Throughout the course of my extensive career in chinuch as the dean of PHDS, I have had the opportunity to deal with many talented students. Following graduation, many of them don’t necessarily achieve their full potential. At the same time, we often see students who seem to have average abilities achieve great success in life. Why is this?
Rabbi Shmuel Gluck of Areivim, one of my friends and mentors, counsels many teens nationwide and has helped several of our students over the years understand the answer to this question. I am sharing his article as a two-part series:
Part One: Can Raw, Natural Talent Create Success on Its Own?
It’s important to know why people with above-average strengths don't necessarily achieve success consistent with those strengths. Understanding this will help them learn to succeed and will offer insights to the people around them who want to help them succeed. This message is important for everyone, as all people can benefit from it to some degree.
Having above-average natural strengths is enough for children to succeed during their early years. A quick sense of humor, being the first to master the multiplication tables, and passing tests without studying is enough to make them successful and popular. They don't need to work — and they don’t!
As children become older, schoolwork requires more than natural talent. Some children become disciplined, others are satisfied with barely passing, and still others fail but focus on staying popular even when that requires misbehavior. In addition to focusing on popularity, these children ignore school and focus on areas in which they can, once again, succeed without effort.
Talented people fail because they insist on ignoring the parts of their lives in which they can't succeed through sheer talent. They don't have the patience, and don't see the need, to cultivate their natural strengths and improve on those strengths with additional, learned ones. The result is that they begin jobs, commitments, and relationships with flair, raising expectations, but, because they lack the necessary learned skills, they quickly implode and fail.
Since they are unaccustomed to failure and have not learned proper coping skills, such as self-reflection and internal honesty, they convince themselves that their failures were not implosions, but were caused by external causes. Sadly, they fool only themselves. They go from job to job, from one business plan to another, and from one ill-prepared scheme to another.
Sometimes people with natural talents do succeed in business, because they are fortunate to have other skills to support their natural talents. Nevertheless, their business success often brings them to another failure.
People with an abundance of natural talents believe that they can use their skills to help them succeed in business and in other areas of their lives. When they were in school, they believed that their talents exempted them from studying. When they grew older, they believed that those same misguided confidences would work in their marriages, and as parents. They could never imagine that being fast talkers who promised their clients what they wanted to hear would not "work" with their wives and children. They also could not imagine that emotions, such as empathy, sensitivity, and guilt, would ever be needed. They were confident that they could "talk their way out of" whatever they did, or did not do, to their wives and children. However, I have seen many successful businessmen fail in marriage because they could not believe that two different sets of skills were needed — one at work, and another in marriage/parenting.
Natural talent alone can't create success. When it’s left by itself, it becomes more of a hindrance than an asset. To be more accurate, natural talent can be a great "start," but it can't do it alone. However, when it’s partnered with the proper skills, it can't be matched.
Next week, in Part Two, Rabbi Gluck will share five insights on how to understand our talents and how to use these G-d-given skills in tandem with effort and learning other skills to help us succeed, b’ezras Hashem.
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman