Emulate the greats

Students, think of an adult—famous, not famous, someone you know personally, it’s up to you—who’s achieved a level of success that you admire. It might be a famous athlete, writer, or musician. It might be your boss at your part-time job. It might be a teacher, your parent, or a coach. Someone you respect and might strive to emulate.

Now ask yourself: Did they get where they are today by being good at everything?

They might be good at everything within their chosen domain, like the musician who can play different styles, the athlete without weaknesses in her game, the coworker who seems to know how to do everything well when he’s on the clock, etc.

But they couldn’t easily swap areas of greatness with your other heroes. That athlete might not play the cello at the same level she can play her best game. That author might not write computer code with the same ease and results as he can write fiction. That philanthropist who’s improving lives might not make the same impact as a personal trainer or therapist or financial planner.

Sure, not everyone is reducible to just one area of greatness. But nobody is capable of universal greatness.

So why spend all of your time trying to be good at everything in high school?

This is one of the worst symptoms of the obsession with highly selective colleges. Perfection-on-paper does exist in the college application population. It’s a tiny percentage, but they’re out there– those kids who somehow found a way to get perfect grades and perfect test scores and all the other off-the-charts accolades that make them stand out on a college application at 17. And most of them apply to the same prestigious colleges. There’s just no way around it. If you want to compete with them for a coveted spot, you’ll need to find a way to be perfect-on-paper, too.

Or you could take a different approach.

You emulate the way people become successful in the real world, not by trying to be great at everything, but by combining your natural interests and strengths with the right attitude and qualities, like curiosity, character, and work ethic.

You could reject the idea that GPAs, test scores, and summaries on a resume encapsulate you and instead focus on doing, earning, and emulating things that make you feel both happy and proud.

You could pick colleges that are predisposed to appreciate you for who you are and what you’ve done in high school, places where you could continue to learn, grow, and make discoveries about your talents and your potential.

Even the greats aren’t great at everything. And that’s something worth emulating.