by Rob Feingold, Director of Athletics, Fay School
I am here to talk about my fundamental belief that life is not just about achieving mastery in one area, but rather experiencing the world for all that it has to offer.
From a young age, and for as long as I can remember, I have tried to participate in every opportunity I could. Whether it was athletics, outdoor activities, creative endeavors, or leadership positions, I’ve had a desire to do it all. As a child, I would immerse myself in whatever was “in season.” Touch football and soccer with friends in the fall; basketball, pond hockey, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and as spring came around, baseball, and lacrosse. When school let out and summer began, my interests swayed to tennis, golf, water skiing, sailing, and surfing. I was so excited by all of these activities that I couldn’t help myself from trying to do it all.
This mindset continued through my middle school years and into high school, even impacting my decision on what college to attend. Rather than choosing a college where I would focus on one academic discipline or play one sport, I chose a school where I could try everything: ski, hike, bike, camp, surf in the Pacific, play multiple sports, and study environmental science (believe it or not, that was my major!).
When I entered the workforce, I continued to explore a range of interests. My career path took many turns: tennis instructor, outdoor equipment salesman, house painter, camp counselor, ski instructor, short order cook, sailing instructor, meat salesman (“What do you like chicken, shrimp, beef, pork?”), greenskeeper, sous chef, landscaper, construction worker, dishwasher, waiter, garbage man (yes, garbage man).
I tell you this not because I want to brag about my adventures or reminisce about my days as a garbage man, but rather to illustrate how difficult it was for me focus my energy and attention on one thing.
"Instead of demonstrating mastery in a specific area like the peers whom I admired, I continued to be a generalist. I felt that I was not successful because I didn’t truly excel in one area, as a student, an athlete, an artist, or a musician. I failed to see the diversity of my experiences for what they were: tremendous opportunities to grow and develop as a person."
All around me, I saw my peers excelling in areas that defined their identities; they were achieving honors, winning awards, being named to the elite sports teams, and I was not. This bothered me. Like most kids, I had dreams of ski racing in the Olympics, playing on the PGA tour, or becoming the next second baseman for the Red Sox. But instead of demonstrating mastery in a specific area like the peers whom I admired, I continued to be a generalist. I felt that I was not successful because I didn’t truly excel in one area, as a student, an athlete, an artist, or a musician. I failed to see the diversity of my experiences for what they were: tremendous opportunities to grow and develop as a person. Instead, I saw them as a roadblock to success.
It wasn’t until I became an educator and took on roles as a teacher, coach, admission officer, and now, athletic director at Fay, that I realized that what I had always perceived as a weakness is really one of my greatest strengths. I have realized that one of my most important jobs is to help you understand the benefits of trying, and doing, anything and everything you have the opportunity to do, as these experiences will shape who you become.
I tell you this today because now, more than ever, there are pressures for adolescents to specialize--to pick one specific activity to focus on, like a sport or a musical instrument--at younger and younger ages. This hyper-focus, especially when you’re young, will undoubtedly lead to greater improvement in your chosen area, but I (and many experts) argue that specializing can also limit an individual’s growth and potential.
That is not to say that demonstrating mastery in one area is a bad thing--quite the contrary. If you have the talent, focus, ability, and drive to master a skill that you care about deeply, go for it, and do it to the best of your ability. But don’t lose sight of the importance of trying new things and taking part in a variety of experiences.
"If you have the talent, focus, ability, and drive to master a skill that you care about deeply, go for it, and do it to the best of your ability. But don't lose sight of the importance of trying new things and taking part in a variety of experiences."
For those of you out there who are like me and who struggle to find that “one thing” that defines you, my message to you is this: it’s ok. Be confident in who you are as a person. Be yourself. Enjoy and learn from the opportunities you have here at Fay and beyond. Continue to try new things and don’t worry about how good you are, or how difficult it may be. See what you can learn from each experience about what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Resist the pressure to define yourself as one thing or another. Instead, celebrate who you are as a unique individual as a result of the experiences you have had in life.
As Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So my message to you is this: when given the opportunity to try something new, don’t shy away because you think it’s a waste of time or because you worry that you won’t excel at it. Give it a shot and try your best. Who knows? It could be the best decision you ever made.
Read an article from Dr. Richard Ginsberg on the right age to specialize in a sport.