Gifts vs. Tools

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Gifts and tools are different things.

Gifts are those things that come to you naturally. Those capacities, inclination, tendencies and abilities you were born with. These are the things you do that feel effortless for you where you lose track of time. We are, in some mysterious way, born with these. They are woven into who we are. Identical twins can be born and yet have such different gifts – one a good listener and the other a good speaker. Same DNA. Born into the same when and the same where and yet… so different. It’s one of life’s most enduring mysteries.

If you are thwarted in the expression of your gifts, you will suffer. If these are identified and fostered and you’re given chances to express them, you will thrive.

Tools are an entirely different beat all together. In the context I’m speaking of, a tool might be a modality you use in your healing practice (e.g. massage, reiki, NLP, yoga therapy, Non-Violent Communication, The Work of Byron Katie, life coaching etc.)

While I was in Iceland for a session of the Orphan Wisdom school, Stephen Jenkinson was sharing with us his understand of what a ‘tool’ is. The gist of it was that a tool is something basic, small and simple with few moving parts. It’s something primitive. It’s not complicated. A tool extends the grasp of the hand, augments the strength of the grip (e.g. plyers) but it does so in a way that the hand recognizes itself in the extension – in kind not degree. A tool makes the hand more able. The work you do with tools is a devotional act. You can see this in the incredible care that people took of their tools in traditional cultures and the veneration they gave them. They treated them as ones who are just alive as they were. A tool is a sacred thing. But not a ‘thing’. A sacred ‘one’. 

And so the techniques, skills, processes and modalities we learn are tools and they extend, strengthen, magnify and enhance the grasp of our gifts. They allow the capacity for more detail and nuance in our work.

And so our tools are in a deep relationship with our gifts.

If you are doing work that isn’t built around your natural gifts and you have no tools you’re using, this is called ‘winging it at something you’re mediocre at.’ Your work will only ever be functional. It’ll be okay at best.

If you are doing work that isn’t built around your natural gifts and you have a lot of really good tools you’re using, this is called competent. You’ll only ever be ‘good’.

If you are doing work that is built around your natural gifts and you have no tools you’re using, this is called ‘winging it at something you’re naturally great at.’ Your work will only ever be good but unpredictable. It’ll be inconsistently amazing at best. This is the mad genius, the unpracticed artistic genius, the untutored savant.

If you are doing work that is built around your natural gifts and you have plenty of tools you’re practiced in, this is closer to the neighbourhood of mastery or, better yet, a deep devotion to the expression of your gifts in this world in the most skillful and articulated way possible.

And so, this is the goal, to find the right tools to help you express your gifts and become skillful in using them.

This is how you become trustworthy.

About Tad

  • Ruth Toledo Altschuler

    Thank you for the clarity and insight!

    This article prompted me to take a quick tour through my two previous careers, that eventually led me to where I am now.

    While in the first, photography, I knew I was good, reliable, talented, articulated, had mastery of the tool, I also knew I would never be one of the greatest. I liked it and those who hired liked my work, but life choices moved me to a second career.

    As a designer of clothing, with a direct niche (while my kids were small and I wanted to work close to home), I was also good, competent, reliable and liked. But I knew on an even deeper way, that this was not where I could give my very best – others were better than me, more talented and passionate about clothes.

    It was fine, I could serve those who liked what I did, but something greater eventually led me to the third career path, where it all came together.

    The gifts may be the same, essentially, translated into different languages. Seeing others, listening deeply, showing their beauty, inner and outer, matching their needs with my tools. But in the Mentoring and Healing work I have been doing for almost three decades now, I feel the gifts I have, now applied with the refined tools I really master, are SO at one, being my skill and my art, that this has indeed converted into mastery, that can very fluently be put into service to help others.

  • Anastasia Netri

    Hi Tad! I read this and I wanted to share how much it made something finally “click” for me. I’ve actually been sitting with this “gift vs. tools” thing for a few days, and after so many years of coaching, I’ve finally identified my gifts – and also the tools I use and why. I just love your articles, thank you for giving me this HUGE awareness that makes so much sense, and I feel can be a huge shift in how I share what I do with others. Just brilliant :).

  • so glad to hear!