A show of hands for those of us who were sent to music classes or after school sport clubs when we were younger. And if you were particularly fortunate, either one of those (or both), plus tuition or after school academy for extra classes, just in case you were mediocre in school, or just not doing enough. While I quickly grew out most of that by the time I entered teenagehood, a number of my peers continued such activities well into their late teens, before college or other higher educational institutions basically took over our lives for a few years. As a result, I can play the guitar well enough to carry a simple tune, I passed all of my Maths exams through some miracle and I can probably play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the recorder, but don’t quote me on that.
As millennials who grew up with our parents’ aspirations for us to have more fulfilling lives than they might have had, we were entrusted into an era where it seemed that being great at one thing wasn’t so special anymore. Great at Maths? Sure, but you wouldn’t be able to beat Albert Einstein. (Probably why I didn’t try as hard to be good at it, to be honest.) Your painting won national competitions? Sure, but you’re not as amazing as Da Vinci, that’s a given. You had to be a science nerd and a theater geek, you had to be like Troy Bolton or Gabriella Montez, but even more extra.
Specialisation isn’t special anymore when everyone’s good at at least one thing; you had to be able to analyse a literature text and remember your Physics formulae, because obviously your future employer’s going to ask you to decipher a Shakespearean monologue while you’re helping a client do their tax returns. And a lot of us turned out to be kind of good at a lot of things, but not really excellent at anything, which is pretty meaningless.
Or so a lot of people seem to think; even millennials themselves.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” is an adage tossed around when you see someone who’s skilled in many areas but whose skills can be surpassed by someone a bit more knowledgeable in that particular field, and it’s a harmful concept. It’s a concept that is degrading to one’s self-worth, because it promotes the idea that if we have more than one interest or passion, we won’t be able to become “masters” in our interest, only mediocre at most things, as if that should be the end goal. It’s a saying that takes out the fun in a “trade”, because obviously the only way to do something is to be the best at it, which is such a destructive way of thinking. It undermines our individual achievements because the C that you got for that subject you’d failed previously is obviously less impressive than the constant As that your friend gets. We can’t seem to celebrate our own achievements without comparing ourselves to everyone else, which is genuinely upsetting.
Mediocrity seems to be one of the biggest traits attached to our current generation and the generation after us; it’s no secret that students are having a tougher time in school and after you’ve read the sixth story of a kid who finished college before they even finished puberty, it seems anything you’re able to do won’t be worth anything. But what this oversharing mess of a generation doesn’t realise is that as humans, our worth is measured in more than what we have deemed where society’s greatest footsteps have taken us. Just because we aren’t a world class pianist does not mean our ability to play the piano is worthless. Winning a science fair in school is as important as any scientific breakthrough in a lab across the world because that is one step further that you, my friend, have taken than where you were before.
This misconception of being mediocre comes attached with a bag filled with low self-esteem and a tendency to play up one’s victim mentality, whether intentional or otherwise. Which is why it’s a bag best left behind, because the baggage will only weigh you down in the long run. It’s a bag that gets heavier with age as well, because somehow youth is a basic requirement when it comes to learning something new, which shouldn’t be the case. If you’re pushing thirty and you decide you want to pick up some self-defense classes, then by all means. People’s opinions (unless it’s a doctor’s, in which case you might want to listen to them) shouldn’t be a driving factor in your decision to get healthy and pick up a new skill along the way.
Remember: The idea that ultimately being mediocre is reason enough to not try anything new is the attitude of a defeatist, which is a lot worse than being able to barely play an Ed Sheeran song with your ukulele.