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A Not Very Talented Girl

By Hildie Westenhaver

At age fifteen I compiled a list of everything I wished I could be: a world-class ice skater/skier/tennis player, amazing ballerina, professional-quality singer/harpist/cellist/pianist and speaker of multiple languages. My list of all the talents I wanted was very, very long.

In reality I could do none of these things even vaguely well. I struggled hard to define my talents and figure out what they might be. I tried many sports and dancing and was somewhere between horrible and mediocre at all of them. Languages enchanted me, but found myself stumped somewhere around the second year. I was also painfully shy when it came to actually speaking them out loud. Not too promising.

When I got my Patriarchal Blessing I was excited to find out what talents I might have. Both of my parents’ blessings had detailed accounts of things they were good at and what gifts would strengthen their lives. But my blessing said nothing about talents. No gifts were mentioned, spiritual or otherwise.

What’s a girl to do when she’s not talented?

Every solo that someone else sang in church, every piano recital given by somebody not me, every ribbon and award hanging on another person’s bulletin board filled me with envy and blackness.

It just wasn’t fair that I got such a crappy deal.

One year early in my twenties I sat with some friends watching the Miss America pageant, the annual event produced to make sure I felt like a well-rounded loser. Still, I couldn’t resist watching. Especially when it came to the talent competition. “What if,” I joked out loud, “your talent is something like math or cooking? Would they let you do that onstage?”

Math? Cooking?

For the first time in my life it really hit me that there are all kinds of talents. More than just the kind that can receive gold medals and rhinestone tiaras. I had heard that sort of thing a million times; there are lots of different talents, blah, blah, blah. But it struck me with force watching that pageant.

How do I find my talents? I wondered. What if my talents were things like jousting or basketweaving? Things I’d never be good at because I’d probably never have the opportunity to try them.

But talents are magical things; when the time is right they will find you. I think there is some sort of God-given homing device that attracts people to the things they’d be good at. They may not be dazzling or even very interesting. We tend to think of “real” talents as things that win awards. If it’s not something fancy and stage-worthy it’s not good enough. What a silly, narrow definition of a talent!

I turns out I have a talent for chit-chat. I can strike up a conversation with just about anyone and make them feel at ease. Who would have thought that would be a talent? But it is and boy, does it come in handy (a lot handier than ice skating!) Fifteen-year-old me sure couldn’t chit-chat. I’m pretty sure that even if it had been listed in my Patriarchal Blessing I wouldn’t have appreciated it or even cared.

This is the other wonderful thing about talents: they aren’t supposed to be given to us like a shopping list. They are hidden inside of ourselves to discover at different parts of our lives. We won’t have discovered all of our talents by the time we are fifteen or thirty. Or even sixty. I think if we keep trying we can develop talents until we’re too old and senile to think straight.

Listen to your heart. It will tell you about your talents if you let it. You’re not allowed to say, “that’s not a talent!” Just about anything can be a talent: lifting people’s spirits, crafting hair clippies, organization, cheesemaking, gardening. The best way to find your talents is to try to find your talents. They don’t need to be impressive and they don’t need to be done perfectly.

Talents are the gifts given to us to enrich our lives and enrich the lives of others. It’s not about showing off or getting compliments. It is about being profitable servants and becoming more like our Heavenly parents one step at a time.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

31 thoughts on “A Not Very Talented Girl”

  1. Jennie, I love this post. Recently, I had to overcome some major doubts about my worth in one of my pursuits. I am currently singing with and helping to run a choral organization that is very much on the scale of Mormon Tabernacle, and very often I look around and wonder what in the world I am doing singing next to girls who have vocal degrees and have traveled through Europe singing? I sing well enough to keep up, but that's it, and I am not a soloist. As I was feeling sorry for myself and pondering recently, it struck me that talents are gifts we've been given that can bless lives and that I must have skills that can bless others. I realized that within this choir my mad organizational skills keep it running, I have passion for the pieces we sing, and I learn quickly. Even if no one missed my voice, I would be missed if I left the choir.

