Secret of Adulthood: People Do Best What Comes Naturally.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


I really believe this is true. It’s certainly true in my case; naturally, I spend all my time reading and writing, and I also think that’s what I do best.

This Secret of Adulthood is related to the resolution to Do what you do.

Do you agree? What do you do naturally?

  • My first thought: If this was true there would be no great guitar players.Or contortionists. Or anyone doing anything that involves using a stick shift vehicle.

    I’m trying to teach my daughter that we all suck for a while at everything from drawing to dancing and it’s when we gain an unnatural skill and work through that awkwardness, we can find out way to effortless expression.

    Even reading was once hard and unnatural.

    • gretchenrubin

      But do you think that all people could be equally great guitar players? If it’s a matter of practice, why do some people practice more than others? If your mother forces you to practice 10,000 hours, will you love it and truly excel? Many people can read and write; why am I a writer but my husband isn’t?

      I think that within reason, applying yourself to do difficult things is helpful, but at least in my experience, the notion that if you’d just apply yourself, you’d come to excel and enjoy anything, leads to a lot of sterile use of time.

  • Since i was a child,books and reading were my happiest moments;that passion naturally revived at present,it approves your opinion,i think the same,thank you

  • Funny, I was just thinking about this very thing today, and it’s totally true. I like to be spiritual and creative best, myself.

    Btw, is that a Breezy Singer in the photo there? I think I have that very same one! 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! Good eye for detail!

  • peninith1

    Yes. That story about how silly it is to tell a fish it’s a failure because it can’t climb a tree is very true. I think that we should certainly play to our strengths and nurture them, and that those who are able to center their work or their play around things that they do well and enjoy doing, will certainly be happier.

    Yet. I also think it is desirable to learn at least the rudiments of things that may at first make you feel like you need them ‘like a fish needs a bicycle.’ A lot of basic life skills, like managing money, self discipline, mastering home repair tasks, basic cooking and nutrition, and exercise don’t come ‘naturally.’ I certainly started life as a person who liked to lie on the sofa and read literature, hated to deal with finance and other bureaucratic tasks, and disliked exercise. I will never ‘love’ to do those things, my one attempt at doing double entry bookkeeping was a terrible crash and burn, and I am not going to do a triathlon. EVER. But I have learned how to do enough and well enough in these areas to manage my life independently. I think it’s important not to declare yourself ‘helpless’ at things, even if you don’t love to do them.

    Finally, daring to learn something you think you don’t like and aren’t good at can be a big surprise. After many years of doing handwork and being sort of afraid of a sewing machine, making quilts from start to finish on my machine is now my great pleasure. Never say never.

    • gretchenrubin

      Knowing when to accept yourself, and when to expect more from yourself, is one of the central challenges of a happy life.

  • Regine

    I just came up with my own list of Secrets of Adulthood, it truly is so much fun. Life really becomes so much easier when you realise those things

  • haha, talk for sure. Though I can be surrounded by complete silence, no problem. All day, no radio, no music, no one else. But I am very happy with chatter.

    I knew this family when I was a child. I remember how they would talk to their youngest daughter, they were always chastising her for talking so much. And I would think, why are you doing that, she’s obviously happy and full of love and joy. And likely she’ll start sooner or later socializing away all that natural joie de vivre…

  • Cherela

    We each have only so much free time, so doing what comes naturally, what we like, what we have natural talent for, is practical. My husband is a musician, as was his mother…he has that talent and he loves making music. I couldn’t play music to save my life, but I find happiness in listening to it.
    I think this also relates to Be ourselves. For me to “Be Cherie” I do what comes naturally for me (reading, organizing, learning).

  • Deborah Avila

    I believe what I do best is Listening to others ~ I love being with people.

  • Guest

    I agree Gretchin. The more I go with the flow of what delights me the more work in get in the fields that excite me.

  • I agree Gretchin. The more I go with the flow of what delights me the more work I get in the fields that excite me.

  • Helen

    I think you’ve finally landed on a really nice presentation style for these secret of adulthood notes. I love reading these now. Before I missed the point because the style was distracting.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy you like the new look! Thanks! They will all look more or less like this going forward.

  • I’d have to disagree. You do best what you’ve purposefully practised. Having the passion and opportunity are more about the environment you grew up in (including parents) than whatever is considered natural. If you’re not convinced then you should read Matthew Syed’s “Balance: The Talent Myth”. Covers everything from tables tennis to chess including the story behind the first female grand master.

    • gretchenrubin

      But why does a person practice? Does every person have the same potential to excel, if he or she would just practice enough? I don’t think so. If my mother forced me to practice 10,000 hours of table tennis, would I be great at it? Why would one person choose to do that, and others don’t?

      • peninith1

        This makes me think of that quotation you once posted about ‘loving the drudgery associated with something is a sure sign of it being a vocation’ I can love using the seam ripper, or pre-washing and pressing new fabric, or a lot of hand stitching — to me that drudgery is fun.No amount of mucking out horses EVER would be fun for me.

