At age 43 I am experiencing Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation. In this stage adults wrestle with the idea of contributing to the world through family and careers.
But my struggle is not the idea of contributing to the world, but how well I am making a difference. It has fostered a question that I have considered for a while: is it better to be good at a lot of different things or great at one or two things?
I am not a great husband.
I am not a great teacher.
I am not a great writer.
I am not great at anything.
I am good at a lot of things. I have done some cool things in my lifetime: from hosting creative workshops to coaching a 400-meter runner at Hastings College that ran with the great Michael Johnson at the Drake Relays. But that is the center of the issue, I have become good at a lot of different things but have not mastered any of them.
My struggle is that being good has not allowed me to make an impact in this world. I see so many of my friends and colleagues doing great things. Everyday they are making an impact that builds positive results in their world, and the difference I see is their focus is on one or two things. They are known as the expert, or the go-to person for their field. They are #rockstars. I would love to make such a difference in this world, but I am not a go-to person. I don’t have a focus on one thing that people know me for. I am good at a lot of things, but great at nothing.
Now, let’s back away from my struggle to connect to the idea of school and education.
The traditional school system is designed for our students to be good at a lot of different subjects. Understand, I strongly agree that we need a foundation in our education. But when a student graduates from high school are they great at something? Have they had the chance to start down the path of greatness?
Here is a stat for you: Almost 80 percent of students change their major at least once, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In reality, about half of the students will change their major two or three times. So, they are not on the path of greatness until, maybe, their sophomore year in college. Throw in the idea of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, and it is clear that school is not setting our students on a path of greatness.
So how can we design an environment to foster an opportunity for students to not only find their passion, but the chance to become great at it? First, get rid of the bells. The hardest part of being back in the classroom is the bells. Especially with 46 minute classes. There is no way for students or teachers to become engulfed in anything. To lose themselves in learning. To develop the intrinsic drive to become great.
Another area is standards. I know standards are a part of the educational landscape and will continue to be for a long time. Again, there needs to be guidelines that help schools build meaningful curriculum. But standards should be guidelines, not stone written rules that govern every single lesson we plan.
I know of teachers that will only do things that connect back to a standard. I remember going through the S.T.A.R.S. training and the moment when the person leading the training explained that dinosaur lessons in elementary school would have to be eliminated from the curriculum because dinosaurs were not a part of the standards. Kids love dinosaurs. Even my four year-old daughter will choose a book on dinosaurs for bedtime. How are we to help kids find what they love when we won’t even let them learn about things they like?
Why is greatness important? Our society is at a point that being good at something will not guarantee anything. To be honest, even being great at something is not a guarantee for success, but it improves the chances. I’m not talking about money, but about living a life that is filled with a sense of accomplishment. A life, as Erik Erikson theorized, a life where you feel that you have made a contribution to your family and the world.