Making a Difference with Your Talents

Author:  Alexander Patananan
Institution:  UCLA

"Some years ago a young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. "That depends," replied the foreman. "Let's see you fell this tree." The young man stepped forward and skillfully felled a great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, "Start Monday!" Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolled by, and Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, "You can pick up your paycheck on the way out today."

Startled, he replied, "I thought you paid on Friday." "Normally we do," answered the foreman, "but we're letting you go today because you've fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you've dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday." "But I'm a hard worker," the young man objected. "I arrive first, leave last, and even have worked through my coffee breaks!"

The foreman, sensing the boy's integrity, thought for a minute and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your ax?" The young man replied, "I've been working too hard to take the time."- K. Hughes

There are numerous people with very unique talents. Some people have exceptional capabilities of public speaking, while others are able to run a mile at incredible speeds. Some individuals are capable of writing well crafted essays, while others can build incredible structures and machines with their own bare hands. Some people can perform complicated scientific experiments with ease, while others are expert marksmen. According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, 6,677 billion people live on earth currently – a value that is increasing by 212,035 each day. Despite this vast number, each individual has his or her own unique set of talents that no one else on the planet has or ever will be able to possess. 6,677 billion people. In comparison to this number, each individual person is as a speck in a sea of humanity. However, how does a wise person handle their talents in such a way as to make a difference in the lives of others?

First, wise people are always refining their talents. In the story, the logger had a great skill for chopping down trees. His skills must truly have been unique and phenomenal as the foreman, who undoubtedly had seen a wide spectrum of loggers in his career, was genuinely impressed. Nevertheless, at the end of just his first week this young logger had already encountered difficulty. Have you ever wondered what separates a doctor that makes a significant difference in the lives of others from your average day Joe? At your respective universities, you have probably seen several students with the same capabilities do drastically different on exams. You might have even seen people who had the same capabilities at the university level end up completely different in terms of making a difference with their lives. Frequently the difference between these individuals is not their capabilities, but rather their dedication to refining and improving their skills. What good are talents if you bury them in the sand? No matter what set of talents you have, you can never use them to make a difference unless you are constantly refining them. For example, if you go to your local track stadium, you might see several young people running at a fast pace. You might even say, "Wow, that person will probably go to the Olympics some day!" But, why do so few people actually make it to the Olympics? Answer: most people become comfortable with their gifts, and very few actually seek out ways to improve their talents.

Second, wise people remain focused, humble, and transfer praise when their talents are exalted. So many times when we get a good grade on an exam, excel at a sport, receive an award, or accomplish some other achievement, the circumference of our head magically expands in size by several inches. Although in the short run our emotions might make us feel that we are the best thing since sliced bread, I challenge you to "trust not in oppression, and become not vain in robbery: if riches increase, set not your heart upon them (Psalm 62:10)." Receiving an award for a race is great, but it only lasts for a little while. Receiving the praise for that exam is great, but it only lasts until you have to take the next exam. Although there is nothing wrong with accomplishing goals and tasks well and receiving credit for a job well done, the desire to achieve man's praise and awards should never be the driving force behind our activities. Rather, as every man hath received gifts, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of those gifts.

Finally, wise people build their talents in times of trouble. Let us do a small activity right now. Take your hands and make them into fists. Now raise and lower these fisted hands by bending at the elbow and making a "pumping" action. You could probably do this all day, no? However, would you really accomplish anything other than developing tendonitis in your elbow? Now, obtain a bar and attach some weights to it and perform the same pumping action as previously described. You could probably do a minute or so of this pumping before your arm would feel like it is on fire and about to fall off. Why is this? The weights on the bar are putting strain on your muscles and are literally causing the fibers to rip. However, it is this muscle damage that eventually leads to the development of larger and stronger muscles. In life, problems are like weights that can be used to build one's talents. Someone once correctly stated, "Problems are opportunities with work clothes on." Our response to problems and challenges inevitably help to sharpen our talents. For the student, for example, an examination can be a great problem! But, when you study hard for an exam, you develop more brain cells and knowledge, thus adding onto your existing capabilities.

To close, I once heard the story of Florence Chadwick. Florence tried to swim 21 miles across the Catalina Channel in 1952. Fending off ice-cold water, sharks, and the physical strain of swimming that distance, Florence Chadwick was making significant progress to accomplishing her goal of swimming across the channel. However, with just a half mile to go and 16 hours of swimming, Florence quit her amazing attempt. Why you may ask? It must have been the sharks, right? Or, maybe it was just exhaustion? Wrong, it was the fog. A dense fog had shrouded Florence's view of the shore and of her support boats. She later stated, "I'm not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it." When trials come, and your talents are tested, it can seem as if a dense fog has obscured our view of the prize as well. In this editorial, we have seen that refining our talents, being humble and focused, in addition to using problems to our advantage are key to making a difference in the lives of others through our abilities. However, it is easy to read an editorial like this and say, "This is an important message! This is something that others can use," without ever actually changing your life for the better. Two months after Florence's failed attempted at crossing the channel, she was in the water again. Under the same conditions and with the same fog, she broke the world record for the swim by over two hours. How could she accomplish this feat? Florence maintained her goal in mind and put her faith in the existence of a seemingly invisible shore. Today, I challenge you to be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.

This editorial is based on the views of the author and may not reflect the opinion of the Journal of Young Investigators as a whole.