      • But if your father thought he would conduct and experiment… which is exactly what László Polgár did. His three daughters became chess greats (2 grandmasters, 1 international master). Polgar’s holds that “geniuses are made, not born” and decided to prove this through raising his children to become great chess players before he was even married! So if it’s nuture not nature then the secret of adulthood is “people do best what they have been nutured to do”. The nuture can come through parenting, education, clubs or even what society encourages.

        • peninith1

          Yes, but gifts can be familial. Mozart’s father was a composer. St. Therese came from a notably devoted and pious family, with her five sisters taking the veil before her. There was just about certainly an element of ‘nature’ in the Polgar family that meant the girl’s father was making a choice that proved congenial to them. The challenge is to think of an activity that makes no sense or has no attraction for you, and set about learning it. Some people can easily knock over competency in a foreign language in days or weeks, for example. Others don’t have the aptitude, no matter how hard they try or what aids they use. I can think of no greater waste of my precious time than beating my head against a wall for some skill I don’t NEED, nor feel any attraction for.

  • likeordinarylife

    I’ve been working on this secret quite a bit recently. I am a teacher and I love kids and I am good at it. But it took a lot of hard work, stress, tears and pain for me to become a great teacher. The result? I don’t like teaching. The world of a teacher isn’t my natural state. Starting my blog over a year ago has helped me realize that I am naturally a writer. I’ve been a natural sharer of stories since the 1st grade when I constructed my first sentence. And while I love the kids and I care deeply about them, teaching is not natural to the point that makes me happy. And the funniest part about it is that, now that I’ve opened up to people about my desires to “just write”, the response is always the same. “You should. You should write a book. You are a great writer.” Which fills me with a tremendous amount of pride compared to the response to teaching (which, too, is positive, but doesn’t matter as much because my natural care and passion is not there).

    So, naturally, I’ve let myself write more. More blog posts. More personal journal entries. More lists. More words. I’m happier, but moreover I’m more mindful of my well being. It’s therapeutic.

  • Pinned it!

  • Georgia

    Hmm . . . perhaps people do best what comes naturally, but that does not mean that what they do best makes them happy! I HATED school from sixth grade on, yet so many adults in my life refused to accept this, because I was so good at school (got all As, etc.). So, while I think your rule may be true, I’m not sure it really applies to happiness.

  • Molly

    I think this is one of those statements that certainly has a grain of truth, but almost something we should mostly ignore when we are making decisions about what to do or pursue. The statement can SEEM to imply that if it doesn’t come naturally, then we shouldn’t really bother, except, perhaps, to develop necessary coping skills, such as self-discipline, etc. But I don’t think there is a sharp line here. I was just reading a book (Nature Shock) where being labeled “intelligent” was a detriment to children in scientific studies. In several experiments, after all the children did not do well on a task, only those children who were told that the task took “effort” rather than focusing on the intelligence necessary to do this task were willing to try the task again. Telling children they are smart or labeling them as gifted actually seems (in at least some current studies) to stymie their risk taking. Play it safe, or as George Costanza believes, leave on a high note!

    I was also recently reading Howard Friedman’s book, The Longevity Project, and one of the chapters really threw me for a loop. In studies on the connection between longevity and having work that matches one’s abilities, some professions were actually detrimental to people’s health when there was a good fit, rather than what we might think. We would assume that doing what one loves is linked to health b/c one is (likely) less frustrated, etc. However, people who were (for example) “fit” for sales and who worked in sales, were less likely to live long. Since the fit between the person’s high risk taking, outgoing personality and the job were so good, the person was more likely to experience high stress and engage in risky behavior (drinking, etc.) than a person “fit” for sales but working in a different (less tied to risky behavior) field. Here, “fit” did not work in the person’s favor. This doesn’t speak to the specific statement above, since salespeople-like people may likely be best at sales, yet choose not to pursue it, but I thought it had interesting implications for the general topic of how much we should concern ourselves with our “natural” talents. Since longevity was tied to prudence and conscientiousness in Friedman’s book, if you are interested in longevity (and good health is also associated with happiness), the advice in Friedman’s book would be to work hard in your chosen, meeting and exceeding consciously set goals. While having the motivation to do this would likely (or ideally) involve pursuing a career that is within some range of one’s “natural” interests, this is a smaller part of the story in Friedman’s research. This focus is far different from sitting around waiting to see what “comes naturally.”

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  • Luminita

    I think that you do best what you practice most. There may be some natural gifts, tendencies – but if you practice something until you get good, really good at it – you also enjoy it the most and you are the best at it.

    My drums teacher says practice playing drums like this is the last time you do it. It may also be the first time someone sees you play the drums – so you better show the best playing you have!

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  • brendaNP

    yep I agree, am a adult nurse practitioner, hated being an RN cause I hated being told what to do, love being an NP because of the independence. either job though filled my need to be needed and make a difference in someone’s life, but only the NP profession made me happy. go figure, worth the three years of additional college? yep, it was!