    Kellie, I often envy people who can strike up a conversation with anyone. That is not a talent of mine. But since I've had this epiphany, more things that I'm good at are becoming obvious to me, and I love it. I am no longer feeling like I'm not very talented just because I don't sing or dance as well as someone else. I will never win an award for my organizational skills or my passion for performing, but that's okay. 😀

  2. i had a list like that too! (with similarly inappropriate-matched abilities.)
    i read in an ancestral history recently (pioneer couple): "they were faithful and efficient all their days"–and i thought, that's me! it sounds boring, but i'm faithful and efficient. not a showy talent, i can't frame it or hold parties about it, but it's a good legacy. maybe even better than ballet.

  3. Since I've been a musician as long as I can remember, the talent lessons in YW were always fine for me. What's been interesting as I've gotten older is that I've started to yearn for the less-obvious talents, and felt my great lack in the areas that would make more of a difference for my family and those around me. I want to be more talented at organization, at being responsible, at making holidays special, at taking care of others' needs, at being a fun mom. I can play a mean nocturne, but what does that really mean in the scheme of things?

    I'm learning to have faith that the Lord can magnify my talents and that he can cover my weaknesses. I'm still WAITING for my weaknesses to become strengths, but maybe I have to accept that just as I'll never be an even passable dancer, I may never be perfectly organized. I can get better, but it may never be one of the gifts that I'm known for.

    I do know that it helps to surround myself with people who have talents I don't. When I was Primary President, I knew I'd flail around helplessly without someone to help me stay on track, so I was grateful when I was directed to an enormously organized friend to be my secretary. She kept me focused (as much as she could) and I used my talent for loving those around me to build a happy Primary. I still got discouraged about my weakness, but it helped to have her picking up the pieces. My husband is often the same way.

    I still wish I were different, though.

  4. Loved this post! I've been thinking a lot about talents lately. I play the piano – it's an obvious talent and the only one I use in the church (I'm pushing 37 – it's the ONLY thing I've done in the church) Sometimes I wonder what other talents I have and I've realized lately that I don't have to have a calling to use those talents – and I don't know why I ever thought that. Thanks for your insight – talents are magic – I love it!

    (And I've wished many times that I had the talent of Chit-Chat. Lucky.)

  5. I gave a YW lesson once, and when asked what their talents were, nearly every girl felt that she didn't have any. I don't think they were just being modest, either. Most of them truly thought that, unless they could sing or dance or paint, they had no talents.

    Of course, I chalked it up to being teenagers, but in a recent discussion over lunch, I was surprised to learn that many of my grown friends feel the same way. Extremely talented women were quite sure that they had no talents whatsoever, or if they did, that those talents were hardly worth mentioning. (And I didn't have the sense my friends were just being modest, either.)

    The YW lesson manual suggested that the girls ask their parents and other relatives, teachers, and friends for input about what talents they could see in them. As grown women, perhaps we should consider doing the same…asking others (who know us well) for input…and truly opening our minds and hearts to actually hear what we are told. Maybe we can even take some of it in!

    "…and to every [wo]man is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:11).

    All we need to do is find a way to believe and receive it.


  6. Sue, those are excellent points. I think one of the most important steps in finding our talents is not to compare. I think I'm really good at baking, until I start looking at some of the really great bakers out there. I start to feel like I'm no good at it after all. Someone else being better doesn't mean that I haven't got a talent. Their talent has nothing to do with mine!

    I never would have recognized my gift for chit chat if my sister hadn't pointed it out to me one day. I had never thought much about it. I wish we felt more comfortable praising each other. Think what a difference we could make in other people's lives!

  7. I love this post! I do a lot of things, but none of them well — is that well-rounded mediocrity? And you're right — just because you don't perform in front of people doesn't mean you don't have talents. I think it comes down to finding what you love and doing that.

