Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Gospel Principles #34 – Developing Our Talents

This blog entry is designed to help give you ideas for teaching this lesson in Relief Society or Melchizedek Priesthood. Because it is meant to give tips on teaching a half hour lesson, it is longer than our usual blog entries. See Best Practices for Teaching Relief Society for more information about Sprout’s teaching philosophy.

What are talents, where did they come from, and why do we have them?

Growing ZucchiniIn any discussion about talents, it’s usually helpful to begin by defining what talents are. When I was brainstorming for this lesson, I came up with a list of words or phrases that could be synonyms for talents. Here’s what I came up with:

  • gifts
  • natural abilities
  • strengths
  • something you do really well
  • spark of genius
  • natural aptitude

My father worked for several years for the church’s hiring department and so he has spent quite a bit of time thinking about talents and how to identify, discover, and nurture these talents in other people. He told me that you know you have a talent for something when you find yourself doing something that meets one (or even all) of these criteria:

  • You make it look easy.
  • You didn’t have to work at it.
  • It comes naturally to you; you learn it rapidly.
  • You have flashes of brilliance or inspiration.
  • You don’t think about it.
  • It’s instinctive.
  • You may even take it for granted that “everyone can do that.”
  • You excel at it. Complete brilliant performance.
  • It brings you joy to use it or give it away.

My father once told me about a study done by the Gallup Organization. As part of an in-depth study of more than a million employees worldwide, they worked on identifying each employee’s talents. Interestingly enough, their study found that every employee had at least 1 thing that they could do better than 10,000 other employees. Isn’t that remarkable to think that we each have something we can do better than 10,000 other people?

So, now that we have somewhat of a sense of what talents are, we need to refresh our memory about where talents come from. Assign someone to read the first paragraph in the manual (on page 197):

We all have special gifts, talents, and abilities given to us by our Heavenly Father. When we were born, we brought these gifts, talents, and abilities with us.

As this section of the manual states, talents are gifts from our Heavenly Father. We began developing them in the pre-mortal existence and we brought them with us here with us.

At this point, I would ask my class: why do we have talents? For what purpose have we been given talents? (Build on the responses from the class.) After getting everyone’s responses, I would emphasize that Heavenly Father has given us our talents to help us with the mission we are supposed to perform here on this earth. Our talents are like little clues or hints about what that mission is. And that’s one reason why it’s very important that we work to discover what those talents are.

When I had first graduated from college, I struggled to find a job and I started to feel confused about what I was supposed to do with my life. One day as I was on my way to a job interview, I prayed to know if this job was what I was supposed to do with my life. The answer that I received gave me great comfort. The Spirit said to me: “When you are using your talents and abilities to bless the lives of other people, then you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.” I think that’s true of all of us.

But I have no talents!

Assign someone to read this paragraph from page 197 of the lesson manual:

We have a responsibility to develop the talents we have been given. Sometimes we think we do not have many talents or that other people have been blessed with more abilities than we possess. Sometimes we do not use our talents because we are afraid that we might fail or be criticized by others. We should not hide our talents. We should use them. Then others can see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father (see Matthew 5:16).

There is an interesting tension that is at work in this paragraph from the manual–and I’d like to explore this tension more throughout this lesson. The tension is between this divine responsibility we have to develop and use the talents we’ve been given, but also this strange sense of our own inadequacy we develop about our talents—or the feeling that we have no talents.

In an Ensign article entitled “If Your Talents Come Incognito,” Anya Bateman gives a few interesting anecdotes about this dilemma. She writes:

A certain sister in my ward is amazingly articulate. Words flow from her lips as if she is hooked to a heavenly tape recorder. I had noticed this gift as she presented lessons, participated in discussions, or simply talked with me informally. One day, when she called me on the phone, I decided it was about time I mentioned how much I admire her gift.

Her reaction astounded me. “Oh, no!” she said. “That’s entirely wrong! In fact, you’re talking about one of my worst areas.”

Knowing that sometimes we feel a need to act modest when our strengths are mentioned, I pursued, feeling that she surely must be aware of her talent. But again she denied her gift.

