Unearthing the talent within ourselves and our children

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What a great story, so inspiring, hidden talent which may never have seen the light of day were it not for serendipity visiting Ray Collins, a colour blind miner in an Australian town which I hadn’t heard of before today, Bulli.

Ray was forced to give up, to leave, his job because of injury and with his, I guess, insurance payout, he bought a camera. A colour blind miner with no experience of photography, he bought a camera and what happened? a brilliant photographer emerged from the shadows.

I often think about hidden, unearthed talent  –  how sad, more precisely, how tragic, when a person with talent goes through his/her whole life, birth to death, without ever discovering that talent. What a tragedy for them and how sad for the world.

Imagine if Mozart’s dad hadn’t plonked little Wolfie in front of the piano…a dreadful thought!

Imagine if Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra or Stan and Ollie had never discovered their talents!

Ray Collins’ story teaches us that within ourselves, there may be lurking something beautiful (if it hasn’t already emerged)…some of us are butterflies but others are still caterpillars. Ray would never have imagined, in those dark, hard days a mile underground, that he could create such beautiful works of art, photographs which would make people gasp in awe, photographs which would capture the power of the sea. I needed that story. It’s the kind of story which revs me up. I’ve got dreams but no justification for believing that I can achieve them.

I have to believe that I am a caterpillar, that I am not the finished article.

Serendipity plays a part in the discovery of talent and genius but the character and personality of the individual is just as important. If a parent sits a 6 year old child at a piano and sees that the child has ‘something’, that ‘something’ will end up as nothing if the kid doesn’t have the inner strength and character elements necessary to convert the talent into something beautiful. All the parent is witnessing in the 6 year old is the raw material, something which, only with all the other necessary ingredients, can be amazing.

There are all sorts of reasons why, I guess usually, hidden talent remains hidden and is never unearthed. Presumably, the biggest factor is family circumstances…it’s more likely that a child born into a wealthy family will discover a gift for playing tennis than will a child born into ‘poor’ circumstances. That is just an assumption…I have no empirical evidence to back that up, I may be wrong and it may be that lots of world class tennis players have come from ‘poor’ family backgrounds. I also assume that ‘poor’ family circumstances and a lack of money are the stuff of less fertile ground for emerging pianists than are the neighbourhoods of Hampstead and Beverly Hills.

There has recently been a debate over the advantages that privately educated children have over their state educated counterparts in ‘getting into acting’…interestingly, THE two big names in ‘the movies’ at the moment are Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne: Cumberbatch went to Harrow and Redmayne went to Eton, schools which, I’m sure, give a lot more time and resources to acting than does the average state school. We’ll never know if the aforementioned would still have ‘made it’ had they not had privileged starts.

It does, of course, work the other way…children born into privileged backgrounds in which money abounds, I guess they are less likely than underprivileged children to ‘make it’ as footballers or boxers.

Parenting, of course, is key. Children from privileged and underprivileged backgrounds without parental support (I don’t mean financial), they will have the odds stacked extra high against them. It’s not impossible without the support of parents but it’s a lot more difficult (Bruce Oldfield, the fashion designer, is an example of one person who beat the odds).

It’s not easy for parents. What if you have a child who keeps starting new things, piano, guitar, tennis, ballet but gives up after only a few weeks? go with it, keep indulging the child’s every whim, pay for lessons, buy rackets and the ballet shoes, and see them in a heap in the corner of the bedroom the following month? I think it comes down to knowing your child, knowing if he/she is going into activities halfhearted or if there is some evidence of drive, determination and commitment in the character of the child, desire to commit to activities, to enjoy creating, winning or finishing projects/exercises.

I also think that, as parents, we have to try to achieve the balance between ‘managing’/’steering’ our children in what we think is the right direction and giving them room to grow. If we can get that balance right and we bring them up on fertile ground, ground on which they are inspired by what they see around them, in and out of the family home, if they get the right life lessons, if there are stimuli around them to fire them up, I think we are giving our children a good start.

As parents, we have to invest ‘of ourselves’ in our children. Money isn’t enough, children need their parents’ time. What held me back was me, not my parents. They were, and still are, terrific parents and my aim is to try to emulate their example as best I can. My memory of my parents when I was growing up is of their always being there for me (and I can’t speak for my sister but I assume that she feels the same). Mum had a ladies’ clothing shop, she went to work every day but she was always home when I got home from school  –  she put us before the business (I know that that is not something that all parents can afford to do, that a lot of parents HAVE TO work long hours just to put food on the table). I always wanted to see mum sitting by the fire, watching tele, when I got home from school and I still remember her being there. It gave me such a strong feeling of security and comfort. Mum tells me that dad was away on business a lot but I have no memory of his being away  –  my memory is of mum and dad being there all the time. Another abiding memory is of mum sitting on the side of my bed when I was very young, a toddler, singing the famous Brahms lullaby, with her own lyrics, the majority of which I remember, whilst stroking my cheek.

That memory is still so vivid today, it affects me deeply and it reinforces the bonds of love between mum/dad and me.

Thanks, mum and dad, for everything. l love you!

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