living.
While I don't usually share my private writing, this particular journal has insights for students and parents who wish to learn how to pursue a talent early and avoid learning irrelevant skills along the way. You're welcome.
February 5, 2018
The best thing about what I do is, I get to communicate with my students on any topic. This would be impossible to do in a formal school setting. When students are old enough to understand, and have acquired the ability to think and communicate proficiently, I usually engage them in serious life talks. One student said she wants to be a dentist. So I gave her my recent essay on “Expectation Versus Reality”. You know, the one about choosing a profession on the basis of income alone will only lead to trouble when the outcome doesn’t equal to the desired expectations. Yeah, that one.
Of course as a fifth grader, she didn’t fully understand the story, so I had to make sure she does. Then I asked, “Do you remember the student who wants to become a teacher, but feels she can’t start teaching because she’s still in school and is not old enough to do so?”
“Yeah, but how can I try being a dentist?” she intelligently replied.
“Very good question,” I said. “Dental school will teach what you need to become a proficient doctor - how to pull an aching tooth, straighten someone's teeth, or fix their broken jaw. But the school will not teach you what you need to do or will go through after you finish school. The school doesn’t care about your happiness. It doesn’t care if you can or can’t get a job, what you will go through with other dentists, how you compete to get patients, and everything else. Until one day, you realize you have to accept the struggle, because that’s what you've been trained to do. It is that, or you do something entirely different. But most people wouldn't start something new. They already have too many responsibilities.”
“How do you know all this?” she continued.
“Because I’ve done it!” I replied. “Like many young Americans, I had multiple jobs. Some I did for the money, but the more important jobs were the ones that gave me experiences. I’ve worked with my uncle who is a dentist. I volunteered at a hospital. I've taught special kids and veterans. I was a coach. I followed my parents’ advice for choosing a profession. I even did what I ‘thought’ at the time would be making money. And given those experiences, I didn't find my life’s purpose until I reached 30 years old. So you need to somehow find a way to expose yourself to the profession. You won’t find a dentist who is willing to welcome kids with open arms. But you have to keep looking.”
“I’ve been a patient before and I’ve seen how the dentist works,” she said with a chuckle.
I took a deep breath. “Well, being a patient and an observer is different. When you’re a patient, you aren’t aware of the things going on around you. Imagine yourself sitting on a chair across the room from the dentist. You have a better view of how things work, what the dentist is saying, how he or she communicates, and so on. It gets better, when you're absolutely sure this is the right profession, you’ll start developing curiosity and creativity on almost everything. Of course this doesn't happen instantly. You won't feel it after a few visits. It builds gradually. Once you have this feeling, then you’ve found your purpose.”
“Uhh...,” she muttered. “But how can I do it?”
"That is your life homework. I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. So find a way to start getting involved. Work something out with your parents. Anything. Just keep looking. What you don’t want is to be 18 years old and confused about which profession to pursue, and your only solution is to look at what other people have done well on, and pursue that instead. It will be a big mistake.
Every human beings have their own uniqueness. Their talent. It is your task to find that if you want your life to be fulfilled. It is not easy, and you may even realize that your talent does not produce the outcome you have wished for. But everyone has their talent, be it playing sports, doing research, painting, teaching, what have you.
Finding what you’re good at is entirely different from what people are actually doing. Parents teach their kids to learn new things and acquire a lot of skills. Unfortunately, talent is fostered from within. The little thing inside your head. It doesn’t come from something external. When you’re exploring something outside, then you’re only learning new skills. It doesn’t have anything to do with your talent.
That said, there is nothing wrong with learning new skills. When you're able to use them to help others, you’ll be making a decent living. But when you can develop the set of skills and combine your talent - you have the winning formula.
One may ask: what if our parents want us to become businessmen, engineers, and doctors? But that very question is what stirs you away from finding your talent. The more you are conditioned away from your talent, the more it withers away.
Your parents desire an imagined outcome for you. Ironically, this is the gift of parenting. But it is left to you to decide what you want to do.
In society it often seems that the expression of talent brings a person into conflict with certain conventions. For example, we have a long tradition of viewing the artist as an outsider. But actually he is much more sensitive, much more alert to beauty, to nature. Because he is expressing his talent.
Another may ask: can’t we be both a businessman and a painter? Now, do you see how your mind has been conditioned by your parents and society? They have conditioned you to conform. Of course you can. You can do as you please. But your life will never be fulfilled. Why? Because you are trapped in between the two.
You’ve probably heard the fable about a donkey who is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. He just keeps looking left to the hay, and right to the water, trying to decide. Hay or water, hay or water? He's unable to decide, so he eventually falls over and dies both of hunger and thirst. A donkey can't think of the future. If he did, he'd realize he could clearly go first to drink the water, then go eat the hay.
So my advice to this pretty young lady who wants to be a dentist is: don't be a donkey. If you don't start pursuing what it is you want to do and find out if it's really where you belong, then you'll never find it. Worse, you would do something your parents told you to because...,” I paused.
“You're dumber than the donkey!” she shouted with assurance.
“Even if somebody is born with a particular talent, that talent will usually remain latent if it is not fostered, honed and exercised,” said Yuval Noah Harari. “Not all people get the same chance to cultivate and refine their abilities. Whether or not they have such an opportunity will usually depend on their place within their society’s imagined hierarchy.”