‘The gift and the curse.’ This phrase came to mind this week, while setting up arrangements to record a new set of IG spots for July, along with memories of all the tedious DIY arrangements made for previous shows. After the recording, I got curious about where the phrase originated from. A Google search of keywords mostly resulted in numerous links to Jay Z’s “The Blueprint 2” album, but the notion overall seemed preexisting. The phrase has largely been used to describe the pros and cons of possessing something of value. But how can something of value be considered a liability?
Talent and gifting have commonly been referred to as both a gift and a curse, regardless of profession—possibly due to the level of discipline required to maintain and cultivate it, as well as the net yield or loss experienced in the process. Before entering my freshman year at USC, I imagined myself married and retired from the road by forty with two kids and a home, following a critically and commercially successful career—performing at my leisure. Over the years, as I continued performing, I watched other former classmates and alumni acquire the things that I’d wanted. It felt as if my worst nightmare was coming true—that I’d failed. I found myself talking to God a lot beyond traditional church-prayer talk, having conversations like: “Why should I continue doing this? If I can do all things through Christ, and you gave me other gifts, why can’t I do something else? Why does it have to be this? It’s not working. Just tell me what to do… I can do something else!” And there was no answer.
At this point of questioning, it was during a visit with my aunt—who is a nun, and one of the illest human beings ever—that my ideas of success were challenged. We were sitting together in her car outside of a Hobby Lobby, and I was exhausted. I recalled my experiences to her and how nothing had worked out for me with my music career, and that I felt I had made a mistake in pursuing it. She evaluated what I had to say, and then calmly broke down her viewpoint. She reminded me of our family line and the abnormality of gifting that runs through it. That so many of us are highly gifted in so many areas, including: music, culinary arts, craftsmanship, education— and then she told me something that left me baffled. She told me that our gifts were meant to serve others. From that point of the conversation, I heard her talking, but I didn’t hear anything else she said. I found myself walking around for weeks afterwards questioning aloud: “To serve?! What does that mean?” It sounded ridiculous. All I ever wanted was to be the best. I wanted to be Betty Carter (in my own way of course, because who can ever be her, LOL) and achieve Mission Complete. I didn’t want to serve. I wanted to be like everyone else and be a success. I felt disappointed, discouraged and lost. Funny enough, within the following year, if not months after that conversation, I started getting hit from every angle with what on the surface amounted to coincidental mini-crises, which ushered me right into an ambush experience that piloted me straight towards rock bottom.
Looking back, I think the metaphor of talent as being both a gift and a curse carries a much deeper context. A gift is defined by the underlying action verb—it is given—and when it is withheld or stifled by environment or fear, in terms of talent and gifting, it becomes a burden. Your talent matures to its highest potential when it derives from a mindset of service, versus financial profit, self-worth or validation. And so, this phrase has finally caught up with me, as I am now in a place of experimentation, searching for ways to realign my talents under this theorem, while fighting my wariness of risk and fear of failure. But at the end, what choice do any of us have as artists, regardless of how many talents you have been given, per the well-known and often quoted Parable of the Talents? Could you ever really be comfortable living, knowing that in the end you will be held accountable for what you have done with what you were given—knowing you abandoned your talent based on lack of gain or validation? The one failure that you will definitely be judged for is in burying what you were given.