Growing up, there was a lesson my father tried to teach me repeatedly: “You can be excellent at one thing or mediocre at many things.” In my adolescent wisdom, I often responded with lip service while secretly thinking I knew better. It’s not that I didn’t respect my father. Quite the opposite actually. My father has always been and will always be one the biggest influences in my life. I was simply young, inexperienced, and filled with this idea that anything I put my hand to would be successful, no matter what it was or how many others things I had going on at the same time.
Sadly, in the case of many of these fatherly lessons, I chose experienced based learning rather than learning from the words of my teacher.
“You can be excellent at one thing or mediocre at many things.”
I always had a problem with this statement. You see, I don’t know a single person in the world who does one thing and one things only. Even my father, a multi-faceted man, always had many things going on in his life. He was a businessman, a husband, a brother, a friend, a mentor, and a father, and I remember quite clearly that he was very good at all of these things.
My interpretation of this was that my father must have had some problem with ME. Obviously, he knew people could do multiple things well. It was just me he believed couldn’t do many things.
Because of the perceptions of my young, underdeveloped mind, I spent much of my life taking on too many things. As if to say, “See dad, I told you.” I would spread my schedule thin, and never say no to anything anyone would offer for me to do. Some might see this as a good thing, but being president of three clubs, an officer in three more, and taking a full load of AP classes in your junior year of high school is far from a good idea in my now “grown-up” opinion. Needless to say my candle burned out pretty quick that year. My father never once said, “I told you.”
Even though those years are far behind me and my mind is fully developed, I for some reason still fall into the trap of overloading myself. I am a teacher, a coach, a husband, a father, a friend, a Grand Canyon tour guide, and a would-be writer. When I stop to think, my father’s words tend to come back to me. Perhaps it is a sign that I have finally become the “grow-up” I feared I would someday become, but I now know exactly what my father was trying to teach me.
His lesson was not that one person can’t do many things. It wasn’t even that one personal can’t do many things well. My father is a man of balance and I have come to appreciate his ability to pick up one thing and put another down. When my father was being a father, he was only a father. When he was a businessman, he was only a business man. The lesson he was trying to teach me is that one person can’t do many things well at the same time.
I can’t bring home stacks of papers to grade and be a present husband and father. While I am teaching I can’t focus on an upcoming Speech and Debate tournament. On a tour of Grand Canyon, I should not be teaching elements of literary fiction.
The real lesson to be learned is one of balance. As a new teacher, speaking to new teachers, I have some advice. Balance yourself, remember the commitments you have made and don’t over extend. You can’t be in two places at once. Your mind can’t be in two places at once. I do not suggest that you only do one thing with your life, but I do hope that you give to each thing your fullest attention while it is in front of you. If you go home to a family, be with them and love on them. When you come to school, be at school and love the impact that you can have on the students in your classroom. Buy a planner if you have to. It really helped me.
My father’s words(revised): “You can only be excellent at one thing at a time or mediocre at many things together.”
Forgive me, dad, for changing them just a little.
Photo Source: https://www.thoughtco.com/balance-design-principle-3470048