The hardest talent to recognize is your own

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I cannot take credit for the headline. I scribbled it down in my notebook last week while sitting in the audience listening to a talk from Jon Acuff at STORY. The conference explored being in liminal space – that messy middle between no longer and not yet, or what was and what’s next.

We’ve all been there. Remember those teenage years? Liminal space. So is college. Not to mention getting downsized, relocating, and being stuck in a job that you know is the slow track to nowhere in particular. Many of us are there right now.

While there may be many reasons for being between the no longer and not yet, I’m also reminded of that trite but true saying – change is hard.

For that reason, many of us go to great lengths to avoid change and turn that temporary liminal space into our own permanent parking lot. But that prolonged state of stunted sameness is bound to get disrupted at some point — either against our will or perhaps by some divine intervention (sometimes it’s both).

I gave a talk a couple of years ago where i put a simple math equation up on the screen. It had a series of sixteen numbers on it that looked just like this:

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1

It represented my professional career. I had been in a habit (much like you, I presume) of telling others I had 16 years of experience up until that point. But what I knew to be true was that I had 16 years of the same set of experiences, over and over, January to December, then repeat. I wanted, even expected, capital E experiences while settling for the comfort and complacency of the lowercase version. It was an excruciatingly long period of the not yet.   

Change – even the obvious, you-know-you’ve-got-to-change kind of change – is hard.

Change is hard is one boulder of a statement that casts a dark shadow on the questions the rumble behind it that still cry out for answers: What might I accomplish by taking a risk? What do I have to offer the world through my talents and gifts? What do I really have to lose?

Later in his talk Jon dropped this, which I think gets to the real issue many of us face:

“We’re not afraid of change.

We’re afraid of looking foolish.”

This kind of bold truth, when spoken, is something we cannot unhear. It shines a harsh light into the dark corners of our fragile selves. I started thinking of everything I’ve ever chickened out of because I was afraid… of looking foolish.

Now that you’ve read it – and can’t unsee or unthink it – the challenge is to relentlessly probe your motivations and insecurities to discern if you are more concerned with how you appear in the eyes of others, or how you can impact the lives of others.

When we are willing to believe in our talent, when we muster the fortitude to lead (or confidently walk alongside someone else) with a bold idea or vision or uncommon compassion, when we lean into the hard things together, we learn more about who we are and what we are capable of. We learn about resilience and vulnerability; trust and tenacity.

And we might just discover that those seemingly foolish ideas we've intuitively shied away from are the very things that can spark the change we desire.

Take a cue from Brené Brown, if necessary, and write yourself permission slips to do the bold things you need to do. Give yourself permission to look foolish (should it turn out that way) – if just briefly.

But know that others will likely see that self-labeled foolishness as having courage and the guts to do what many on the sidelines only dream of doing. And soon they too will have to come to grips with not being able to unhear your motivation and unsee your actions.  

We are told and reminded that it is the brilliant thinkers and the talented doers who change the word. And, so, what are you waiting for?


Jon presented this idea to his audience. Steal it, customize it, print it out, put it on a sticky note at your desk:

The world would be more awesome if ____________________.


My work would be more awesome if ___________________________.

My relationships would be more awesome if ___________________________.


What is your “if” that’s hanging out there waiting for you to take action?

Think about it and fill it in.

Then go do it.

Invite others along.

Small ideas that aren't fed and watered stay small.

Small ideas, when shared and nurtured, become bigger ideas – much bigger than any of us imagined.

And that hardly seems foolish.