A gift can be just as much a curse

As a piano student, I grew up in an environment where I and many of my classmates came in first, second, or third place in NJ state piano competitions and performed in Carnegie Recital Hall as children.

However, I never wanted to become a professional pianist, and I actually wasn't surprised to learn many of the "greats" in our school didn't either - they became doctors, international lawyers, computer scientists, executives, etc. Even more interesting, students who weren't as noticeable back then ended up going to Juilliard and becoming worldwide concertizing pianists. Why is that?

I was one of the more gifted students. I didn't have to work very hard and in fact, there were a number of times when I practiced piano for a half an hour on a Saturday morning, just before my lesson, and I would squeak through. One year when we had to do a Charles Griffes Scherzo for the competition, I kept procrastinating until my piano teacher said: you've got one page out of twelve done - I don't know how you're going to do it, but if you don't have this entire piece done by next week, you're not in the competition. I finished it by that next week. Hands together, full speed, memorized.

I knew leaving high school that my gift was just as much a curse. I remember in college when I told my parents I'd decided to try engineering first, my mom blurted out: you've never had to work a day in your life. What makes you think you can start now? It turned out she was right, and my journey into computer science was painful and arduous. I became the tortoise surrounded by science and math hares. It made me regret times as a piano student when I had looked down on others thinking: why do you even try? Why are you even here?

Being a gifted pianist and having a dad who is a right brained physicist, I realized I had to balance myself better. When you're a gifted child who can pull the types of things I pulled back then, how do you even begin to learn about things like patience, discipline, perseverance, attention to detail, failing, getting up for the 1001th time after you've been knocked down 1000 times, flexibility, adaptability, humility, and compassion? If you are gifted and do not deliberately put yourself in a position where you learn what it feels like to be the tortoise as opposed to the hare, you risk not encountering those character building moments in life that help you mature and become more human.

What about the less gifted who became concertizing pianists? Given a choice between gift and passion, passion will trump gift every time. That is a story for another day.