Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?
— Benjamin Franklin
Maria came to see me about her challenge to integrate her achievements into a fulfilling or rewarding life. At 28-years old, Maria studied music for many years and already performed at the Metropolitan Opera. Although her professional career was moving along very well, she struggled in her personal relationships. The relationship concerns, however, did not lead her to therapy. In fact, she came to me unconcerned about her personal life, claiming to feel “much clearer” about personal life than ever had before.
Maria explained that she recently experienced a religious awakening. Her newfound faith brought her a deeper understanding of life and brought her to end her singing career. She came to see me because she felt that pursuing her talent as an opera singer “drew too much attention” to her, making her selfish. Feeling that singing was “too egotistical” and “self-serving,” “having people pay money to hear her,” she struggled now to use her talent to serve God and others.
Maria achieved her significant operatic goals but struggled to find meaningful relationships. She felt that redirecting her career would lead to break her “self-sabotaging” and “self- destructive cycles” in relationships through sharing in more meaningful connections with others. Her religious awakening revealed an “all or nothing” quality: Maria regarded anything less than strict self-sacrifice for herself and others as unfaithfulness. According to her God required “Suppression of the self and any attention of personal gifts.” She didn’t quite hear the second part of the clause “love your neighbor, as yourself.” For Maria, studying her art and perfecting her skill was self-indulgence. Her talent and her career was at odds with her faith.
Maria found a conflict between expressing her unique gifts and her relationship with God. Rather than accepting the evident invitation to convince her otherwise, we explored the multiple factors that she feared threatened her relationship with God—and how the consuming demands of her career imposed on meaningful relationships. In this way, she pursued efforts that allowed her to balance attention to her skills while still honoring her faith and responding sensitively to the needs of others. Exploring her engagement of her talents opened her awareness to attend to the important relationship and love of herself, others, and God. Maria found that her career and her faith could harmoniously coexist.
Honing our talents (our creativity) is a beloved, if not sacred, aspect of our life. Pursuing our talents unfolds our unique promise and deserve quality investment but is not served if it leads us to egocentrism and narcissism. Fulfillment evolves as we balance our commitments to our talents and personal life. For many, like Maria, the key is to balance our commitments through our love of Self, Others, and God; this quest permits us to fully realize our potential.
In our highly competitive society, the demands of pursuing our talents often clash with the responsibilities of family life, the connections to self, other, and God. We all have to look within and assess the value and meaning of our choices, our commitments to work and to our personal life. This search leads us to value our talents in a deeper, more heartfelt way.
Our choices in personal and professional life are not inherently right or wrong. These choices are guided by unconscious motivations, in addition to the more obvious forces of rewards and social pressures under which we find ourselves. In pursuing our goals, our decisions cannot be solely based on what seems personally appealing. Our best guide comes from checking in with our True Self and balancing our Critical Connections to Self, Others, and God. By considering our decisions against these criteria, we know that we are making the right choice.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of True Coming of Age: A Dynamic Process That Leads to Emotional Stability, Spiritual Growth, and Meaningful Relationships. For more information please visit www.drchirban.com.