• From Mismatch to Magic: Future Proof, Part Three

    posted on 12/11/2020 by Frances Keane

    Whose responsibility is it when you find yourself not using your talents to the full, or even at all? 

    In his third guest blog for us, mental fitness expert Neil O’Brien shares his reflections on natural talent and ability.  In it, he talks about the mismatches that arise when you don’t get to express your innate abilities, and he also celebrates the magic that  happens when you do.  


    Picking up on where I left off in my last blog, where I spoke about the idea of talent and ability, in this one I wanted to share further reflections on the topic, including the first time I encountered stunning natural talent and effortless ability.

    The Magician

    It was 1982 and I was working as a cashier in a small branch of a bank. In those days every cashier had their own queue. There wasn’t the one-queue system that we are used to now. The cashier beside me was named Bernard and he always had a shorter queue than me (why that was the case will be clear soon).

    Bernard could do a kind of magic trick – with a flick of his wrist a screwdriver would appear in his hand, like magic! He always seemed to have a screwdriver with him wherever he went. It was always the same screwdriver. And with this tool, he could fix anything. Any mechanism that broke, Bernard could fix. He was always ready and available to fix things, never too tired or disinterested.

    A kind of magic happens when you get to express your natural talent (image: Shutterstock)

    I witnessed Bernard fix the kettle, the photocopier, the printer, the security alarm, my car at lunchtime and anything else that a screwdriver could fix. No one ever showed him how to fix anything. He was never trained and never did a course in any of this. And when he was fixing something it was like watching an artist at work; every fibre of his being was involved.

    Anyone could see that Bernard had a passion for fixing things, it came easily to him. He just understood machines.

    The Mismatch

    But here’s the thing. Bernard was hired to be a cashier but Bernard disliked people and people disliked him, hence the shorter queue. On a daily basis I had to jump in and intervene in a stand-off between Bernard and a customer.

    What we had here was a gross mis-match between him and his role, which resulted in stress and unhappiness for him and the people around him.

    When we don’t see our own talent, we risk ending up in roles where others don’t see it either (image: shutterstock)

    There is a happy ending though.

    Years later, Bernard moved to the computer department of the bank because they needed someone to fix stuff.  Not surprisingly, he thrived.  And after Bernard retired a few years back, he spent all his spare time fixing stuff for people in his neighbourhood. He was without doubt the first time I came across someone with the kind of natural talent and ability I outlined in my previous blog.

    In my private coaching practice, I regularly meet people who are also mis-matched: their role does not call for any of their natural, effortless talent. Yes, they’ve developed really good skills, but the performance of these skills does not transform them into an artist at work and they are not thriving.

    None of this is anyone’s fault. You might be one of those people who is still wondering what your natural talent is. If that’s the case then we can’t blame the organisation. If you don’t know, how are they supposed to know?

    The Owner

    So it’s no one’s fault when a mis-match occurs, but it does raise the question of who owns it? Who is responsible for discovering natural talent and ability? The answer, of course, is that you are. I believe it is your responsibility to find out what you are amazing at. I talked about how you might do this in the previous blog.

    When you do discover or re-discover your amazing talent you are not under any pressure to turn it into a multi-million euro business. Not every talent will lend itself to financial success, and turning it into a business may suck the joy and energy out of it. So you can relax, and keep doing what you are doing if you want to.

    The Poet

    A financial services person said to me recently “what if it turns out I’m a poet! The bills have to be paid, I’ve a young family, what then?” So I said ‘yes, please don’t resign tomorrow and become a poet! But maybe you can be a poet on a Tuesday evening at a creative writing class. Maybe you can be a poet for an hour on a Saturday morning?’ And I couldn’t resist adding … ‘By the way you never know where an hour per week might eventually lead?’

    Remember:  you own this. You have a responsibility to discover what you are amazing at, and you have a responsibility, at the very least, to have an outlet for it. In fact, if you don’t have an outlet, it will become a frustration and that frustration will surface in other ways. Some examples could be poor health, under-performance at work, a feeling of hopelessness about the future, lack of vitality, loss of joy and sense of humour and who knows what else.

    When you get to express your talent, everything flows, and obstacles are more easily navigated (Image: shutterstock)

    The Value

    One final thought for now on this. And this is such a simple but incredibly powerful trap that I refer to it as The Cosmic Trap of Human Potential.

    Going back to my last blog for a moment, in it I mentioned that your talent is something that comes easily to you.  This is the trap. Because it comes easily to you, you undervalue it and you assume it comes easily to all of us.  Nothing comes easily to all of us and these days there is a market for everything!

    Even Bernard didn’t value his talent. And for a long time that meant he didn’t get to be the ‘artist’ he was in his own way.  It’s important to remember that people who have discovered their amazing talent and are fully engaged with it still have doubts and uncertainties. These feelings of lack and of not being good enough are never going away.  It’s how you deal with them that’s important.  But that is the subject of next week’s blog.

    The Homework

    In the meantime, here’s an exercise for you.  Imagine the type of parent, friend, colleague, team leader, or salesperson you’d be if you had a regular outlet for the talent you already possess?

    I’m not saying here that you have visualise it.  Some of us struggle to visualise things.  But we all know how it feels when something feels good, natural, right.

    Thanks for reading!  I’ll be back next week.


    Neil O’Brien has led workshops, designed programmes, and given keynotes on many aspects of human potential and mental fitness.  If you are interested in learning more about Neil, ring us on 01 475 0360 or email joanne@personallyspeakingbureau.com or frances@personallyspeakingbureau.com