I like The Voice, the new talent thing on BBC1. I find Will.I.Am quite surprisingly likeable, for one thing. They're all quite pleasant.
Anyway, the only thing that began to annoy me about it was when it came to the 'song battle' section. A couple of times you saw candidates rejected because of their age - you know, they were 25 or 30 or whatever, and that meant that's as good as they were going to get, whereas the other, younger candidates were praised for being young. "She's only 17!" or whatever, they'd say. "Imagine what she'll be like with a bit of training!"
The audience applauds them for being young. They've made it to 18 without a baby or a crack addiction, well done! All right, it's not quite that, but it's close: the idea being that they have the raw talent, the one defining quality, the sine qua non of being a star... (ah, if only there were a phrase to describe that thing, that unknown factor to lift them above the ordinary. Bah. It'll come to me.)
The idea underpinning this is that you are who you are when you're 25 or 30 or whatever; that's who you are, and who you'll always be, and that's 'as good as you're going to get'. It also makes better telly to see a candidate in an elimination show have the 'J-word' as they progress from the raw to the cooked; it flatters the audience and judges and producers of the show alike into thinking they made the star, rather than that person just having that star quality thingummybob (I'll think of it in a minute).
Look at Lindsey Lohan in the Parent Trap. If you didn't know about her subsequent career you might assume that such a talented child actress might have gone on to win Oscars and be showered with awards. It didn't happen. It doesn't always work that the very talented or the prodigious necessarily end up flowering into even better things. Sometimes the raw state is as good as it's going to get, sometimes because that's all there is, sometimes because talents have to be worked out and worked at. I do think hard work is quite important to get stuff done. It's not just about being gifted or talented (as children are called sometimes, which is sometimes unfair on them, and sometimes puts unfair expectations on them, perhaps).
I recently had my 37th birthday and I looked back, as you tend to do when you're approaching 40 and haven't really been a spectacular success in life (whatever success means). I'm really quite a different person with different skills that I've developed and learned during my 20s and 30s. Still underneath it the same messy suet-faced oaf, albeit slightly fatter and balder and less capable of doing stuff without getting out of breath, yes, but I've learned loads of stuff since school, college and university.
I said before, in relation to Bob Hoskins in the shower, that the idea of being a 'late developer' isn't really regarded with much credence. People assume you were as bright as you were ever going to be when you were 18, which is why importance is often placed on which university you went to and the things you studied there. But I've learned loads since then. I can write better than I used to, for one thing, though that's largely adapting and refining a thing that I could do before. I can speak Italian, although that's through doing a language course more than having a 'talent' for learning languages. But there are all sorts of other things, too: I've learned more about people than I could ever have had in my brain when I was a callow, thinner, hairier, less-of-an-irascible-arsehole person back then. I'm better at things.
You learn through failure, through the collapsing of expectations, through the near-misses and close calls, to work harder, to accept success as being sometimes as random as failure, to take the undeserved triumphs as much as you brush off the undeserved defeats. It's not about what you can and can't do. It's not about whether you can do the job that decides whether you get the job, as I've discovered repeatedly since I was made redundant: it's about what the other person is looking for. Just as you can't make someone fall in love with you who can't love you, you can't make someone want to employ you who doesn't like the sound of you. You just can't do it.
I don't mean to sound downbeat, because I'm not. There's another TV programme on at the moment called Hidden Talents, which is about people finding out, later in life than they'd imagined they ever would, that they've got particular skills and talents. It's more about innate ability rather than practice, which isn't quite what I'm on about, as I think people can try and learn to do anything, even if it's not something they're suited to; but it does emphasise that you're not just nailed into place by the decisions you make and the things you do when you're a teenager.
The point is, I'm not past it. I do look forward to the day when I can give up writing altogether, and do something else. That's not quite it, though; rather, I look forward to when it matters to me less than it seems to do now. What I have found out, through trying to look at another career (teaching) which I'll be training for soon, is that you can do things you've never done before. When I'm in a classroom with kids I feel like I'm not going to be found out at any second (as I do when writing, and as I did do when I was a journalist); I really feel I can do it. I'm good enough, and I can do better, and if I keep learning, I'll be excellent, or at the very least as good as I can be.
I feel that a lot of people get despondent and think that the choices they made when they were younger have trapped them in a life they're not too delighted about. But there are chances to learn new things. People don't stop learning, or being able to learn, if they want to learn. It might take longer, but it's possible, I think. What I'm starting to think is that the possibilities don't go away. In some ways, they get bigger. The more experience you have, the more able you are to make decisions - including the decision to change direction. It might not always work out, but you have to try.
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