Your Hidden Abilities and Why You Need to Find Them

When I was 40, I went through a phase during which I feared all of my creativity had been sapped.

I was in the thick of child-rearing and running a home, with all that this time of life entails. Most of my time was spent driving kids to activities, volunteering at their schools, cleaning up messes, and preparing meals that usually involved the words “nugget” or “roll-up.”

Although it was rewarding watching my children grow and thrive, I had no outlet for self-expression or creativity. In fact, I thought I had no creativity.

Someone suggested I read the book, The Artist's Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. In the book, Julia suggests that to stimulate creativity, you should commit to a period of “reading deprivation,” so you have no excuse not to do something playful and creative. She even provides a list of ideas.

When I looked at her list, I wanted to find something that was easily interrupt-able, as I had a 3-year-old at the time and knew that my down-time came in 5-10 minute blips.

I chose drawing.

At the time, I had no artistic ability whatsoever — my competency level was in the stick figure range. The last time I had seriously attempted drawing, I was under 12 years old and using crayons.

But nevertheless, I picked up a #2 pencil and a piece of construction paper and found a drawing of a bird that looked simple to draw. I focused on copying the lines of the drawing exactly as I saw them and tried not to worry about the outcome. I was just drawing something for fun. (You can see that I still clung to finishing my work with crayons.)

Here's a photo of that first attempt at drawing:

I'm not showing you this because I think it's a good drawing. Most 5-year-olds could create something similar or better. Plus, I have no idea what that thing is the bird is perched on. It doesn't look good.

But . . . this little drawing gave me a sense of pride and awareness.

I could draw something better than stick figures.

I could look at lines and shading and reproduce something that remotely resembled the bird I was attempting to copy.

But the best thing that resulted from this first attempt was that I made a second attempt, and then a third, and so on.

After a few more attempts at animals and still-life, I realized I really enjoyed drawing faces. And if I just focused on reproducing lines and shading, without worrying about the outcome, I could create something fairly decent.

Here's what I drew a couple of months later (with no art classes or any professional instruction). This is a drawing of my then 3-year-old daughter that I did from a photo of her:

Eventually, with a little more practice (but still no art classes), I was able to loosen up a bit without having to reproduce faces exactly as I saw them. Here's an example of a DaVinci sketch I copied:

I'm not showing you these to toot my own horn. I am far from being a professional artist and could certainly use some real instruction and a lot more practice.

I am showing you these to let you know that you have hidden talents and abilities — things bottled up inside of you that you may not know you are capable of.

When I discovered this drawing ability, I actually feared something might be wrong with me — like a brain tumor or the beginning of some mental illness.

I couldn't understand how I'd gone my entire life not being able to reproduce the simplest figure artistically, and within a couple of months, people were asking me to draw portraits of their children. Where did this come from?

What I know now is that this ability was always there, lying dormant within me. I'd never seriously tried drawing before, and any small attempt at it led me to believe I had no ability.

Once I tried and let go of expectations of judgment or outcomes, I was able to enjoy the process of just doing something creative. This enjoyment gave me the desire to practice and learn.

Not all of my creative attempts have resulted in success, but others have — like writing and blogging. With these two, I had no idea what I was getting into when I first started. I just knew the process was fun and fulfilling. Now I make a full-time living from this work. That wasn't my intention, but here I am.

What Does This Mean for You?

In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson suggests that “most people have a very limited conception of their own natural capacities.” He reminds us that we are born with “extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness. For the most part, we use only a fraction of these powers, and some not at all.”

What Sir Ken is suggesting (and backs up with plenty of research) is that we have so much more inside of us than we have begun to tap. We are capable of more than we could possibly achieve in a lifetime. But most of us haven't even tried.

Somewhere along middle school and high school, we became self-conscious and fearful. We lost the pleasure of pure creativity because we were so focused on outcomes. We knew what it felt like to “fail,” to be criticized, to be compared — and it didn't feel good.

As a result,  we set limits on ourselves to pursue just those things we knew we could do reasonably well. Then we grew and got busy and had responsibilities that further removed us from our wellspring of creative abilities.

