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Butch Mazzuca: ‘If you only applied yourself’

The other day I was standing in the City Market checkout line when I overheard a 40ish mom say to her daughter, who I guessed to be about 14, “You know, you could done much better on Mrs. Smith’s (name changed for obvious reasons) homeroom project if only you had applied yourself.”

How many times have we heard a parent say, “She would be so good at this, or he would make a wonderful this or that, if only he or she would apply themselves”? Unfortunately, frustrated parents fail to understand, or perhaps are simply too obstinate to recognize that motivation is an integral part of talent. It’s not just the fuel injection that powers it.

Webster’s tell us that talent is a special natural ability or aptitude. But talent is always incomplete without the applying part. In short, talent cannot be brought into existence if motivation is lacking.



Perhaps an analogy will help make this clearer. Hydrogen and oxygen are distinctly different elements. However, sometimes they combine to form water, a basic necessity of life. Talent is what we do well naturally. It’s the capacity for achievement and success, while motivation is the desire to do something. Each can exist independently, but when they combine, just like hydrogen and oxygen, they create something truly special.

How many of us know someone who’s just naturally adept at some activity? Someone who is talented, but for whatever reasons that particular activity just doesn’t turn them on?



For example, my daughter has a voice like an angel (excuse a father’s pride), but she limits it to the shower or while doing household chores. Kate has never shown the least bit of interest in developing that particular talent with formal training or participation in a school chorus or glee club. Instead, she has focused on other areas of her life.

Like my daughter Kate, most of us have latent talents, but at the same time we also have talents we actually enjoy using; i.e., motivated talents, and this is where the magic is.

Years ago, teacher, lecturer and social commentator Sydney J. Harris wrote that the truly talented person is self-propelled. Not only does he or she not need to be encouraged (although it certainly helps), they cannot be suppressed. The self-propelled individual will keep on writing, playing music, painting or whatever he or she does best despite all the rejection in the world. These people are supremely self-confident. While despair may occasionally overtake the person, their despair is about what the future holds for them. Seldom is it about their God-given gifts.



Another interesting aspect of the talent-motivation matrix is the paradox of the student who could get an A if he or she really wanted to, but who cannot actually get an A because they don’t really want to. This is the critical part of understanding talent. It’s the wanting to that’s the essential part of achievement. Wanting to is not something separate that can be injected into a student, as many parents think.

Motivated talent tends to be irrepressible, and it will find expression. A motivational speaker once told a group at a seminar I was attending, “If you’ve ever tried to stifle a motivated talent, it probably felt like you were trying to hold two dozen ping pong balls under water at the same time.” Just as cream rises to the top, motivated talent inevitably surfaces.

Parents should stop nagging their kids about how well they could do “if only you applied yourself or cared more.” Trying and caring are hard-wired into people, and it’s a sure-fire guarantee that no young person has ever been motivated by a querulous, disappointed parent more concerned with his or her own pride than with the child’s ultimate self-actualization.

Bill McCartney, former head coach at the University of Colorado said, “The greatest personal successes don’t come from people who have all the talent, but from those who know how to maximize their talent through motivation.”

If a child has a talent for a particular activity, say playing the piano, but doesn’t want to practice, the wise parent will let it go. As Mr. Harris also opined, “The only talent worth cultivating is that which is accompanied by patience, persistence and passion.”

Said differently, if those characteristics or attributes are lacking, parents are just setting themselves up for frustration when they say, “If only they would apply themselves.”

Quote of the day: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” ” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes weekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net.


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