014 – The Most Common Thing

Greetings, Hero!

I have a confession to make about this letter—one I hope you’re willing to forgive. Every week, I try to write about the least common things in life: true acts of nobility, courage, thoughtfulness, and heroism. I especially try to find some of the overlooked heroes, those who spent their time not with swords and shields but with the more ordinary tools of life, the ones more difficult to master. But today, I’m writing about something different, something altogether more mundane and commonplace. Today’s letter about the most common, least interesting part of people: talent. 

Even writing the word makes me more than a little sick in the stomach, because I’ve never seen something come in between more heroes and their quests. Now, you could be asking—and rightfully so—isn’t talent one of the most useful things a hero can have? And in a sense, yes. Talent represents the things you do better than some or most other people, and that can be a great benefit to any hero on their journey. But the problem is that when we read stories, we only see the hero on their quest, using their talent to overcome ordeals. But we forget all about the people who let their talent come in between them and accepting their call to adventure. 

There’s a quote from a hero I’ve yet to actually meet, in part because he keeps his whereabouts unknown, the street artist Banksy. He said “Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.” And I’m afraid he’s right. For how much we praise talent, it’s ridiculously common—I’ve yet to meet someone without at least one hidden talent up their sleeve. But that’s not the entire quote. Banksy goes on to give this advice, which is what today’s letter is really about:

“Leave the house before you find something worth staying in for.” 

The problem with talent, and the fate that so often befalls the talented, is simply that: spending their whole entire life being talented. They fall for the sweet poison of the easy compliment, the praise heaped on them for skill in something they didn’t really work that hard for. And the more they get used to that praise, the more they get used to that status, the harder it is for them to leave it behind and set out on the adventure—the thing their talent was really meant for all along. And they’re stuck at home, playing out the same old talents for the same old people, rotting away inside, dreaming of what could have been but not willing to pay the cost to attain it… 

So whether your talents are few or many, the advice to you is the same: “Nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful people with talent, leave the house before you find something worth staying in for. ”

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You!

The Mentor

The Letter from the Mentor is a weekly letter of encouragement and inspiration from your favorite old wizard, archetypal figure The Mentor. Full of advice, stories, and cheerful good will, the Letter from the Mentor is a weekly reflection on the greatest heroes of our time and those times before. You can read more letters below or sign up to get them in your inbox every Tuesday morning here:

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Greetings, hero! I love heroes—all of them, and everything about them. I love their journeys, their stories, and the trials they face, big and small.

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