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Talent or affinity?

Once a week, I teach a college course related to my work. Faced with the energy of 22 young people at or near the end of their schooling, I often have to evaluate their readiness to enter the work environment. What often comes to mind is the question of their relative level of talent. Some are talented in areas directly related to the course, others have more peripheral talents, leading me to wonder how they will proceed after graduating. Will they apply themselves according to their talents?

… but the word “talent” comes with some baggage. Normally, we associate the word with the arts, success and a clear path obvious to all, if not the talented one.

Associations can be useful, but in some cases, they’re a burden, preventing us from seeing possibilities. Is it no less valid to consider a talented mechanic, manager or mining engineer? Sure, within a field, a person may be considered talented by his/her peers, but outside the field, our use of the word “talent” may discourage some from seeking their true calling or exploring their gifts.

Instead, I prefer the word “affinity”.

There is less baggage associated with the word affinity, and it is more of a direction than a classification, burden or goal. If someone has an affinity for something, to me it implies that they are able to explore that direction to the best of their abilities, while if we say someone has a talent for something, they are now required to perform to a prescribed standard, and that they have a responsibility to perform, lest they waste the talent.

“Affinity” can also be applied, without judgement, not just to an occupation, but to a number of occupations. To say that someone would be a talented accountant is restrictive, but to say they have an affinity for numbers is much more open, and allows the person to explore his/her affinity within a number of occupations at his or her own level of skill.

It says less about what you are, and more about what you have. Consider that, if you will.

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