So how do we begin to tap in to that wellspring again?

How can we find our hidden abilities if we aren't sure what they are or where to begin?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Follow Julia Cameron's advice and stop reading or watching TV for a few weeks. Give yourself that time to do something rather than sitting passively.
  • If you have an inkling about what you might enjoy, start with that activity and play with it for 30 minutes to an hour a day. Just enjoy the play — don't have expectations or worry about the result.
  • If you have no idea what you might be good at, do what I did, and pick something that fits into your life and schedule. Some ideas include:

cooking

watercolor or painting

drawing

knitting or sewing

carpentry or building

decorating

gardening

writing

painting a room

mentoring

teaching

playing an instrument

  • Consider creating a blog or web site. There are so many ways to draw out your hidden abilities through online pursuits — including writing, teaching, design, selling, coaching, collaborating, research, etc.
  • Experiment with several different creative endeavors. Not only will this help you find something you might truly love, but also it broadens your depth of knowledge and interest.

Why Should You Bother?

On some level, we are all aware that we have more inside of us than we are using. That awareness creates a certain amount of tension, making us feel bad that we aren't living up to our potential.

Frankly, we can never live up to our fullest potential, because we have so many hidden but untapped abilities. That's not the point.

  • The point is that you could be enjoying your life more fully than you are now.
  • You could open yourself up to something amazing and life-changing.
  • You might find a doorway to a new career or a passionate endeavor that significantly boosts your happiness and sense of purpose.
  • You might discover a way to meet interesting, new people who share your interest and ability.
  • You might grow to have more self-confidence and pride in yourself.
  • At the very least, you could have an hour a day where you have fun, relax, try something new, disengage from TV or books (not that either are bad) and do something different.

Yes, you have untapped potential. But don't allow that knowledge to make you feel confused, fearful, or down on yourself.

You have nothing to prove to anyone.

Reach down inside of yourself and pick something, anything, and give it a try. You never know where it might lead you!

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the inspiration in this post. I struggle with believing that my passion and gifts can be expressed in ways that make a difference. While I still can’t draw, I know I have other gifts that need to expressed.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Scott,
      They can make a difference — even if it is just for you! By exploring your hidden abilities, you are allowing the fullness of who you are come forth. And that impacts everyone around you. You don’t have to make a huge difference with all of your talents. Just enjoy them! 🙂

  2. The sketches are gorgeous. I follow almost all the suggestions you’ve listed and you’re absolutely right about “doing” something. I consider myself lucky for having grown up in a family that believed in using every single waking moment, besides going early to bed and rising early. And so, I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Barrie. Love your email newsletters and reading them in my mailbox, but I just had to come over today. Thank you so much.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you so much Vidya. I’m so glad you are actively “doing” and uncovering your hidden abilities. What have you discovered about yourself?

      • I’ve discovered that being happy is entirely up to me. Therefore I must work towards it and steer all my actions towards that goal 🙂 I also know that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

  3. Jon Sollie says:

    “You have nothing to prove to anyone” is one sentence that many of us need to ponder, and ponder, and ponder some more!

    Hi Barrie…

    It seems to me that so much of what we think and do is predicated upon what we feel “others” will judge us by. This feeling of being judged for our thoughts and actions can lead to one huge roadblock to living our lives creatively, and with any sense of our own purpose. Amen, and amen :-)!

    All the best,

    Jon

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      I couldn’t agree more Jon. I was just talking about this today with someone. It all boils down to fearing that we won’t be loved and accepted. But those who love us will love us regardless. And the most important thing is that we must love and accept ourselves.

  4. Hi Barrie,

    I had a similar experience a few years ago, too. When I was growing up, there was an unwritten rule in our family that “we can’t/don’t sing.” Not that there was anything wrong with singing; it’s just that, since we didn’t express ourselves emotionally other ways, we certainly didn’t sing, either.

    As I entered mid-life I thought, “Dammit, I like singing and I want to see if I can do it.” So I took a few lessons and, gee, guess what? I can sing! Not great, but I can carry a tune.

