Thursday, 10 November 2011

No opportunity to exploit your talent?

Everybody has talents waiting to be developed. Education may give you the opportunity to move into your chosen direction provided that you take the right courses. Similarly, the labour market offers many different positions; if you obtain suitable employment, you will learn and thrive; on the other hand, if your job is unchallenging, you will not have much fun.

This principle, which seems so obvious and forceful, is extraordinarily difficult to implement. Most people are aware of the desirability of personal growth, but few individuals manage to exploit their talents to the maximum. Is this phenomenon due to lack of ambition? Would the problem be solved if those persons possessed greater determination?

If acquiring a stronger psychology was the answer, obstacles to personal growth would be easier to overcome. Those who wish to further their career would just need to attend a course on motivation or listen to an audio-book on the subject.

Even if there is no shortage of such courses and audio-books, the results speak for themselves. People's lives are affected for a short period of time, a few days or weeks, before they return to previous patterns.

An intense desire for personal growth does not guarantee a positive result. People fail in such endeavours because they lack any of the three indispensable elements: either they have not identified their specific talents, or they fail to develop them, or they cannot figure out how to exploit them commercially.

Those three factors, if applied consistently, can result in phenomenal accomplishments. In contrast, when any of those three ingredients is missing, little will be achieved. If you do not focus on your best qualities, education will hardly increase your effectiveness. If you labour in the wrong field, you will experience boredom.

Readers who live in the United Kingdom have probably heard of Alexander Cruden (1699-1770). His life provides us a compelling example of the results of adopting brilliant and mistaken strategies for personal development. Like many talented people, Cruden attempted to improve his station in life through personal initiative. However, his well-intended actions did not always produce positive results.

Cruden was born in Scotland and studied in Aberdeen with the goal of becoming a priest. During his training, he acquired a deep command of Greek and Latin, as well as detailed knowledge of the Bible. In his early twenties, while he was preparing himself to be ordained, he fell in love with his professor's daughter, who apparently was already involved with another man.

The problems that ensued blocked Cruden's ordination and forced him to move from Scotland to London in order to find a job. Since he could no longer become a priest, the question was how he could exploit his talent in the best possible manner.

Undoubtedly, Cruden must have experienced his failure to attain ordination as a major shock. His studies in Aberdeen had allowed him to acquire extensive expertise but only in areas that had little application outside the church.

His natural path to personal growth was obstructed and his employment prospects were bleak. If you had been in Alexander Cruden's shoes, what actions would you have undertaken to turn around the situation? Which strategy would you have adopted to exploit your talent? This is what Cruden did:

[1] Stabilize the situation: While he figured out how to make the best of his life, Cruden took a job as a tutor in London, in the house of wealthy family. After a while, he found a position as proof corrector, supervising publications. These jobs allowed him to put his knowledge to good use.

[2] Identify the best opportunities to exploit his talent: Eventually, Cruden realized that he would be better off working for himself and began a book-selling business in central London. In parallel, he started to write, hoping to attain recognition and financial success.

Alexander Cruden's plan was impeccable and, given enough time, it would have produced substantial benefits with limited risks. Unfortunately, in addition to adopting the best possible strategy, he also chose, at the same time, to embrace the worst.

For reasons that nowadays are difficult to fathom, Cruden became obsessed with righteousness and language. Single-handedly, he undertook a campaign to protect the morals of England and efface bad spelling from public life. It was a bizarre crusade which, in the eyes of many, made Cruden look quite mad.

When he was in his fifties, Alexander Cruden gave himself the surname "the Corrector" and petitioned the English Parliament to appoint him "Corrector of the Morals of the Nation." Despite Cruden's sustained efforts to convince Members of Parliament to grant him this title, it was all to no avail.

Cruden's fixation with correctness reached such an extreme that, when he went out of his home, he carried a sponge with which he deleted any signs that he found in the street that he considered against good morals, grammar, or spelling. Such attitude led him to conflicts in which he defended his views with emphasis and determination.

His activities as self-appointed public corrector did secure Cruden a place in the list of History's great eccentrics, but contributed little to exploit his talents. Even if the man possessed genius, his obsession with righteousness did not produce a successful outcome.

To his advantage and that of posterity, Cruden simultaneously pursued his writing ambitions. When he was in his mid-thirties, he conceived the idea of a dictionary that would explain every concept in the Bible.

At a time when computers did not yet exist, the scope of such project could have exhausted the resources of any publishing house. Hundreds of words would have to be indexed, definitions would have to be written, quotations revised, and references organized.

The Bible Concordance was a gigantic enterprise, but Alexander Cruden carried it out alone. He did the complete work on his own, from beginning to end, without any help. It took him 12 years to complete the book, which he published himself when he was 38th years old.

The project demanded the very best of Cruden's talents: his knowledge of classical languages and his extensive Bible expertise. The book, which sold slowly in the beginning, became a success after its second edition in 1761. During the last decade of his life, Alexander Cruden was able to enjoy the well-deserved success of his labour.

Since its first publication in 1737, Cruden's Bible Concordance has remained uninterruptedly in print. It has sold a large number of copies around the world and remains a testimony of how much an individual can achieve by following the right strategy.


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