“Use what talent you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” — Henry Van Dyke


Who wants to sing when Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, or Beyonce are belting out tunes? Not many of us would feel confident to stand next to them and raise our voices. But you know what? Many singers of lesser talent do perform and make a very good living. They’ve figured out something that can help you in your career: Success isn’t for only the great.

If you aspire to write, or sing, or speak, or paint, or anything else, but kind of hold back because you don’t think you’re as good as the most widely known or the undeniable greats, then get a bit of confidence. You don’t have to be great. But you go out there and work your butt off and find an audience all the same. You can produce your own best effort and find that people want to hear from you, too. And in the process, you may just become great.

I believe God gives us all gifts. Now, he doesn’t give us all the same level or the same type, but he gives us something. You’re not bereft of a gift, of talent. But you might be bereft of the knowledge of that talent. So it’s your job to find out what your talent is and to use it. If you don’t use it, then you’ll just be a silent bird in the woods among others who are chirping away. If your talent is writing, then what will you use that writing for? Will it be a means to help you make a living? Will it be a means to draw attention to a cause or movement? Will it be a means to inspire others?

Use what talent you possess.

Doesn’t matter if you have a big dose of it or a little. The beauty of using your talent is that if you use it, you become better at it. You refine it. So you might not be all that great at a thing today — in fact, your talent may be a bit rough  — but you can grow in it. Talent by itself is just a starting point. It’s just the thing to get you going. But you can’t rest in that initial showing of talent. You have to use it, grow it, massage it. You have to hurt in it.

Don’t know what it means to hurt in your talent?

Well, let’s say writing is your talent. And so you write something, thinking it’s kind of OK — or maybe your ego tells you it’s awesome. You share it with a mentor, reviewer, editor, or other person who tears it to shreds. But the person doesn’t just tear your writing to shreds for the sake of watching it bleed. The person tears it to shreds and shows you how it can be better, much better. You are hurt. Deeply. You might have felt that your talent was enough to carry you, but instead, this person just came and ripped apart all you did.

Left your feelings mangled and ego bleeding.

Left you hurt in your talent.

Well, if you manage to get over the hurt, put your ego in check and actually learn from the experience, you may find that you create something even better. That’s hurting in your talent. It’s when you allow constructive criticism, a valid critique, or rejection to puncture your ego and make you better. When you put your talent on display and get a learning experience in return.

Stumbling — or falling on your behind — can make you great

Many people we now know for their talent had to hurt in their talent first. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job because the editor said he lacked imagination. Today, childhood memories are built on what Disney imagined and created. Jerry Seinfeld was booed from the stage early in his comedy career. Today, we still watch reruns of his hugely successful sitcom. Sidney Poitier went for his first acting audition and was told he was terrible and should go be a dishwasher. Today, we know him as the first black male to win an Oscar and one of the best actors of all time.  Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book. Today, we know her as the author of the best selling Harry Potter series and recently released Casual Vacancy.

They all had to hurt in their talent. Nothing was handed to them. They had to suffer critiques, criticisms, and rejections in the thing they would eventually go on to find great success in doing. They had to stumble or fall, get bruised. And good thing, too. Otherwise we might never have heard of them, if they had been intimidated by the idea that somebody else was better.

So you’ll have to be willing to put yourself out there, with all your imperfections, lack of knowledge, and fear. You’ll have to be willing to trust that your talent will get better. You’ll have to be willing to face the possibility that you aren’t as bad as you fear you are.

Hurt in your talent.

That’s how you become the song bird that others aspire to be. It’s only by embracing your talent, putting something out there for others to consume, and being willing to learn from the experience that you can find the path to your true greatness. If you shy away from putting your talent and hard work on display, you’ll never get to where you might. If you let the idea of being intimidated by someone better keep you from being horribly bad before getting good, you’ll never have a shot at being great. If you let hurt feelings and bruised ego keep you from sharing more of your work, you’ll never get to be the one with the last laugh.

Too many of us want to play it safe and wear arm pads, helmets, and life vests when it comes to our talent. We want to protect ourselves from hurt at all cost. Even at the cost of remaining silent. But we can’t do that. Not if we want to shine.

Show off your talent, even if it’s not as great as the next guy’s

So don’t worry if you aren’t that great now. If you have a grain of talent and are willing to work and work, those humble beginnings are just the foundation of your potential. A good writer or modestly talented one can become a big success by being willing to sing anyway. Or in this case, write anyway. You don’t have to be the best to stand up and let your voice be heard. You don’t even have to be very good to get started. Just get started. Express yourself. Do the work. And allow experience to teach you to be better.

Consistent work over a period of time can take you where talent alone will not.

Sing, sing in the woods.