Friday, February 26, 2010

Well Rounded vs. Brilliant

This is a question that has nagged me for as long as I have been a father. I know I have loads of talent, and not just in one particular area. I have demonstrated excellence in areas as diverse as writing, mathematics, chess, soccer, baseball, basketball, guitar, piano, photography, and many other lesser skills.

I have done well enough to have played chess against most living world champions, gain a masters title and win a U.S. Amateur co-championship. I was offered a professional contract in soccer when I was sixteen (my mother wouldn't sign it since it entailed me having to move to Mexico City). I won every single competitive baseball game that I ever pitched. However, I have never become elite in anything. That doesn't concern me too much. I have some 'what if' moments about several of my hobbies, but I enjoyed being passionate about so many things.

The problem is with my children. I believe they are becoming passionate about many different hobbies precisely because they see what I have done. It worries me that one or both of them might have been able to become something truly special if I had only supported them in narrowing their focus to one particular skill. Sure, the idea of being 'well rounded' does sound politically correct and nice. However, when I truly admit the truth to myself, what matters most to me about our history on this planet are those who did something to stand out - the Michelangelos and daVincis and Mozarts of life. It bothers me to think that one of my sons could have perhaps had the chance to be such a person and I incidentally got in the way of this.

If my sons had never demonstrated any particular talent for anything, I don't think it would worry me. But, they have. They both show signs of having the same musical talent that I got from my father. My older son shows great talent for artistic endeavors. I try to support him in this, but it is a difficult area to know where to focus. He loves constructing astonishing things with Lego’s, but that isn't something one can normally strive to excel in. He does well with drawing, so it makes me wonder whether I shouldn't invest in a top-notch computer graphics program, where he just might be able to stand out as an artist. My younger son is far more competitive than the older, and has shown stretches of brilliance in several areas. When we lived in Beijing, he was by far the best striker in the soccer league. The second best scorers in the league were a pair who scored 8 goals on the season, while my son easily took the trophy with 15 goals. I haven't prevented him from continuing, other than the fact that my job has taken me to two countries now where he simply couldn't play. I think those were three critical years that he lost there.

Okay, so I just try to tell myself to be happy that they are great boys and well-rounded, talented individuals. It's just that I will always wonder what could have been with them, just as I do with myself.

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