How many “well-rounded” people do you know? Someone who has a diverse range of interests and is sort-of, kind-of good at everything? Someone who is as eager to go chase a ball as stay home and read Proust?
I don’t know anyone like that.
Over at Wrong Side of Thirty, Lilian’s trying to get her two little bookworms to put the books down and go out to do something more active – swimming, skipping rope, ice skating, something besides lying on the couch and reading all day. While I applaud her efforts, I also think that it won’t change the boys’ preferences much in the end. I know from personal experience because my parents used to drag my sister and me away from our books to go shoot hoops. And just to show how well that took, I haven’t held a basketball in my hands even once in the past 15 years. And it’s not just imitating a mom who professes that she likes to stay home herself although that’s clear in our home too where Marv and I have a long history of being homebodies. A lot of it has to do with our inborn temperaments which are awfully hard to overcome. And, yes, I do believe it’s partly genetics (but you knew I’d say that!).
I think being well-rounded is a myth. A myth that puts unnecessary pressure on everyone to involve themselves in all the following pursuits:
And while we have may have tried an activity from each of these categories, there’s no doubt that most of us are only good at one or two on the list.
Clearly, I’ve focused on the intellect for most of my life. I was on the track team freshman year of high school but didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks although it was the easiest sport. No one ever got kicked off the track and field team as long as they showed up for every practice and participated in an event at every meet win or lose. And, of course, I always lost. You could even letter in track if you had a good record of participation.
Up through college, I had a strong artistic side. At any given point in time, I played at least two instruments and can play piano, flute, violin, and string bass. I played piano and violin competitively and considered going to a music conservatory for a millisecond before returning to my true love – science. Social and humanitarian efforts are a little easier to come by because they can be part of any intellectual interest. For example, fitting genetics with genetic testing and patient empowerment isn’t such a stretch.
I’ve always known I’d never be the perfectly well-rounded person no matter how hard I tried and I never did try all that hard.
As a parent, one of my biggest aims is to teach my child to appreciate all the good things in life, which includes sports, arts, cerebral pursuits, and good deeds. Perhaps the key is not to think that you should excel at all these yourself, but that these activities have valuable qualities not to be dismissed. I may pretend that sports have little redeeming value but I know that they not only teach self- and body-awareness but also team spirit and a passion for pure fun. Not to mention that all the score keeping is math in disguise. haaa
When it comes to American colleges, the mantra is that they look for students who are not just tops at academics but who are also involved in extracurricular activities (note the plural); that colleges want “well-rounded” students, not kids who are indoors all day with their faces glued to the computer screen never mind if they’re entrepreneurs starting their first online business. Not true.
Parents who believe the myth of the well-rounded student and prep their children for a slew of cram school courses and extracurricular activities are probably headed down the wrong track. Admissions officers can smell passion. If an applicant doesn’t have it for the activities s/he fills in on the form, the application will reek.
Here’s an excerpt from an excellent article on the myth of the well-rounded student by Joe Jewell at PrepMe Advice:
Especially early on in a high school student’s educational career, it’s great to explore a wide range of interests. As you mature, it’s only natural that some activities will become better-loved than others, and you will naturally settle into those pursuits. Be aware of this process and seek to grow in responsibility and achievement in the things that you are passionate about.
…a student with passionate interests, even if they are somewhat off the beaten path-in fact, especially if they are somewhat off the beaten path-is truly the hot commodity in college admissions.
So while we should all strive to try different things and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, it’s still important to allow ourselves the freedom to pursue what we truly enjoy and are naturally drawn to no matter what it may be (within reason, of course!). Life is about both exciting new experiences and the comforts of what we love.
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