Maybe You Only Need to Be Good at One Thing

I have a problem with GPA and other overall evaluations

Posted Oct 08, 2010

As students of all ages settle into their fall classes, untold numbers are discovering that they are just not very good at some of the courses they have to take or topics they have to study. Others may have what it takes to succeed, in theory, but they just don't care - the material doesn't interest them.

The phenomenon is not specific to schools. In workplaces, too, many people are recognizing that their job is not what they hoped it would be or that there are parts of the job that are not a good fit with their talents or interests.

There is probably a lot of anxiety around these realizations. For students, overall GPA is often a ticket to the next step, and disappointing grades in any one course can put a dent in that one summary number. At work, the colleagues who seem skilled at, and engaged by, all aspects of the work are probably doing better in important ways, such as salary and promotions and enjoyment of their jobs, than their co-workers who aren't good at everything.

Here's what I wish I could tell all the students and workers with very selective interests and talents: Maybe in life, in the big picture, you only need to be good at one thing. So students, instead of obsessing about that one course that is going to screw up your GPA, think about that one course that you love. Or think about the one topic in the one course that really grabbed you. That may be all it takes. You may be able to develop a lifetime of work that you love if you find that one thing. Of course, the one thing doesn't have to be academic - it could be artistic or athletic or just about anything else.

Same for the workplace. If there is something about your job that is so intriguing or appealing that it doesn't even seem like work, then maybe you can find a way to focus on that. I realize that's not always possible, and that especially in difficult economic times, you may feel fortunate to have any way at all to pay the bills. Increasingly, though, we invent and reinvent ourselves over the course of our work lives. The era of lifelong dedication to just one company is mostly in the past.

If I could get to whisper a second thing to anyone stressing about what they don't like and what they're not good at, it would be this: It could take a while to find your true passion. I've been an academic all of my adult life and I have always loved the life of the mind. I don't think I ever knew what true intellectual passion was, though, until I started studying single people and their place in society and in science. That didn't happen until I was in my mid-40s.

[Note. Thanks to Ravenelvenlady who got me thinking along these lines after sharing a comment in response to this post about ‘having it all.' I was arguing that we should have broader definitions of what ‘having it all' means. Ravenelvenlady asked, "And what if you're not the least bit interested in ‘having it all'? I've not seen that addressed and recognized as a legitimate way of living." The topic is not exactly the same as the one in this post, but you can probably see the connection.]