When I was younger, I was obsessed with talent: talented singers, talented dancers, talented writers, cooks, athletes, you name it.
There was something about talent that astonished me and especially the people who possessed it. I was sure that I was looking at future Grammy winners, future NBA stars, TV Personalities, and game-changers. But as I grew I older I noticed that hardly any of those extremely talented people I came across ever became the megastars, that in my head, I was sure they were destined to be. I was furious. I was confused. I was dumbfounded. Years, later I would understand why.
When I arrived to college—as a music major in voice—I was surrounded by talent. Everywhere there seemed to be talent in the most unlikely of places. Ordinary people would open their mouths and blow everyone away. I heard so many amazing voices that I began to question myself. I thought, what am I doing here with all these talented people? Something just wasn’t adding up.
One day, I was waiting outside the door of my voice teacher’s studio for my weekly voice lesson. I loved to come 15 minutes early to listen to the singer before me. The guy having his lesson was the star of the voice department; he was the guy who everyone knew would sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera House or La Scala in Milan one day.
Even though the door was closed, and the room was insulated, his voice boomed out of the walls like an explosion. His perfect tone, intonation, and perfect vibrato made me feel like a toad note by note. All I could do was listen in awe, in envy, and inadequacy. After ten minutes of my self-inflicted shame, the door opened. All I kept thinking was, how can I sing after hearing him?
As he left the room, I entered my teacher’s voice studio and uttered, “Oh my God! He’s going to be so famous one day. He’s going to be a star!” The response that came from my voice teacher’s mouth were the words that have rung in my ears every day since. He responded, laughing, “Oh Cheryl, he won’t be anything! You’re going to be the star. Because he’s lazy, and you are not.”
And the walls came crumbling down.
Even though I felt unworthy of his words and I was sure my voice teacher was crazy for thinking that one day I might actually be a star, I couldn’t believe that he didn’t see what I saw: that undeniable talent! That gift! And I started to doubt what I had been thinking all along: that talent alone, is everything.
In my years as a professional singer and vocal coach, I’ve seen some of the most talented singers fail miserably and some of the least talented singers reach incredible heights. I’ve seen so much talent that at times it makes me sick to my stomach because I can already see what my teacher saw so many years ago: that talent alone is nothing and it can also be a handicap because of the idea that talent is the only thing you need to become successful. However, the reality is that talent is just a start, a possibility, a glimpse of what could be, but most of all, talent is responsibility.
I’ve noticed that least talented people (like myself) are the ones that try the hardest, study the most, push themselves to the limit, squeeze out every ounce of their smaller gifts and succeed tremendously as a result. It is that lack of talent that can sometimes push you to do what seems impossible.
Talent is like a seed. Some of us are born with it, and some of us must find it on our own. But that seed, however big or small, will never grow unless we water it, nourish it, and give it love, sun, and light.
I’m no longer obsessed with talent. I’m obsessed with people who have taken that seed and turned it into the tree that towers over everyone. And that singer in the room before my lesson, he never became the star I thought he would become. He’s now a manager at Target.