Later in the week, I mentioned to Linda, a close friend, how uncanny it seems that often those who are the most talented can’t see their gifts.

“Then there are people like me,” said multitalented Linda. “We can’t see our talents because we have none to see.” …

[Later on in she was having a conversation with another neighbor about her talents:]

When I suggested to a neighbor that she take the time to brainstorm, ponder, and list her strengths on some sheets of paper, she said, “Sure. But a ticket stub will do.”

I want to pose a question to you about the dilemma of talents: why is it so difficult for us to recognize our own talents? And when we do catch a hint of some of our own talents, why do we find it difficult to see their value for ourselves? Why is it so hard to really get a sense of what they’re worth? (Build on the responses from the class.)

Building on the rest of Anya Bateman’s article, I would proffer the following advice to keep in mind when thinking about our own talents:

Recognize that there are many different kinds of talents. We often think that because our talents are invisible to us that we have none. I think it’s important to remember that some talents are easier to see than others.

Talents that are easy to notice:

  • being a good athlete
  • intelligence, being good at school
  • gardening
  • singing
  • dancing
  • playing a musical instrument
  • drawing, painting, sculpting
  • cooking, baking
  • writing
  • public speaking
  • teaching
  • acting
  • composing songs
  • having a good sense of humor
  • sewing
  • being a good photographer
  • storytelling
  • repairing things

Talents that are not as easy to notice:

  • having empathy
  • being a peacemaker
  • forgiving easily
  • being positive and energetic
  • communicating effectively
  • being a good listener
  • having self-control, discipline
  • being able to make decisions
  • setting goals, getting tasks accomplished
  • being good with children
  • giving service
  • being friendly and kind to others
  • being able to make people feel comfortable and at ease with you
  • seeing the good in others
  • thrifty, good at saving money
  • giving thoughtful presents
  • punctuality

The talents on the second list might not be as noticeable, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important. In fact, on one of the Economics podcast I listen to, lately they’ve been talking about how these so-called “soft skills” (getting along with people, showing up to work on time) are a much greater predictor of success in the workplace than the skills we normally think of being important or useful.

Sometimes because a talent is so natural and easy for us, we assume everyone else must have that talent as well. Because talents are often second-nature to us, it’s often harder for us to see our own talents. And because it’s become normal for us, we don’t recognize how special that gift really is. This reminds me of of when I was studying to be an English teacher in college and how one of my professors warned us that we needed to watch out for “English major’s disease” as a teacher. Because reading and writing comes so easily to us as English majors, we sometimes can’t understand why it’s hard for our students and why they just can’t grasp what appears to us to be a really simple concept. It sometimes makes it difficult for us to empathize with students who are struggling with concepts we are teaching them. I think that’s further evidence of the fact that it’s easy to take our own talents for granted and imagine that everyone has them.

Recognize your uniqueness. No two people have the same combination of talents. For example, two people might have the gift of leadership, but they might bring all sorts of different strengths to their ability to lead. Some leaders are so positive or enthusiastic that they just inspire you to do your best. Some leaders have the ability to anticipate problems before they arrive and find ways to circumvent a problem in advance. Some leaders have tremendous compassion and empathy for the people they lead. Recognize that you bring unique strengths to the roles you fill.

Recognize Heavenly Father’s hand in your abilities. Sometimes we worry that it would be prideful to rejoice in our talents. But if you think of your talents as a gift from God that has been given to you to use, that can help to give you a different perspective. Give yourself permission to enjoy your talents. You should also remember that Heavenly Father wants you to discover your talents and He will help you to do so if you ask for His assistance.

Recognize that there are different levels of development. Sometimes we decide that we don’t have a particular talent because it’s still in the early stages of being developed and we haven’t yet mastered that particular skill. But a gift that is still in the beginning stages is still a gift. Compare your skills in that area today to what they were 5 or 10 or 15 years ago and you’ll begin to see that you’ve come a long way.

