A certain sister in my ward is amazingly articulate. Words flow from her lips as if she is hooked to a heavenly tape recorder. I had noticed this gift as she presented lessons, participated in discussions, or simply talked with me informally. One day, when she called me on the phone, I decided it was about time I mentioned how much I admire her gift.
Her reaction astounded me. “Oh, no!” she said. “That’s entirely wrong! In fact, you’re talking about one of my worst areas.”
Knowing that sometimes we feel a need to act modest when our strengths are mentioned, I pursued, feeling that she surely must be aware of her talent. But again she denied her gift.
Later in the week, I mentioned to Linda, a close friend, how uncanny it seems that often those who are the most talented can’t see their gifts.
“Then there are people like me,” said multitalented Linda. “We can’t see our talents because we have none to see.”
Once again I realized how difficult it can be to recognize our own gifts and strengths—and, if we do catch some inkling of them, how difficult it is to place value on them. How unfortunate this is! An awareness of our gifts would surely help us feel a greater sense of self-worth and a greater appreciation for God’s love in giving them to us, give us a clearer understanding of who we are and how we can best contribute, help us use our resources more confidently, and allow us to better develop our talents.
Most of us know a great deal more about our material or financial assets than we do about these more important assets. Why? I suspect part of the reason is that our talents are so much a part of us that we take them for granted. Another reason could be that we feel uncertain whether it is appropriate or righteous to acknowledge them.
Perhaps it would be easier to see our inner resources if we were able to recognize some other things first.
1. Recognize that there are many kinds of talents. Although we tell one another this, do we honestly believe it? Often we don’t recognize the gifts we have as worth much because in our minds talents are defined as specific attributes that are easily seen. In the physical realm, for instance, an athlete or dancer with natural speed, grace, or agility has real talent. But there are other physical powers, too—for example, working well with one’s hands. My neighbor Carol is adept at putting up wallpaper. That seems a small thing to her, but after I had wasted a full afternoon with one renegade sheet, I begged her to come over. Then I watched in wonder as she flipped that sheet into place without ripples or glue globs. “How did you do that?” I asked.
“Some of us have it, and some of us don’t,” she said with a grin.
Even though experience no doubt helped, I suspected that there was truth in what she said. When I questioned her further, she admitted that she had been coordinated even as a child. Carol’s mother, who claims that she has never been able to attach a sheet of contact paper to the bottom of a drawer without getting wrapped up in it, always watched in awe as her little one eased the sheet in without a problem.
There are also all kinds of mental abilities that we often overlook as talents. In an effort to show that there are more talents of the mind than just the ability to reproduce information, Dr. Calvin Taylor set up test programs in schools in which teachers acted not only as distributors of information, but as talent developers as well. Through various exercises, teachers taught children skills such as forecasting, decision-making, originality, and communication. In subsequent testing, Dr. Taylor discovered that there were no longer just one or two students who excelled, but a roomful. (See “Multiple Talent Teaching,” Today’s Education, March/April 1974, pp. 71–74.)
Likewise, we often completely overlook our natural abilities of personality and character. Jane can walk into a room and with just a few remarks help everyone feel comfortable. My father-in-law attracts people as if he is magnetized. Both are endowed with affability and a natural goodwill toward others.
Linda, my friend who claimed she had no talents, is resourceful, practical, alert, thrifty, mechanically inclined, versatile, and amazingly patient with young children. But best of all, she is available and compassionate—a wonderful friend and listener.
2. Recognize your uniqueness. We’ve heard that before, too, but do we believe it? Or do we just assume that we are all alike? An acquaintance of mine who writes told me she was dumbfounded when she discovered that not everyone had the same passion for putting things down on paper that she did. She had just assumed that writing came easily for everyone.
Not long ago, I jotted down “talent profiles” that list qualities of personality and obvious abilities in friends and relatives. It soon became evident that even if I worked up hundreds of such profiles, no two would be alike; even those strengths that appeared to be the same on different profiles became unique when combined with the person’s other talents.
Two women whom I listed as having the talent of leadership, for instance, handle that ability in their own ways. One, who also has deep empathy, foresight, and wisdom, serves quietly and sensitively. She seems to perceive questions and problems before they arise, and she leads in a powerful, yet loving, way. Another, who has strengths of enthusiasm and a keen sense of humor, leads with gusto. We laugh as we follow and enjoy with her.
Not only are we unique in the abilities we have, but we are unique in our likes and dislikes. The question “What gives me satisfaction?” can help us recognize our strengths. Ask someone to name his talents, and he struggles. But have that same person tell what he enjoys, and the words come easily.
In speaking of talents, the Doctrine and Covenants says, “To some is given one, and to some another, that all may be profited thereby.” (D&C 46:12.) We render our best service by being ourselves and emphasizing the strengths we have. It is through our unique qualities and differences that we enhance our communities, neighborhoods, and church.
