Yesterday the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died (#respect) As I was reading some of the many articles written about her life, one of her quotes stood out to me: “Being a singer is a natural gift. I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”
As someone focused on developing people’s talents, this resonated with me. She inspired so many people with her beautiful and powerful voice. Aretha’s “Respect” and “Think” became feminist anthems. It would be difficult to count all the musicians she influenced. Aretha was proud of how she’d developed her talent because she understood how unique and precious it was. It was a gift given to her and she knew that meant she was responsible for making the most of it she could, and that included sharing it with the world.
I think people more easily identify with talents like singing. It’s impact and quality are so easily seen and experienced, especially with someone so famous. But Aretha’s success didn’t come simply because of her talent. She invested her blood, sweat, and tears into turning her gift into the excellence that is her legacy. Her natural talent became her strength because she fed it and nurtured it. If she hadn’t, the world would have missed out on her brilliance.
It’s easy to look at ourselves and if our talent isn’t as obvious as Aretha’s, we assume it is limited, unimportant, or even worse, non-existent. When we tell ourselves that what we have to give isn’t as valuable or big as someone like Aretha, it gives us permission not to try. We can easily imagine the void the world would have without Aretha’s amazing voice, but we don’t think of the impact we could have if we developed our talent “to the highest degree possible.” Even more so, we don’t think about what the world is missing when we take our talents for granted.
Talent isn’t limited to singing, acting, painting, or any of the things that we associate with performing or art. Everyone has talent. Everyone. The things that come easiest to us are our talents, but that’s also exactly why we take them for granted. When we get a compliment about something and think to ourselves, “That was so easy. It’s not a big deal,” we diminish our impact on the people around us. It is easy for you because of your talent – not because it’s easy for everyone. There are so many other people would struggle to do the same thing.
When you invest in your talents, you have the potential for exponential growth. People who aren’t talented in an area can work hard to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful. In fact, hard work can often trump talent when a person with talent in that area isn’t investing in themselves. As Albert Einstein said, “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.” Imagine if Aretha hadn’t practiced and worked as hard as she did. All of us have been given our talents as a gift. It’s our responsibility to feed and grow those gifts to share them with the world.
Imagine what could happen if you put in your 99%.