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Rule #5 Don't hide your talents - Rules for Embracing Life in the 21st Century
Ivan enjoyed being interviewed. Here he is talking to a WPSD reporter.

Ivan Potter, the eternal optimist and self-described futurist, envisioned a world where everyone's talents were recognized and used to make the world a better place. That was his dream.

Talent comes with two definitions: a natural aptitude or skill or a former weight and unit of currency, used especially by the ancient Romans and Greeks (Oxford Dictionary). A talent in the Roman world was a stone that weighed around 70 pounds, the supposed weight a worker could carry. Coins were measured in talents.

The two definitions make the parable of the servants being trusted with talents by their master make more sense. He gave them money and expected them to use their skills to take care of it. Two passed. One failed because he buried his one talent. That was not what the master (God) expected of him. At left, a denarius, one of the Roman coins used in biblical Roman occupied Israel.

Talents come in all shapes and sizes. Some are huge and form the basis for a lifelong career - a great singing voice, mad math skills, a gift for organization, entrancing oratory, ability to manipulate a ball. Talents, like in the parable, are given out in different amounts. While an NFL player may get ten talents, making a zillion dollars a year, others may get some talent for the game but it will always be a game, not a career. Math skills are useful for being a CPA or getting household bills paid on time and accounts balanced. Organizational skills can apply to closets and corporations.

On his webpage, Bryn Donovan shared a list of 125 talents and skills to help writers flesh out their characters. 125 Skills and Talents

Artistic and creative skills include painting, writing, dancing, dressmaking, architecture, graphic design, carving pumpkins, pottery and photo or video editing, cooking, music, baking and more.

At right, Ivan signing No Count Dog to the Rescue, our children's book he illustrated - an art skill he had that he put to a new use.

Athletic talents include hunting, fishing, gathering, swimming, archery, horseback riding, juggling and more.

People skills include persuasion, leading meetings, listening, parenting, teaching, debating, peacemaking, telling jokes, keeping secrets and getting others to reveal their secrets and so on.

Academic skills include spelling, chess, coding, speed reading, bookkeeping, mathematics, navigating and on.

Other talents include lip reading, being able to take a nap anywhere, manicuring, repairing things, farming, mining, budgeting and plumbing.

There's even a "morally ambiguous" list.

Traditionally women were more likely to hide their talents. Modesty was a lesson that women have been taught for millennia. Societal roles were fixed. Men lead. Women follow. Some exceptional women overcame the norms. Stepping out could be fatal. Poor Joan of Arc was betrayed by her own countrymen to the English who burned her at the stake. Most women kept their heads down. Talents hidden.

It is the 21st century. The scales are just beginning to tip toward balancing. Talented women occupy more positions of power in private and public roles. Professional schools now graduate as many women as men.

Changing attitudes takes time. Especially attitudes so subtle, it takes statistical research to tell us what any little girl who knows the answer and waves her hand wildly knows. In the classroom, "Studies have shown that although females volunteer more often they are called on less, and even when males do not volunteer, teachers are still more likely to call on them." Gender Equity

In the 21st century, women still earn less for the same work done.

"Latinas are paid just 55% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Black women are paid 64% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Caucasian women are paid 81% of what white, non-Hispanic men are paid. Native American women were paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Forbes Magazine Mar 1, 2024"

How frustrating it is to have talents that go unrecognized! Even more frustrating is having a talent recognized but be discounted for reasons that don't get spoken aloud-color, gender, national origin. The bias costs more than a paycheck. It costs in self-esteem.

In her paper, "'Potential' and the Gender Promotion Gap," Danielle Li found that on average, women received higher performance ratings than male employees, but received 8.3% lower ratings for potential than men. The result was that female employees on average were 14% less likely to be promoted than their male colleagues." Why women are less likely to get promoted

Frustration at seeing others rewarded when you are not can lead to hiding a talent. If there is no pay off, then why bother?

If no one knows you have a talent for leadership, you won't be asked to lead. Stepping up to share a talent is a talent. At left, Ivan talks to high school leadership students.

If you hide math skills, you won't be elected treasurer of fill-in-the-blank organization, a job that's harder to get out of than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Being able to sing doesn't mean one wants to sing solo.

Before one can hide a talent, one has to recognize that the talent exists. Too many of us brush off a skill as if it's no big thing. Everyone can...fill in the blank, we tell ourselves. Talents for mentoring and encouraging are two skills that the world could use more of if Ivan's dream is to become reality.

Talents can be discovered at different stages of our lives. Becoming skilled in music, dance, drama, music, sports create lifelong benefits. Young people discover lifelong talents in extracurricular activities. Learning to work as a team, leadership, strategic thinking can be developed after the school day ends. Patience is also a skill desperately needed when working in a group. Not everyone has the same skills and motivation.

In some schools, art and music education are the first to feel the ax of budget cuts. Neither are "on the test". It is a shortsighted solution to the pressure of test scores.

Music uses every part of the brain. Singing and making music with others develops that most precious but sorely underrated skill - listening.

"Music education plays a significant role in enhancing neuroplasticity, especially during critical periods of brain development in childhood and adolescence. Learning to play an instrument requires repetitive practice and precision, which triggers the brain to create new neural connections."Julie Reno July 2020 Impact of music education on brain development

Art classes foster physical abilities and thought processes. Fine motor skills and creativity expand the mind.

Developing talents doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door. I began taking photography after I got my first digital camera. Film was just too expensive to "waste" taking lots of pictures. Digital photography took that fear away. Ivan and I spent many hours together with our cameras. We have over 10,000 photos to show for it. His stone steps is one of my favorites.

When one stops hiding their talents, there is a fear factor. What if I fail? Will I be laughed at? Am I good enough?

Regarding risk taking, I am reminded of an advice column from years ago. Dear Abby answered a 36-year-old college dropout who was considering entering medical school. The writer said it would take seven years to finish -- at which time he/she would be 43 years old. She answered by asking, "And how old will you be in seven years if you DON'T do it?"

If you fail, then what? Large or small, talents are gifts meant for sharing, not hiding.

Ivan's dream of a better world can come true. It will take courage to get there.

Addendum: We found Ivan's Rules for Embracing Life in the 21st Century while going through the many pieces of paper he left behind. I was his editor, correcting his grammar, his creatively spelled words and his bureaucratic run on sentences. He didn't share these twelve rules with me so I am not sure when he wrote them or even what prompted him to write them. The rules have made me stop and think. They have pushed me to write again and to share thoughts on each rule and what I think it meant to him. And what it means to me.


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