“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it” (Lou Holtz).
ONE OF LIFE’S MOST INTERESTING CHALLENGES IS THAT OF INCREASING OUR ABILITY. Without “ability,” we’re not “able” to help anyone or make any kind of worthy contribution to the world in which we live. We’re each endowed with natural talents that can be turned into ability, so ability is within the reach of all of us. The challenge is to identify our personal strengths and develop our skills.
Ability, of course, must always be tied to character and conscience. If we learn how to do some things but use that ability in immoral or unethical ways, we do more harm than good. “Great ability without discretion comes almost invariably to a tragic end” (Léon Gambetta). And as William Penn warned, “An able bad man is an ill instrument.” We must keep clear the difference between efficiency (ability) and effectiveness (the use of ability in doing things that ought to be done).
It takes discipline and hard work to transform our potential into actual ability. If our talents are to become abilities, they must pass through the fire of training and self-government. And that, unfortunately, is why so many of us have so few abilities. “The acquisition of one sort of ability often makes that of another unlikely, if not impossible . . . To take the gifts one does have, to concentrate one’s strength upon their development, to disallow distractions — none of these is an easy task” (Joseph Epstein). In developing any ability, there is always a price to be paid. “A special ability means a heavy expenditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from some other side of life” (Carl Jung). So we must narrow our focus and accept that our abilities will, to some extent, disable us in other areas. Our unique advantages always have corresponding disadvantages.
But more importantly, we need to use the abilities we have, rather than letting them go to waste. Even in areas where we may not have as much ability as someone else, we must be willing to do the best we can. What the world needs is not people who can do everything — but rather people who are willing, if need be, to attempt anything.
“God does not ask about our ability or our inability, but our availability” (Anonymous).