There’s a 52 year old man who claims he invented a character called Davros, creator of the Daleks in BBC TV’s Doctor Who, for a magazine competition in 1972, when he was 13. He said he was shocked to see his ‘idea’ appear on television in 1975. You can read the unlikely story here.
It reminded me that when I was 12, I too was drawing pictures of characters from Doctor Who and in one comic strip I envisaged Davros being given Emperor of the Daleks status and having a spherical top mounted on his base. This was in 1983 and yet it’s exactly what the BBC did on television in 1988. I won’t be making a fuss.
But for a bit of fun I posted the page of my comic strip on the Doctor Who forum.
A couple of people on the forum said it was a pretty good effort. It was only then that I realised that that was the first time anyone had said anything complimentary about my drawings. That was not surprising since this was the first moment I’d actually showed them to anyone. Why hadn’t I showed anyone before? Because of the killer reason that people don’t reach their potential.
Because I didn’t really think they were really any good.
It was one of my early dreams: to be a comic book artist. But I abandoned it aged 14. Why? Because looking at my drawings I was frustrated that they didn’t look as good as my heroes Ron Turner, Dave Gibbons and Frank Hampson.
I didn’t have much encouragement. Part of the reason for that is linked to what John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi said to him when he started the Beatles, “A guitar’s all right John, but you can’t make a living out of it”. The understanding of career options by those who offered it to us then and even more so those who offer it to the children of today is frighteningly narrow, short sighted and past-focused. My parents knew you could make a living from being Constable or Lowry – that was proper art. But comic books? Graphic design? That was childish nonsense. And in my case the working class ethic coupled with St Paul (I Corinthians 13 v11), “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” meant that I had to grow up and do something sensible.
Reluctantly I did, for a while. Did you?
Those two comments on the forum made me think, 18 years later, that compared to the average 12 year old’s drawings, mine were pretty good. The actual story was a pretty good idea too, re-reading it now without the self criticism of the past.
So why did I give up? Because when I was 12 I thought that it was talent that counted. I thought that if I was a truly talented illustrator I should be able to do it better than I this. I didn’t know that it was actually practice that made a great comic book artist. I’d been doing it since I was at nursery (and still have the drawings to prove it). I already had hundreds of hours of practice which is why I was pretty good by 1983.
If I’d continued with the same intensity from aged 12 for ten years by the time I was 22 I would have been pretty good, if not world class. That’s not a boast, that is just how it works. If you continually work at a process, constantly failing and improving, making mistakes and modifying, you get better and better. Instead, I’m not really much better now than I was then, which was just above average for a 12 year old but just about average for my age now.
You just look at someone you know who is good at something, be it writing, football, debating, maths, cooking, whatever. You study them and see how much time they have spend doing the thing that they are good at.
Someone once said to Yehudi Menuhi, “I’d give my life to be able to play like you”. “I did” was the maestro’s reply.
Here’s the formula for talent (also called more accurately ‘excellence’):
Talent = desire + intense practice
When it comes to our children we have to realise we can’t make them interested in something they’re not. They have to choose what excites them. And if it’s something we have no knowledge or interest in we have to accept it.
We can’t make them practice. If we do they will grow resentful or burn out and lose interest.
But there is something big that we can do. That formula is not compete. There are two further conditions that we need to add that are in our remit:
Talent = desire + intense practice + opportunity + encouragement
Our job is to make sure we provide the opportunity to try and explore different interests. Our job is to encourage effort when we see an interest developing.
Our job is to make sure that we prevent the child from self criticism of failure as an end and instead help them understand how to modify it into improvement.
Through a series of misunderstandings about talent, how the brain works and what motivates people, our society is set up to manufacture regret, resentment, guilt and self-loathing.
What was your desire when you were much younger?
What did you give up on because of criticism or lack of encouragement?
Perhaps it’s not too late for you to pick up the paintbrush again, to kick the ball again, to write that book, to take that course, or to pick up that ‘how to’ book. Perhaps you can re-ignite your passion and build it into your life today?
By thinking over what you did right and where you went wrong, who could you inspire today to follow their dreams?