The Well-Rounded Expert?
Last year I helped a friend who was returning to college after a 20 year break to study and prepare for her ACT extrance exam. We spent several days in the local bookstore’s coffee shop, referencing expensive study guides, taking practice tests, and learning test-taking skills. As I helped her prepare, I was stunned by the amount of information available to help the test-taker succeed. How much better could I have done on my SAT if I had taken the prep-course offered at my school, or if I had actually looked at the study guide my mother purchased for me? Yikes!
These considerations sent me down memory lane, trying to understand my 18-year old self and her unwillingness to receive help. These days I’m thrilled to receive instruction from a friend, take a class to improve my skills, or anything else that might help me succeed. How have I made the transition from the girl I was to the woman I am?
Memory lane brought me back to an art class I took about ten years ago. A local craft store offered it every Saturday morning for six weeks and it was actually a class to learn how to use colored pencils. It was taught by a student at the local art college and was ridiculously cheap. I signed up for it and found at the first class that I was one of two students. I was blessed to discover that the instructor was a natural teacher and rather than instructing me in the art of properly using colored pencils, she ended up instructing me in the art of drawing portraits. I’d been drawing portraits on my own for years, based on some instruction I received in 8th grade art class, and my skills were passable. I was going to do a portrait of my mother from her wedding day. But my new art teacher was able, through some very simple instruction, to vastly increase my ability within six weeks. I was able to produce a portrait of which I had nothing to be ashamed.
The greater lesson I learned through taking that class was how a little instruction in something I’m already decent at can take me to a level of excellence I probably couldn’t achieve on my own. What could I become with extensive training? The thought continues to delight me, even though I’ve only had one more art class since then. What a wonderful thing to know and a fun gift to tap into from time to time when my creativity starts to stagnate.
While this wasn’t the first time I’d had this type of experience, it happened to be paired with a motivational speech around the same time that left me reeling. I’d heard a man speak on what makes a person a success. He said he’d had the opportunity to meet with a wildly successful man while he was in college. The man had told him he would answer one question from the boy, so to consider carefully what to ask. The boy asked him what the secret to success like his is. The man answered him simply.
“There are many people in this world who are reasonably good at many things. There are very few experts. Become an expert in something and you will become a success.”
The man said that many of us rely on our natural talents in a few areas to allow us a measure of success in life, but the person who figures out what he or she is best at and does everything they can to receive instruction and become an expert in that field, is the one who becomes wildly successful. Basically, the man’s advice was to put all your eggs in one basket!
This concept is completely opposite of the way I was raised. I was taught the importance of competency. I don’t know that anyone ever said those exact words to me, but the areas I was encouraged to seek further education in were my areas of weakness. My physical structure (short upper body with long legs) makes me naturally unbalanced. I might be able to master the general rules and movements of a sport, but I am never going to be a natural athlete who can rely on my body to do exactly what my mind tells it to do with ease. I was placed into gymnastics classes and signed up for basketball teams. While I can appreciate the skills I acquired that helped me learn how to push myself and be a part of a team, and even the physical benefits of exercise, it wasn’t my thing. Music is important to my family and I love it. I was put into piano lessons. As much as I love music, I hated piano lessons. I learned how to read music (a skill I am eternally grateful for) and I have a basic understanding of the piano and could probably play reasonably well if I really practiced, but it isn’t something I love.
I love art and writing, but since I had some reasonable skills in those areas, no one thought I needed art lessons or a writing coach. It just wasn’t the way we were taught to be. You take lessons in areas where you have weaknesses and you rely on your natural talents in areas of strength. This leads to competency in a large number of areas and makes you a well-rounded person. You do NOT place all your eggs in one basket.
I was a good student, a good test-taker, and I saw absolutely no need to seek to further my skills in that area. As a result, I made a good score on my SAT. I even received an academic scholarship due to my score. But how much better could I have done if I’d honed those skills and practiced?
These days I’m putting all my eggs in the basket of writing. How can I be a better writer, help my readers take more interest? I’m not interested in reading about how to play the stock market well, how to become a perfect hair stylist, or even what it takes to achieve the perfect figure. I’m working on becoming an expert in writing, and I love it.