Most importantly, don’t compare yourself with others. We usually judge others at their best and ourselves at our worst. For example, I sometimes get depressed reading those beautiful Mormon Mommy Blogs. All of their children seem so cute and perfectly dressed. They’ve got amazing photography of all their many craft projects. Their lives seem perfect. But then I remind myself that I’m seeing these women portray their best selves on their blogs; they’re not writing about times when they might get frustrated with their kids or something doesn’t go right. So, it’s good to keep things in perspective. Anya Bateman has another wonderful Ensign article exploring this idea. It’s called “Comparatively Speaking.” I’d recommend checking it out.

Discovering and Nurturing Our Talents

Ask the class: how can we discover our talents? And once we’ve discovered our talents, how can we nurture them? (Build on the responses from the class.)

Read from the manual, starting at the bottom of page 197:

There are certain things we must do to develop our talents. First, we must discover our talents. We should evaluate ourselves to find our strengths and abilities. Our family and friends can help us do this. We should also ask our Heavenly Father to help us learn about our talents.

Second, we must be willing to spend the time and effort to develop the talent we are seeking.

Third, we must have faith that our Heavenly Father will help us, and we must have faith in ourselves.

Fourth, we must learn the skills necessary for us to develop our talents. We might do this by taking a class, asking a friend to teach us, or reading a book.

Fifth, we must practice using our talent. Every talent takes effort and work to develop. The mastery of a talent must be earned.

Sixth, we must share our talent with others. It is by our using our talents that they grow (see Matthew 25:29).

All of these steps are easier if we pray and seek the Lord’s help. He wants us to develop our talents, and He will help us.

I think that’s a pretty good list, but there’s a few things I would add:

  • Look for “themes” in your life. Pay attention to times in your life when you feel most happy and fulfilled (or reflect back on times when you felt that way). Notice times when you feel “in the zone,” when you feel like you were the right person at the right time. I call these moments “joy stories.” These moments in our lives are gifts that can help us recognize our talents.
  • Write in your journal and review your journal from time to time. As you reflect back on the experiences of the day, you might begin to see patterns emerge in your life.
  • Ask family and friends for things they notice about you. Because it’s often so much easier to notice talents in others than it is to notice our own talents, it could be helpful to get the perspectives of the people who know you best.
  • Serve in church callings. Participating in a wide variety of activities can help you to discover your strengths and church callings can give you those opportunities.
  • Pray and ask for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Remember that the Lord wants you to discover and use your talents. He will help you on your journey.
  • Study your patriarchal blessing and other Priesthood blessings you receive. You patriarchal blessing is a special message to you about your divine mission. It will help to give you some hints about your talents.

Lastly, you need to nurture talents in others. When you are the recipient of someone else’s talents, thank them for it and point it out to them. Help them to see what they may be unable to see in themselves. Also, don’t criticize or put people down when they are still in the beginning stages of developing their talents—especially children. Be supportive and congratulate them for trying their best. Try to give them opportunities to further develop their talents when possible.

Conclusion

I would conclude by reading the following quote from President Hinckley:

There is something of divinity within each of you. You have such tremendous potential with that quality as a part of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world. Train your minds and your hands that you may be equipped to serve well in the society of which you are a part. Cultivate the art of being kind, of being thoughtful, of being helpful. Refine within you the quality of mercy which comes as a part of the divine attributes you have inherited….

[C]ultivate the light you have within you, and it will shine through as a radiant expression that will be seen by others.

You need never feel inferior. You need never feel that you were born without talents or without opportunities to give them expression. Cultivate whatever talents you have, and they will grow and refine and become an expression of your true self appreciated by others (from “The Light within You,” Ensign, May 1995).

Post Script for Earth Stewardship Readers

The lesson manual says the following (on page 199):

President Joseph F. Smith said, “Every son and every daughter of God has received some talent, and each will be held to strict account for the use or misuse to which it is put” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 370). A talent is one kind of stewardship (responsibility in the kingdom of God). The parable of the talents tells us that when we serve well in our stewardship, we will be given greater responsibilities. If we do not serve well, our stewardship will eventually be taken from us. (See Matthew 25:14–30.)

This lesson defines stewardship as a “responsibility in the kingdom of God.” It gives us a charge to magnify in our stewardship so that we can be given greater responsibilities later. How can this definition and understanding of stewardship be applied to the concept of earth stewardship? In what ways is our stewardship over our talents similar to our stewardship over the earth?