I heard a song on the radio the other day that took me back to high school when I participated in the Junior Miss Pageant (now known as Distinguished Young Women). Yes, believe it or not, I was once a pageant contestant. The how and why are less important to this story. Just know that it happened.
I had no expectation of winning—or coming close—but I did my best and had fun with the other girls through the process. It wasn’t too hard to follow all the choreographed moves, I thrived in the one-on-one interview, and really, how taxing is it to walk across the stage in a prom dress? Only one aspect of the pageant struck cold, hard fear in me: the talent competition.
It has been well documented that I can’t sing. I don’t play an instrument. I’ve never formally twirled a baton, taken dance lessons, or participated in any activity that could be considered “stage-worthy.” I had NO idea what I would do for this competition, and I felt horribly awkward.
At the time, a TV show called Puttin’ on the Hits had become popular. It featured people lip syncing to popular songs, and judges scored participants on how authentic their “singing” seemed. This, my friends, is where I drew my inspiration. (Insert eye roll here.) Indeed, I lip synced a song. On a stage. With a few made-up dance moves. In front of a few hundred people. It was not my best moment.
Anyway, hearing that song on the radio reminded me of my pageant experience and got me thinking about how we define talent. We take such a narrow view of talent when we limit it to what translates to a stage performance. What about the person who is really good at cooking? Or knows how to fix anything mechanical with a single glance? Or can run fast or jump high or make three pointers all day long? What about the person who can write stories that make people laugh or cry or even transport them to another place? Or the empath who naturally knows how to make others feel special? There are so many kinds of talent that don’t translate well to a stage. How do we put those on display?
2020 Tammy would do things differently. I would have written this essay—or one like it—and delivered it on stage. The writing would have been my talent—not just stringing the words together, but speaking for others and hopefully bringing a different perspective to the audience.
I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t write. It’s pretty hard to make a cheesecake in two minutes in a high school auditorium.
Talent is so much more than song and dance. The next time someone tells you “Oh, I’m not talented,” don’t let it slide. Everyone does something well, in a way that comes naturally. Look for it.
And by the way, it’s not a competition.