At my first job that didn’t involve cutting lemon wedges and pouring draught Beer for drunk, off-duty doormen, my father came to meet me one day for lunch.
I heard my boss, Lisa, say to my dad, “Laura’s great. We’ve got to find a way to tap that talent.”
Oh yes, I thought. Please. Please tap my talent.
I loved the expression, maybe because I love maple syrup and all things you eat it with. Pancakes, waffles, french toast. If it gets on the sausage, that’s cool too. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t occasionally drink a little maple syrup right from the bottle in the fridge. Well, I pour it into a spoon, I’m not an animal.
I’m a sucker for those ads where the maple syrup comes right out of the tree and onto the waffle on the plate.
I’ve always wanted that to be my career:
A spigot through which I would easily pour forth my genius, in a powerful, steady torrent. Grab another bucket — no, the big one, silly! My talent keeps coming!
That job, working for Lisa, tapped my talent a little. Some promising drops.
I was helping fact-check her book on U.S. colleges. I called the school offices, asked if this or that fact was accurate, and then wrote a note about it if called for. Like, “They say they’re not a party school but the administrator sounded drunk.” I liked writing little nuggets.
When that job ended, Lisa hired me to help her organize her office.
That did not tap my talent. It tapped my ineptitude.
She then helped me score an internship at a satirical magazine, where I was expected to pitch articles. I couldn’t think of any. The editor took me to lunch and hinted, “You know, you can take initiative.” Talent tapping score: zero
When my internship was up, the ad side hired me. Sometimes I typed formal correspondence from the publisher. Not a talent.
They had me write a funny advertorial for Dewar’s Scotch. I created a quiz called “Do You Party Like Your Uncle Marty?” to determine if you’re an over-the-hill loser and need Dewars to fix the problem. People thought it was funny. Even the professional comedy writers on the editorial side. Talent tapped!
But then, “Great job. Now can you stuff these envelopes?”
I’ve had a lot of jobs and gigs since then. Writing in pop culture “bulletin boards” online; writing TV promos; writing occasional short videos for Spongebob Squarepants and his bff, Patrick Starfish*; writing a “Popup Video”-style take on The Brady Bunch that superimposed Carol Brady’s “true thoughts” over her head in the original footage; writing website and social media copy for entrepreneurs; writing funny videos for entrepreneurs; leading writing workshops; creating and selling my own courses; selling other people’s courses.
Through it all, I’ve experienced 3 levels of talent tapping.
Level 1: “I suck. My talent is not coming out of the tap. I bet someone else would have a brilliant idea by now. Crap, it’s already 6pm? I wonder if I can get an extension.” That’s when I’m doing a job someone thought I’d be good at, but I don’t feel very good at it at all.
Level 2: “This is tapping my talent, but not in pure form. What’s coming out is the cheap ‘pancake syrup’ they serve in diners, not actual maple.” That’s when I’m doing a job I can do well and easily, but it’s not calling for my best stuff. (I don’t really think in maple syrup metaphors, but that sums up the feeling.)
Level 3: “Hallelujah, here it comes! Get the big bucket and stand the f*ck back!”
Level 3 is dream-job territory.
I felt it when I wrote on the online bulletin board. I was getting paid to chat with people about TV shows and whatever else. Literally, paid to be me! Unfortunately, it didn’t pay all that much.
I felt it when I worked on that Brady Bunch project. Sadly, the exec producer kept asking me to make Carol’s tone less sarcastic and “more lovingly,” which is not an adjective, FYI. Also, it was only a one-season thing. Fun to write, but hard to read captions over Carol Brady’s head for a whole half hour when you’re also trying to feed the kids and fold laundry. (It was for moms.)
I feel it when I write an email to my Shrimpers (you), or when I work with a client who’s so perfect for me and matched in sensibility, writing together feels like sharing guacamole on a Caribbean beach.
Hey — that’s what I do now!
Finally, I’ve arrived at a job that taps my talent. And it’s my own business.
Over time, I’ve tried to shift it so the part that BEST taps my talent — writing my own stuff, my own thoughts and stories, for my own audience (that’s you), on my own schedule — is the bulk of my work week.
My hope is that what I write helps you tap your talent.
Because that Level 3 is the best feeling on earth. Even better than eating waffles.
👉I’d love to know: do you feel like you’re tapping your talent?
Wait, I have more questions for you, if you’ll answer them, too.
1 – Do you think about tapping your talent? Is it something you aspire to?
2 – What does or what would that look like for you? What would you be doing all day? Have you ever had a project or job that truly tapped your talent?
3 – Do you think it’s important to be paid for your talent?
4 – Do you love maple syrup, and do you think any diner that serves corn-syrup-based “pancake syrup” should be shuttered until they get their act together? If you’re not with me, you’re against me.
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
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