Do You Know Your Special Talent?

Anne Heywood - New York, New York
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, August 7, 2009
Anne Heywood

As a military wife, Anne Heywood lived in many different places and had more than 30 jobs. When she finally settled down in New York City, Heywood started a business to help other people change careers because she believed there was a right job for everyone.

Themes: setbacks, work

What I am about to say may appear to be plugging my own business, but it’s what I know best—and I believe it deeply and sincerely. I believe that every human being has a talent—something that he can do better than anyone else. And I believe that the distinction between so-called “creative” talents and ordinary run-of-the-mill talents is an unnecessary and a man-made distinction. I have known exterminators and typists, waitresses and machinists whose creative joy and self-fulfillment in their work could not be surpassed by Shakespeare’s or Einstein’s.

When I was in my teens, I read a quotation from Thomas Carlyle: “Blessed is he who has found his work. Let him ask no other blessedness.” At the time I thought that was a pretty grim remark, but I know now that Mr. Carlyle was right. When you find the thing that you can do better than anything else in the world, then all the wonderful byproducts fall in line: financial security, happy personal relationships, peace of mind. I believe that until you find it, your search for the byproducts will be in vain.

I also believe that in the process of searching, no experience is ever wasted, unless we allow ourselves to run out of hope. In my own case, I had 34 different jobs before I found the right one. Many of those jobs were heartbreakingly difficult. A few of them involved working with unscrupulous and horribly unpleasant people. Yet, in looking back, I can see that the most unpleasant of those jobs, in many cases, gave me the biggest dividends—the most valuable preparation for my proper life work.

And I have seen this happen in the destinies of hundreds of people. Periods which they thought were hopeless, dark, and of no possible practical value have turned out to be the most priceless experience they ever had. I know a girl who is a famous package designer for American industry. She was just given a promotion for which she competed with six well-qualified designers. Her past, like all of ours, had its good times and its bad times. One of the worst of the bad times was a period when she lost her husband and was left with two small children to support. She took a clerking job in a grocery store because her apartment was on the floor above it and between customers she could run up and keep an eye on the babies.

It was a two-year period of great despair, during which she was constantly on the verge of suicide. Yet the other day when she told me of her promotion to the top package design job, she exclaimed in astonishment, “And do you know that the single factor which swung it in my favor was that I alone had over-the-counter experience with the customers who buy our packaged foods!”

When people talk about the sweet uses of adversity, I think they unduly stress a grim and kind of hopeless resignation, a conviction that, like unpleasant medicine, it’s somehow “good for us.” But I think it’s much more than that. I know that the unhappy periods of our lives offer us concrete and useful plus-values, chief among them a heightened understanding and compassion for others. We may not see it at the time, we may consider the experience entirely wasted, but, as Emerson says, “The years teach much which the days never know.”

Iowa native Anne Heywood held 34 different jobs before founding the Career Changing Clinic in New York City to help service men and women returning from World War II find work. Heywood was a syndicated columnist and the author of “There Is A Right Job For Every Woman.”