3. Recognize Heavenly Father’s hand in your abilities. I once wondered how we attain those qualities here on earth that make us what we are. Then I found an interesting insight by James O. Mason, currently director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:
“Geneticists believe that the variations produced by chromosomal division and recombination is a matter of chance. However, they speculate about the possibility, sometime in the future, of controlling the genetic makeup of the individual, in the hope of preventing inherited diseases. … But is it possible that variation is being intelligently controlled [by Heavenly Father] to relate to our premortal development so that the physical body would develop not only to look like the spirit but to have the physical and character attributes that correspond to an eternal personality?” (Ensign, Apr. 1974, p. 21.)
After reading this, I realized one way in which talents and strengths could be considered gifts: Heavenly Father, through his divine intelligence and infinite wisdom, could have prepared and provided them for us.
As we learn to acknowledge our talents and strengths as gifts, it becomes easier to find and recognize them. When I suggested to a neighbor that she take the time to brainstorm, ponder, and list her strengths on some sheets of paper, she said, “Sure. But a ticket stub will do.” When I reworded the challenge and suggested that she look at these assets not as credits to her, but as gifts from a loving Father—credits to him—she seemed to change her attitude.
True humility is a willingness to give credit to our Father in Heaven in all things and to acknowledge our reliance on him. Doctrine and Covenants 59:21 tells us that our Father in Heaven is not pleased with those who “confess not his hand in all things.” [D&C 59:21]
And who can better help us find our gifts than he who gave them to us? As we draw closer to our Father in Heaven, we can see more clearly our unique and profound worth—who we are, where our greatest areas of contribution might be, and how we can use our gifts to bless and serve others.
4. Recognize that discovering gifts takes time. It may be necessary to invest time and conscious effort into looking for our talents. Reflect upon such questions as: What have I done well, or what has given me satisfaction in past jobs, volunteer work, or responsibilities at home or church? What did I seem to pick up easily in school or training of any kind? What did I enjoy most in my schooling? (Be specific. List not only subjects, but areas of those subjects.) What powers or strengths of personality and spirit are mine? (Has faith always come naturally, for instance? Have honesty and integrity not been a problem for you?)
Jotting down all activities we feel drawn toward and all our physical, mental, spiritual, or social strengths can help us determine the talents we have. Friends and relatives, too, can often help us recognize our talents. Ask some people to whom you feel close to list three or four strengths they have seen in you, or work together as a group to identify each other’s strengths.
5. Recognize that there are different levels of development. Too often we decide we don’t have a particular talent because that talent is not complete or perfect. We forget that a gift in its beginning stages is still a gift. I remember feeling disgusted at my early writing efforts after reading a well-crafted article. But a few years later, after I had developed my talent further, magazines began publishing my articles.
Much is said about success coming through determination, but I feel that patience with ourselves is just as important to our development. It is essential to realize that things take time and that few of us can perfect talents overnight. With Heavenly Father’s help, we can learn to rejoice in every step we make—even if it seems minuscule. As we continue to nurture ourselves and seek his help, we will be astounded at the progress we make over the long run.
6. Recognize that the best talents are available to all. How comforting it is to know that we can all develop those abilities that are essential to our exaltation. Nephi let us know that we aren’t asked to do anything we can’t do; Heavenly Father always provides a way. (See 1 Ne. 3:7; 1 Ne. 17:3.) Through the Spirit, those who feel they weren’t born with much talent in communication or teaching can find just the right words to express deep feelings eloquently. With Heavenly Father’s help, followers can become leaders. Powers we had no idea we had within us come through him as we seek his righteous purposes.
The power to appreciate, for instance, is often overlooked, yet certainly this high form of charity is one of the most important of talents. A poet told me that her sister, who felt she had no talents of her own, said, “I’m so thrilled with the talent you have and so proud of your accomplishments.”
“No talent?” said this poet. “My sister’s willingness to appreciate, inspire, and encourage is a true gift. Without her, I’m sure I would never have had the courage to develop my ability. Sometimes she believed in me when nobody else did.”
Many people I have discussed these ideas with have mentioned with gratitude those who had the charity to help them recognize gifts in themselves and who encouraged them to develop these gifts. I have come to the conclusion that this talent isn’t as rare as we sometimes think. It is one that we can all develop. As we help others to find their best selves, we find our own best selves.
Recognizing talents and strengths is an ongoing process. As we serve and love and live our lives, we find riches of this kind in abundance.
Fortunately, we have all been given talents, strengths, and inner resources—gifts from our loving Heavenly Father. When we uncover these gifts, we serve with greater confidence and effectiveness in building his kingdom.