There is an old, well-known story about a farmer finding an eagle egg that reminds us about the importance of living our full potential. Have you heard this one?
One day, a hardworking farmer found an eagle’s egg lying on the grounds of his farm. He was in a hurry so didn’t given much attention to it and quickly placed it in the chicken coop with all the chicken eggs. After a couple days, the egg hatched and the eagle was born.
The eagle looked around and assumed he was a chicken and so the eagle clucked and pecked and dug for worms. He scurried about and occasionally jumped around, flying a few feet in the air like the chickens. Over the years, the eagle grew old and tired. One day he saw a magnificent bird flying overhead with grace, skill, and profound beauty. The bird was unfettered as it glided through wind and rain across the sky.
“Who is that?” asked the eagle.
“That’s the king of the birds,” replied a chicken, “The bald eagle! She is one with the sky. The sky is her home. We are chickens – our home is on the ground.”
And so the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he believed he was…
My question for you: Are you an eagle acting like a chicken?
Many people have great talents but never bring them to fruition. They never soar. Some have a powerful intellect but don’t use it in their work. Some have a great talent for music or sport but are inconsistent in their practice. Some are great “people-persons” but work alone. One of my clients was a woman who was very smart with numbers and with people yet did not pursue higher degrees and felt resigned to accept low-paying, low-meaning jobs and spent her time with one disastrous relationship partner after the next.
The leading work in talents/abilities is the “multiple intelligences” theory of Howard Gardner, a Harvard psychologist, who proposed humans have not one but at least 7 core intelligences or talents: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily, linguistic, and musical. This theory has stood strong for over 30 years.
There is no simple solution to people squandering their talents/intelligences. Humans are complex. But, one important avenue that is rarely pursued in these situations is “the avenue of character strengths.” It is character strengths that are the fuel to making our talents take off. We cannot express great ability with numbers or music or sport without our strengths of perseverance and self-regulation. We cannot build and maintain interpersonal relationships without fairness, forgiveness, and kindness.
The character strengths become that avenue for catalyzing our intelligences. Consider the young man who used his curiosity and interest in the world to build his spatial intelligence. He asked questions about his environment, explored new neighborhoods where he lived, and soon he had mentally mapped out the city he lived in…he had used his curiosity to make the most of his talent for spatial reasoning.
When we use our character strengths we become aware that we are eagles.
Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths (link is external): A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.