  8. Kerri, I had to pop back in to say that I really appreciate your comments. I have a friend, who when asked to list three three of her talents, refused to list her vocal talent. She was a vocal major at BYU and has a BEAUTIFUL voice. She told me she doesn't want to be known for just her voice. I was so happy that she shared that. Those of us who don't sing or play an instrument well idolize those of you who do. I never knew that I might be envied because I can organize anything you throw at me. I appreciate the perspective and the new insight it brings to know that we each value the UNIQUE talents each of us possesses. 🙂

  9. …and the greatest of these…is LOVE.

    Moroni 7: 46-47 says that Pure Love is the greatest gift (and talent) OF ALL–and one to be prayed for with all the energy of our hearts. If all of the other talents do not point to this one, they are of little value.

    Thank you for your 'thought'fulness Kerri!

  10. What a wonderful post!

    I've never been much on the "talent show" talents either. But I've certainly learned to love the talents I have in life. And I'm always looking for more.

  11. Very good post, Jennie. I must admit I felt the same as you did a lot of my life about my lack of really amazing, Olympics-worthy talents. I wanted to be the BEST skater, the BEST horse-rider, the BEST skier, the BEST pianist, and I figured if I wasn't the best (at least of those I knew personally) then I wasn't really talented. So I might as well not try at that thing. But as an adult I've realized 1)like you said, you don't have to be the best for you to be talented at something. And 2) a good portion of my talents are the less-visible kind, like being able to be in any type of crowd–old, young, urban, cowboy, high-socity, 3rd world village–and feel completely comfortable and at ease. Or being able to read the emotions of others super well and help them feel included and valued. Those are things I may never be recognized for, let alone receive an award for, but I tend to think they are the ones that will serve me best in this life.

  12. I think that being able to do a lot of things even if I can't do any of them well enough to deserve a PhD or call myself an expert is a talent, too. There are all kinds of "lots of things" we can do that count, and that really matter.

    I noticed once, when reading the Parable of the Talents, that the guys who increased their own talents did so by investing in other people (at least, that's how I read what they did), so I took that to mean that our talents are intended for us to use and to help others develop their talents.

    This post and the comments to it are also expressions of talents, even if they are only talents of expression, sharing, and support.

    Thank you for posting, everyone.

  13. What a great post to ponder! The teenage version of my self identified with all the things I could DO. I participated in choir and cross country and felt very confident and capable until I went to BYU. It took only weeks to realize that hundreds of girls could DO everything I did and do it even BETTER! My talents seemed insufficient and small by comparison. As I pondered the parable of the talents I realized why the person with only one talent may want to hide it. We aren’t as willing to share when we feel like we don’t measure up. As I struggled with my self-worth I realized that it's not what we DO that is important. It's what we ARE. As I focused on BEING kind, patient, and trustworthy I found more happiness in my doing, even if I wasn’t the best.

    This is a lesson I’ve had to relearn as a mother over and over again. When I get caught up in what I am DOING (trying to clean my house) I become impatient and frustrated. I can never do enough and someone is always going to do it better! When I step back and think about the BEING- patience and understanding can return. I try and remember that if I can BE loving, my house can be a haven- even if all that I DO falls short!

  14. When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade all of the parents were supposed to write a talent down that their child had and they were posted under our pictures on the wall. I remember running to see what my mom had said about me, excited for the compliment, and my disappointment and some embarrassment when I saw that she wrote, "Allison is good at making friends." Everyone else in the whole class had "talent show" things and I felt dumb. I think it hurt because I couldn't come up with a list of things I thought were talents either.

    Luckily- I have an amazing mother who talked to me about how important it was that I was able to make friends and make other people feel comfortable, and I've never forgotten the lesson I learned from her.

  15. Like some of you I don't have a lot of visible talents—I'm not musical or athletic; I don't quilt and sew or bake fancy cakes and pies. But I *am* organized and dependable, so I count those as a couple of my talents. I used to wish I had some of the more showy talents, but I'm gaining an appreciation for the quiet talents that are mine.

  16. I have several pretty visible talents (including having a master's degree in music, playing the piano and organ for everything, I also enjoy and am good at teaching, public speaking, etc.). I recently was told that someone I worked with in a calling was intimidated by that. This person didn't want my help in her own calling (even though it was part of my calling to help her) because of this.