    Now I have much more confidence in my singing and a whole new world of enjoyment has opened up for me.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      How wonderful Bobbi. It is so sad how our upbringing can strap us to a lifetime of limitations if we allow that. Sometimes we don’t even know that a belief or feeling should be challenged or that there are options. I’m so glad you found your voice!

  5. I find a life lesson hidden in your post – that is, enjoying the process more than the outcome. I’ve gotten much better at this, and it definitely makes life much more enjoyable in good as well as hard times.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Yes, that is an important lesson that took me a long time to learn Marci. But if I keep looking forward to the future, I miss real life, which happens to be in the present moment. You can do both — enjoy the now while working toward a better future.

  6. Really nice post.

    Self expression and creativity is the integral part of happiness and I can not imagine my life without them. As soon as I put it aside for a while I sink into daily routine, get bored and nervous and become unhappy!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Well Ani, I guess those feelings of nervousness and unhappiness are your signals to tap into your creativity again! It’s nice to have a warning bell. 🙂

  7. Great post Barrie,

    I love The Artist Way. I found writing morning pages incredible powerful and did it for many years. I still do on occasions when life gets a bit unbalanced and I want to get back to center.

    Thanks for reminding me of that wonderful book!
    Susan

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      You are so welcome Susan. It is a wonderful book. I was happy to pull it off my shelf and look through it again as I was writing this post!

  8. Shaleen says:

    I so enjoyed this post Barrie and loved that you shared your drawings with us. It felt almost as though we were being transported through a magical land where untapped powers began emerging simply from visiting a place inside yourself where what the world thought didn’t matter. In that place you were free to explore and just look at the magic you found!
    I’m going to play with some words and poetry thanks to your inspiration….

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Shaleen,
      I’m so glad you liked it. I hope you do go play with words and poetry and anything else that strikes your fancy. You never know what might emerge. Just be sure to give yourself the freedom of no expectations or judgements. Have fun!

  9. Thankyou Barrie,
    I always wanted to draw however have found too many excuses not to. No excuse any more…there is no reason not to try
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Go for it David!! You might like a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It was really interesting and helpful to me when I first started drawing.

  10. Barrie, you are an artist with pencil, crayon and with words. I love this post. I remember when I decided to start painting and because I was used to being an artist in my professional life, I attacked it with wild abandon, no worry about end results, specifically because it was not my profession. I didn’t care what anyone thought. I realized that being an artist takes practice and because I’d had the practice I could dive in almost immediately to this new medium. Some women in the class I was taking hadn’t been that little girl and her crayons in so long that they were baffled as to how to begin. They wanted to paint pictures of fruit bowls not abstract blobs that made no sense. I remember hearing one even ask the instructor if she was using the right colour. Sometimes if we don’t practice being artistic in some way, shape or form, we stop believing in ourselves to the point where we don’t even think we have the right to choose a colour. I found that question from that woman so sad. I hope your readers let loose, create messes and let themselves pick whatever colour they want. The one thing I loved about all of my fellow classmates in that painting class was that they’d signed up despite their insecurities.

    Love Julia Cameron by the way. One of my go-to books when I’m feeling less secure about my inner artist. Comes and goes for everyone.

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Thank you Katie! I would have been one of those women who didn’t know what color, what pencil, what I was “allowed” to do with my artistic expression. In a way, it was good that I discovered this by myself and just went with it. I know I’m missing technique, but at least I unleashed my self-expression! I know you love Julia Cameron’s book. 🙂

  11. Great post – thank you. I studied fashion design at University and recall spending a year attending life drawing classes. I struggled drawing a stick at the start of the year! By the end of the year, I had gained a great deal of experience and technical acuity, that drawing become an extension of my inner being. We all have a well of inner creativity which lays dormant until we ‘choose’ to activate it. Thank you once again!

    • Barrie Davenport says:

      Hi Tony,
      I like the idea of “choosing to activate” your creativity. It is a choice. We have so many false beliefs around creativity — but all of us have it. You don’t have to be born with a “gift” to activate it in your life.