Somebody should tell us, right at the
start of our lives, that we are dying.
Then we might live life to the limit,
every minute of every day. Do it, I say!
Whatever you want to do, do it now!
There are only so many tomorrows.
—Pope Paul VI
Living Their Gift
I want to share a story with you—one about a woman named Susan.
Some of you may already know of her and will thus be able to understand
why I chose her to open this book. For those of you who have
not heard of her, the following short narrative of what transpired over
the course of one magical night ranks among the most heartwarming
stories of the last decade—and a beautiful example of believing in
your gifts and chasing after an authentic life.
It is April 11, 2009, and Susan takes the stage of a
Glasgow, Scotland, theater. She is twice the age of many of
the contestants competing with her on a British talent show,
and the derisive whistles at her matronly appearance can be
heard as she approaches the panel of judges seated below her
in the auditorium.
“What’s the dream?” the lead judge asks.
“I’m trying to be a professional singer.”
“And why hasn’t it worked out so far, Susan?”
“I’ve never been given the chance before, but here’s hoping
“And who would you like to be as successful as?”
“Elaine Paige,” she responds.
The judges’ laughs are joined by countless snickers and
harrumphs throughout the theater. And then the music plays,
and she begins to sing . . .
Before the first verse was completed, Susan Boyle, an unassuming
unemployed forty-seven-year-old from Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland,
had the audience on its feet screaming with joy and applauding
wildly. The lead judge, the notoriously hard-hearted Simon Cowell, was
stunned, as were his fellow judges Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan.
Within a week, Susan had become a worldwide sensation thanks to
millions of YouTube views of the show.
For most of us, standing on a stage and hearing the jeers that
Susan experienced would be enough to send us heading for the
exit—to give up on our dream. But what endears Susan’s story to
so many is that she was used to such treatment. Misdiagnosed as
having brain damage at an early age, she was constantly harassed at
school and called “Susie Simple.” (In 2012, she was diagnosed with
Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum.) As an
adult, she was labeled a reclusive spinster by neighbors, one who lived
alone and sometimes did not surface from her home for long periods
of time. And when she took the stage during Britain’s Got Talent, she
was immediately judged by her appearance.
Inside her, however, was a woman desiring to lead the life she
believed could be hers, to share her incredible gift with the world—a
voice comparable to that of Elaine Paige that has since helped her
to perform all over the world, sell more than 25 million records, and
achieve numerous awards and distinctions.
Susan Boyle faced many challenges over her life. She faced disapproval
and ridicule on the stage that night. Today, however, because
she believed in her gift, she is a professional singer loved by millions
around the world. What perhaps is most fitting about her story and
her journey to her authentic life is that it began that night in April
2009 with the song “I Dreamed a Dream.”
"There are enough people in the world who are going to
write you off. You don’t need to do that to yourself."
Finding Our Gifts
Gifts are those special skills we have that allow us to do some things
better than most other people. Think of the way Serena Williams plays
tennis, Meryl Streep effortlessly speaks with foreign accents to portray
characters, Ellen DeGeneres immediately puts her guests at ease, or
Warren Buffett zeroes in on opportunistic investments.
At times, our gifts may be locked away, hidden by past trauma
and pain, just waiting for the chance to shine, as in Susan Boyle’s
case. Lady Gaga has openly shared her story of being bullied; Mariah
Carey has told of her struggles with bipolar disorder; and Janet Jackson
has been honest about her battle with severe depression, all in
the hopes of spreading awareness so that others in the same position
may not feel so alone.
All of us have gifts. You might have always thought that you were
without one. But think again, because everyone has at least one, and
most have many. Try asking your friends, spouse, significant other,
or siblings about your gifts. Think about the things you really don’t
mind doing, the things that come easily to you. We express our gifts
effortlessly and naturally. We often take them for granted because we
don’t realize how lucky we are to have them. Others who don’t possess
them are keenly aware of their value. You might have to extract the
common elements from several different activities before the picture
becomes clear enough for you to see.
What do you admire most about the people closest to you? What
traits are unique to your spouse, partner, children, or best friend?
Whom do you call for help when your cable or internet access or your
computer is acting up? Do you know someone who paints beautiful
pictures, plays incredible music on the piano, or dances with grace?
Who lifts you up with encouragement when you are feeling down?
Whom do you turn to when you need a dose of honest advice? Who
is the go-to handyperson who has an engineer’s mind and can fix any
thing? A fabulous cook? Gardener? Everyone has a gift . . . everyone!
Your heart will overflow with satisfaction when you align your
gifts with your purpose. When you live your life aligned, a flood of
positive benefits follows. Contribution, accomplishment, fulfillment,
growth, and happiness, just to name a few. You might think that
some of the gifts that bring you and others joy are trivial, but nothing
is trivial if it positively impacts others. Something as simple as telling
stories to children might be your purpose. It may be the very reason
you are here. You may be one special storyteller who brings a child’s
dreams to life.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hall, had a purpose. It was to make
every student she ever taught feel important, capable, and able to see
the world through a bigger lens than our classroom portal. She didn’t
get paid to do this; she was paid to teach a specific curriculum. Not
only did she manage to teach us the fifth-grade material, but she also
gave us the gift of accomplishment and a belief that we could achieve
great things. She radiated her passion every day, every time she saw us.
One of Mrs. Hall’s curriculum requirements was for us to learn
cursive writing. Oh boy, did we learn cursive! She inspired us to want
to have elegant penmanship. Everyone rose to the level of beautifully
composing fluid, rounded cursive letters to spell out “The quick
brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back.” Why that sentence?
Because it includes every letter of the alphabet!
She added a modest reward tied to excellence. Once she felt we
had mastered the technique of graceful penmanship, we were awarded
a prized pen. Every Thursday afternoon she administered the test and
when Friday morning rolled around, we silently but eagerly chanted
to ourselves, “Pick me, pick me.” Her sparkling eyes and smiling face
radiated pride the moment she called the next name on the list. I can
still hear her excited sing-songy voice calling mine. “Dana Mellin!”
Time froze as she celebrated my accomplishment. Standing beside
me, keeping one arm wrapped around me in a side hug, she grabbed
the special box off her desk and put it in my hands. I couldn’t wait to
undo the ribbon and hold my shiny new pen for the first time.
I can’t help but tear up when I write about this because that’s the
magic of how expressing our gifts can touch others in a way they will
never forget. Mrs. Hall’s joy from living her gift was so pure it washed
over us to the point it altered something inside. Some people confuse
purpose and gifts with career. They might be somehow connected to
your career as with Mrs. Hall. Teaching was just the vehicle she used
to express her gift. Or it may be a gift you are here to share with
others completely independent of how you pay your bills.
Mrs. Hall had the gift of drawing out the very best in her students.
She developed students with confidence and fostered a belief
we would all achieve our goals. While planting the individual seeds,
she nurtured and “loved on” a classroom of children who were all
growing in the same garden. Her gift of believing in us also taught
us how to cheer on our friends, encourage them, and celebrate their
successes, too. I have more friends from Mrs. Hall’s fifth-grade class
that I am still in touch with today than any other year in school.
Imagine if we all shared our gifts with each other. Our experience
of life would be magical!
It’s time to think about your personal gifts. What skills and abilities
have you been blessed with? What comes easily to you? What tasks
are you happy to do for others? Everyone has gifts and you should be
proud of what you do well!
In the Live Your Gift Companion Guide or on an individual sheet
of paper, list all the gifts, skills, and talents you believe you possess.
Consider asking three to five of the closest people in your life what
they see as your natural strengths and abilities.