    It was just an interesting experience. It's all relative–there are many people who see me as being so talented in certain areas, certainly in my music… but in some of these same areas I have huge insecurities because I in turn compare myself to other people in my field who are doing more and doing it better. They say, "Oh, you should be playing at the Tabernacle" and I think, "Oh, you have no idea how unqualified I am to play at the Tabernacle and how I wish I was good enough", etc.

    Also, while I am pretty confident in the areas this person observes me in, she has NO idea that there are several other major areas of my life in which I feel VERY insecure. VERY!

    As a young person, playing the piano and being well-known for it in my area, all I really wanted to was to be talented at being friendly and outgoing. Instead, I was shy and anxious. Sometimes that visible talent felt more like a burden and a label. Now, as I've grown up a lot, I can appreciate it, and I'm generally happy with who I am.

  17. As someone who has "talent show" talents, I can assure you that despite appearances, we are some of the most insecure people you've ever met. At least as insecure as you.

    I really believe the key is what you said Jennie that we should be better at (sincerely) praising each other for whatever talents we observe someone having.

    It's a pity we devalue ourselves so easily.

  18. I don't know what I have a talent for. I know what I'm good at, but beyond that no clue. And it doesn't worry me.

    What does concern me is others telling me I have a talent for thinking outside the box. Whenever I'm told that, all I want to do is grab them by the arm, shake them while begging them to tell me "WHAT BOX?? I don't see a box! What box, where? Really, I truly want to know what box, because I can't see it!"

  19. As a musician, I don't always appreciate the label "talented" because it tends to mask the years of practicing and lessons involved to get to this point. This is what I think the parable of the talents is about – it takes work to develop your talents.

  20. I agree with Sar.
    I worry about my children. Why learn to play the real guitar if you can play Guitar Hero on the Xbox and learn in a couple of weeks? It is far easier to sit and watch a TV show than to go out and play a sport.
    Will my kids spend their lives plugged in to the internet, tv and video games and lead VIRTUAL lives instead of living a real life?
    Sure, there are a few Mozarts who sit down and play and compose symphonies at age 7. However, most people who learn to play the piano learn just a little at a time and it takes YEARS. In this day and age of immediate gratification, how do we have the patience to work and work and work to learn something like new computer skills or a new language, etc?
    I am guilty. At the end of the day I sit and watch TV rather than learn something or work on something or practice something. At this point I don't want to pick up any of my old hobbies because it is too frustrating because I feel like I've gone backwards and there are only so many times you want to relearn the same stuff knowing that you used to be better at it.
    So now my old talents lie fallow. My new talents are the ones I've been forced to use in my career as a mom.

  21. I just hope God understands that moms have to change gears during childhood raising and that He'll let us resume again after the kids are out of the house.

  22. As a child I knew I was clever. As an adult I know that I can bake and teach. I am also very organised. However, I hope that there are more talents hidden somwhere. I would like to find something new, a different depth to me. As we progress through life we grow but I don't feel that I have accomplished any great shakes in the talent stakes for years.

  23. So jealous of your talent for chit chat! My chit chat skills are so lacking that I'm sure I make every single person I meet feel uncomfortable instantly because of the anxiety I feel about both chitting and chatting!

  24. How true, it's not about impressing others but rather serving and becoming more like our Heavenly parents. Thanks for addressing this.

    I'm very talented at eating and sleeping, just like a baby. I can also bake like nobody's business, but that's a bad talent for somebody with chubby genes like me. I guess exercising should become one of my new talents…

  25. Selwin – you crack me up! How I wish I didn't see the box.
    I hadn't thought about chit-chat being a talent, and now I feel good about myself. 🙂
    Years ago, as a newly wed in a struggling ward, I learned to value being dependable. I had to work (and continue to)at being dependable, and have suffered some discomfort and inconvenience and even annoyance, because I am commited to it. That is the talent I wish for my children. It doesn't matter how great you can play the piano IF YOU DON'T SHOW UP TO DO IT.


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