Monday, August 13, 2012

queen of none

In '96, I, like thousands of other girls nationwide, wanted to be a gymnast. If you're one of those thousands of other girls, you'll know why: it was the year of Kerri Strugg, Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Dominique Daws, Amy Chow, Amanda Borden, and Jaycie Phelps--the Magnificent Seven.

This was my first exposure to gymnastics of the Olympic sort, and I was completely and totally mesmerized by how weightless they looked. I wanted to know what that felt like.

So I daydreamed about floor exercises, I practiced flipping my arms up for my finish, I dressed up as a gymnast for Halloween (that's how you know when I'm really serious about something), and I remember actually praying several times before bed that I could please just dream about doing flips on the uneven bars, just to feel what that must be like. (Me as a gymnast for Halloween '96:

This is all, of course, not to mention that every recess that year I spent with one leggin-covered knee looped up over a metal hangbar in the playground, flipping over and over it.

As if thinking about it every hour wasn't enough, images of the Olympic gymnasts were everywhere. A particularly triumphant-looking Kerri Mulligan cardboard cutout smiled at you as you ordered your Olympic happy meal at McDonald's, for one.

In case it's not obvious, it is totally and entirely unrealistic for me to ever be a gymnast. (I was 5'8'' by seventh grade.) But I think we all know how the Olympics can make you dream beautiful (if utterly impossible) dreams.

Which, apparently, they still make me do. While watching the volleyball gold medalists interview, in which Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh revealed themselves as being 35 and 33 (respectively), I actually had the thought, "Oh, perfect, if I wanted to become an Olympic volleyball player, I've still got time."

See, the problem is this: I have an over-active desire to possess beautiful things: I see a painting in a museum and I cry because it's so beautiful. I hear a song like this and I have to sit down because it's so beautiful. I sometimes have to not look at certain photographer's work because it makes me ache, it's so beautiful. Now, this wouldn't be a problem, necessarily, if it wasn't for the second part: I also have an unhealthy belief in the "you can do anything you set your heart to" adage. I believe Malcolm Gladwell when he says that 10,000 hours will make you a master at anything, that if I really got to work on learning a given skill, I could be the world's best ____(fill in the blank)____. (This is also, of course, because of a naive view of my own abilities and of just how long 10,000 hours is.) I see that painting in the museum and I'm overcome by a desire to paint something similar. I hear "La Noyee" and I recommit myself to becoming masterful on the piano. You get the picture.

Compound this with my inability to let go of things, especially when they're beautiful, and you've got a real mess.

The result is that my life is filled with hundreds of tiny pieces of beautiful things, but mastery in none.

Here is a list of some things I've had delusions of grandeur about, but have since relegated to "things I sorta know about." You could also call these phases.
harmonica (a very brief stint)
Arabic (don't ask)
and the latest delusion of grandeur: fly-fishing

I, like this annoying little girl, can wholeheartedly sing, "I want the world! I want the whole world!"

What I lack is FOCUS.

I've done quite a bit of thinking about the above predicament over the last year. I figure there are two approaches to life. One: I try my hand at hundreds of things, just to experience a little bit of their beauty, but never dedicate myself to any of them long enough to fully master. Two: I focus on only one or two things, let go of all else, and become master at it. I assume if I did so, I'd experience a completely different kind of beauty--the beauty of expertise, of intimately knowing a subject. Of making it your life. (I say assume because I've obviously never tried this way of living before.)

I just want to know which one I'll regret the least, at the end of my days.

Either way, I need to consciously choose one of these two approaches to living pretty soon here or I'm going to drive myself nuts. Either stop wanting to try everything, or stop wanting to become a master. Because trying to live both ways leads to constant dissatisfaction and the feeling you are never doing enough.

Jack of all trades, or queen of just one? Which is the better way to live?

(Seriously though, I want your thoughts, all you wonderful, inspiring people out there.)


  1. That is exactly me. like not even one single joke! I try to do everything and get upset that I can't do all of them every day and perfect them all! haha

  2. I wonder about it in this way: Maybe certain people are born with a greater love of/urge to master a certain something (gymnastics, piano, whatever) than others. They study and study and practice and practice until they are masters, and because people like that exist all the rest of us are able to enjoy the beauty that they create. And all the rest of us are able to dabble in all sorts of different areas and enjoy a more broad, multifaceted life, yet still be surrounded by the beauty you speak of, if we choose.

  3. Oh Carolyn every once in a while I feel all of these same sentiments--and I think it's great. You thirst for life in so many different ways and you'll continue to experience it because you are not a person who just sits back and lets life happen. Sometimes I get overwhelmed that I won't get to do every little thing I want but then I remember that life is long and that as long as I'm doing one of those dreams right now and continue to have goals--everything will be fine. And: fly fishing? We are kindred spirits. I've recently become semi-obsessed and it's definitely a worthwhile hobby (albeit expensive) but so wonderful.

  4. Jack of all trades all the way. It so fun to be able to enjoy so many things! :-)

  5. I had a similar realization my freshman year of BYU. Being enrolled in a social dance class, I attended a big dance competition held in the Marriott Center. The more professional dancers performed later in the evening, after I had finished my event. I watched a junior division in which 6-year-olds were ballroom dancing far better than I'll ever be able to. I realized I didn't have any one "thing" I was super good at - just lots of interests. Before college I participated in a drumline, a barbershop quartet, the theatre, and attended math and French competitions. I don't feel that I particularly excelled in any of these things, but I was decent enough to enjoy them.

    On a related note, choosing a major/career path took me a long time. I had a hard time narrowing down and settling myself with one thing - I felt that too many doors would close once I chose. Psychology, genetics, architecture, music, education, geology, international relations, and linguistics are all subjects that I'm very interested in and have considered studying. I feel that I could be happy and successful with any of them. Alas, one can't have "the whole world". I very much feel like a jack of all trades, and also wonder what mastery in something would be like.

  6. Also, what the heck?! Your poetry skills far exceed the "sorta know about" level.

  7. My entire (ok maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but only slight) olympic [viewing] experience was marred by the realization that I'm nearly double the age of the gymnasts. It gave me an avalanche of anxiety, dread, and heart palpitations accompanied with short, rapid breathing.
    Perhaps for the next Foote Family Talent Show we should create a misfits team of and show off our "skills." If we start training now, I'm sure you could do some solid swinging on the high bar while I do a stellar cartwheel (on the floor).