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Turning Aptitudes Into Abilities

The greatest value in the world is the difference between what we are and what we could become.”
— Ben Herbster

One teen may have a strong and clear voice, but unless this voice is recognized as an aptitude, trained in music and developed through practice, he will never have the ability to sing.

Another teen may move swiftly and gracefully on long, well-formed legs, but until she learns to run and practices to develop this skill through competition, she will never be an athlete.

The difference between aptitudes and abilities is the difference between what we are and what we could become.

Aptitudes and Abilities

An aptitude is a natural talent, inclination, impulse or preference that gives an individual the potential to excel at certain activities or fields of study. A commonly measured aptitude is the intelligence quotient or IQ, a well-known indicator of academic aptitude or the potential to do well in school.

With recognition, encouragement, training and practice, any aptitude can be turned into ability. An ability — a term that is interchangeable with skill — indicates something a person is able to do well. One can develop an ability to do something without the natural aptitude for it, through hard work and adaptation.

We all need to adapt to some things in order to succeed. Without aptitude, we can learn to do something well but it will always be a struggle. International executive search firm founder Robert Half once noted that hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.

Parents and teachers play important roles in helping to develop teen’s aptitudes into abilities.

Turning Aptitudes into Abilities

It is important for parents and teachers to make an effort to recognize aptitudes in children at an early age. Then they should name and praise them: “You completed these puzzles so quickly. You really have a talent for figuring out spatial relations. That’s great!”

When an aptitude has been recognized, consider real-world applications and things that can be done to develop the talent. “I bet you could be a really good architect. Come look at this magazine and these diagrams of houses that architects have designed. I have some graph paper and a ruler you could use. Would you like to draw a diagram of your room or our house?”

Expose teens to those who share their aptitudes and have developed them into abilities and careers. You can do this in part by arranging networking, informational interview and job shadowing opportunities.

Developing Abilities

Whenever we learn a new ability, we must pass through the following four stages of skill development:

  1. Novice: In the novice stage, we are just starting to learn about a skill. This stage can go quickly or take a long time, depending on the complexity of the task. During this time, we receive an introduction to the topic by reading about it — or we are taught by a person who has mastered the subject. It’s useful to see demonstrations of the skill being used to complete tasks.
  2. Apprentice: During the apprentice stage, we begin the hands-on skill practice under the supervision of a person who has mastered it. First we assist the master, than perform the task under the master’s supervision. We practice the skill over and over again until it becomes second nature to us.
  3. Master: When the skill becomes natural to us and we can do it repeatedly and consistently well and without error, we have reached the point of mastery.
  4. Mentor: The greatest pleasure in mastering a task is to get to the point where we can begin to share our skill by training others.

“The biggest temptation is to settle for too little.”
— Thomas Merton

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