What Are You “Natural” At?

A friend attempted to offer me a compliment the other day. She didn’t mean to. She said, “You’re a natural writer. It comes so easy to you.”

I said, “Thank you for thinking so. That means I’m writing well. But I have worked for 20 years to become a ‘natural’ writer.”

She meant well. But, she was wrong. If anything, I’m a “natural” talker. However, I can wave my hands and make you believe I’ve said something concrete when I talk. It isn’t until I write it down that I understand what I know.

Here’s a bold statement:

Nobody is “natural” at anything.

(I make bold statements in all my writing. That’s why you love my writing or you hate it.)

When you declare someone “natural” at anything, you suggest:

  • They have only the talents and skills they have—they owe their skills to their birthright.
  • They don’t have to practice.
  • They never have a problem, they never have to learn from small or large failures.

Before I became a consultant, I wrote various memos inside the companies I worked for. I learned that if I kept my memos short and asked for something specific, I often got good results. I did okay.

I moved up the management ranks. In a director position, I wanted to persuade and influence the senior management so they wouldn’t do something particularly stupid. I wrote a memo and asked the Tech Pubs Manager, Jonathan, to please review it.

His comment? “A verb, JR, a verb. Any verb somewhere in the first paragraph would be nice. And, since that first paragraph is all one sentence, maybe several verbs for that one sentence.”

I could do something with that feedback! I broke that 57-word sentence into about 5 sentences. (No, I don’t remember the exact word count. I’m relying on hyperbole so you engage with the experience.)

Better, with the revisions, I was able to influence my management away from their previous course to a better course. All with writing.

That was in 1992 or so.

I started writing regularly to promote my consulting business in 1997. Yes, that’s 22 years ago. I hated it.

Writing anything took me hours and hours. I got better slowly. I asked colleagues for feedback. I received feedback from editors. I started to learn how to write better and faster. All that feedback informed my learning. That learning informed the next piece of writing.

I published books, and in 2005 I started to enjoy writing. It took me until about 2009 for me to develop the beginning of the writing process I use and teach today.

I have millions of words through my fingers. I’ve received valuable feedback. I now enjoy writing. Notice it took me 22 years to become a “natural.”

Note what I did: I practiced. I asked for feedback. I used that feedback to improve my work.

I used the growth mindset.

The growth mindset doesn’t work for everything. I can practice all I want, but I will never get taller. But, a learnable skill? Yes, the growth mindset works well for that.

I’ve practiced with feedback for at least 22 years. I’m not a natural. On the other hand, I’ve gotten pretty good. And, I keep learning.

Maybe I’ve become a natural at learning? Eh, maybe not. I still have to change how I learn, depending on what I want to learn.

The question this week: What are you “natural” at?

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