I’ve decided that I’m a writer because I have no say in the matter.
I’m not a writer in the professional sense (although I’m open to the potential), but certainly in the spiritual sense. Try as humans might to claim agency of their own lives, they are rarely responsible for their talents and desires, essential influences behind the illusion of choice. In other words, I write because I was born to it, just as I was born to any other moment of specific talent. Is it chance that my 6’4” frame walks into the break room at the very moment my 5’4” colleague can’t reach the coffee on the top shelf? Like Morpheus, I see providence, and I can do nothing else but extend my arm, and pass down the coffee. Maybe your specific talent is drawing, or baking, or maybe you’re particularly good at guessing the number of jelly beans in jars. These talents might not be world class (even I’m not arrogant to suggest I have even a single world-class talent, and I doubt you do either), but they’re yours and they’re important. Find them, flex them, and let the talent lead you to a place you’ll know you belong.
A couple weeks ago, I ignored all that drivel and ended up running the Rugged Maniac 5K. Running is not my talent. It’s not the worst thing I do either (that would be any activity requiring surgical steadiness in the hands). In fact, I think running is the inverse talent to my writing. It’s a primarily physical endeavor that I’m not horrendous at, while writing is a primarily mental endeavor that I’m not terrific at. And, just as with the writing, I claim no agency in my body heaving laboriously across ankle-turning terrain in the Rugged Maniac 5K. I signed up in a moment of hubris (I had lost a bit of weight in a diet, and somehow believed that equaled a cardiovascular renaissance of high school Dusty), coerced by a couple buddies. My friend Steven finished the race in the top 25.
I finished in the top 500.
But the race wasn’t a total waste of time. In business, I’ve come to believe that ambition beats talent 96 times out of 100. Sure, nothing beats talented ambition, but let’s keep this simple. I’m somewhere between the third and fourth K of the run, and a skinny (but shapely) blond starts passing me. I have instant clarity, recognizing this as a defining moment. For about half a kilometer, I weigh my options. I can let the moment define me and find comfort in the gloriously tight, soaking-wet spandex running away from my instantly impotent body (I swear, at the moment, it felt like sexual virility was somehow on the line here). Or—nope, it was bigger than that—OR, I could latch onto the flame of chauvinism that has fueled male productivity for millennia and say, “Not today, bitch.”
I chose number two, channeled all the best scenes from Chariots of Fire, and kicked over to mental playback of The Boss on the final stretch (completely irrelevant to running beyond the title line). For that last kilometer, I was from Kenya. I was Forrest Gump. I was Steve Prefontaine. I was a guy who finished ten meters behind a skinny (but shapely) blond at the finish line. Some inestimable time before she passed me for good, she said, “Nice run.” God bless her.
Maybe the only talent I was ever born with is my unassailable ego, held sacred above all else, and I only channel ambition through the abilities that will keep that ego in place. I’ve gone on a few jogs since that 5K. Usually not more than a mile or two around my apartment complex. I mostly lumber along like a man 50 pounds heavier than he is, but every now and then, a pretty girl jogs past me in the opposite direction. I put my shoulders back and lift my chin up and actually run for about 10 seconds until she passes. It always feels great and silly at the same time.
But I’ve decided that I do it because I have no say in the matter.