Based in Chicago, Omerisms is a blog by Omer Abdullah. His posts explore Ideas, perspectives and points of view across business, sales, marketing, life and (sometimes) football (the real kind).

The Myth of The All Rounder

In school, we’re taught a range of different subjects - from history to math to science to art to music to physical education. We’re tested, judged and evaluated on our proficiency in each of these disciplines, and by the end of it, given a numerical average of our performance across all of these areas, otherwise known as our Grade Point Average (GPA).

The expectation is that we strive to achieve as high of a GPA score as possible, ultimately leaving school as a “well-rounded” student. The idea is that the higher the score, the better the student, the better his or her prospects for the future.

I get the intention. The intention is to ensure that young folks have a solid understanding of a wide range of discipline areas, making them better informed, better able to understand and navigate many different aspects of life. And that’s an honorable intention.

The problem arises on two fronts, though.

The first is when we make judgements about someone on the basis of his or her GPA (or any numeric score, for that matter - you can substitute SAT, ACT, GMAT, your local college admissions testing score, etc.). She’s not very smart, her GPA is pretty low. Look, he’s just a jock, he doesn’t know anything about anything else as his GPA score shows. We’re quick to judge, quick to infer, quick to write off.

And quite simply, that’s wrong. The reality is that there are multiple aspects of intelligence. The reality is that schools, for the most part, are programmed to create a certain type of individual, one that is geared for ‘success’ in a structured, templatized society where we work in corporations and factories and essentially “do our jobs”. Unless influenced by specific teachers who take an interest in a particular student, the school process is one of “reversion to the mean”, and hence those types of teachers become incredibly valuable, taking on an almost mythical importance. (Personally, I can count on a couple of fingers how many such teachers I personally encountered before college.) This is why the role of the parent (and those special teachers) is ever more critical (as it should always be but more so in this context).

The second problem is that this carries forward into the working world. We carry the idea that the all rounder is the person to be, that we must constantly work to eliminate our shortcomings. Yes, we should always work to improve, but its worth noting that our strengths actually define who we are and what we can do and what we can become. Anyone who has ever created anything of note, in just about any field of endeavor, had a “spike”. Something they were really good at, and that they focused on, often at the expense of all else. It was this spike that allowed them to think differently, to innovate, to achieve change.

Yet, we hold ourselves back, measuring ourselves against a standard, an idea that we’ve held in some form or another since our childhood. A measure that was designed for a purpose, a different age. A measure that is limiting what we are able to do - what we let ourselves do. The measure is wrong.

The point is, the idea of the all rounder is helpful only in specific situations, for specific purposes and for specific reasons. Beyond that, it isn’t relevant in most of our lives.

We need to accept it for what it is, a myth. It’s time to accept, focus on and expand on our spikes.  It’s time to be who we are.

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