The answer is simple. Michelangelo looked at the block and saw his David locked inside.
Michelangelo held an important belief about the art of sculpture. He believed that in each block of stone there was a figure hidden inside, waiting to be revealed. To Michelangelo, the master sculptor’s job was to clear away what was not the image and reveal the masterpiece inside the stone.
In addition, Michelangelo's chief value—what he cared about most—was to glorify God. He believed that man was created in God's image and that in rendering God's highest creation as perfectly as possible, he was glorifying God. For Michelangelo's creativity to be released, it had to be aligned with this deeply held value.
This amazing principle applies to all of us. To find your masterpiece, the life you were meant to live, you must look inside. It’s there, waiting for you to clear away all that is not you—the fears, beliefs, and wishes that others have imposed on you, the negative stories you tell about yourself, the defeatist attitude toward overcoming obstacles to your vision.
Susan Finds Her Gift
Like the damaged stone from which Michelangelo’s David was carved, Susan beheld what she considered to be her ruined life and the empty years that lay ahead of her. For the past sixteen years, she had been a hard-working single mother, juggling a demanding career and taking care of her daughter without any help from the child’s chronically absent father. To make her life more challenging, Susan was ambitious for herself and her daughter, and over the years pushed herself to keep more and more balls in the air. Every year, she would take on more work, more community service, more professional development classes, while tutoring her daughter at home after work and making sure she knew what was going on at school. Susan was a master juggler, but her busy schedule took a toll.
Susan worked as a legal assistant for a major law firm. Her daughter, “the flower from my compost heap of a marriage” as she put it, had recently left for college on an academic scholarship. With her daughter launched, Susan was left to consider her own path. She looked down at the ground below her. "Dull cement," she said, "and my feet were planted in it long before I had a chance to choose."
Susan wanted a change. She was dying for a change. But to what? She had no idea. And wasn’t it too late already? After all, she was nearly forty-two. Susan couldn’t think constructively. She believed that she had no choices. Here was a bright, articulate, capable woman who, in her own mind, could never do anything right and believed she had missed her chance anyway. Susan thought her life nothing more than a giant “might have been.” If she hadn’t married so young, she might have had a relationship she was happy with. If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, she might have finished law school. If she had finished law school, she could have been the lawyer and not the legal assistant. Susan couldn’t figure out where to begin. Her early enchantment with the law had faded. She wanted a new life, and her greatest fear was, to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, that she might die with her music still in her. For Susan, it was time to start playing her own music.
Working with a life coach, Susan asked, "How do I find out what exactly to do? Can you tell me?"
"You have to find it within yourself," the coach said. "But I can start by asking you a few questions that will begin to reveal your gift."
"But I don’t have a particular gift. I’m not gifted."
If you were to ask someone what their gift is, chances are their minds will immediately turn to Michelangelo sculpting his Pieta or Einstein unlocking the universe’s secrets with a simple equation. People tend to think of gifts in such extraordinary terms. They see a gift as an innate, exceptional talent, as something that few people in this life are born with. But they are wrong.
A gift isn’t just the province of the exceptionally talented, the successful, or the blessed. Quite the contrary, everyone has a gift. Some gifts are thousand-watt bolts of light. Others are hidden in the stone. All are there, waiting to be revealed.