April 26, 2016

Not being ashamed of my multiplicity

I first realized that I was a bit odd when I went to school as a 6 year old. When break time arrived I found myself going from one group of kids to the next, saying hi and hanging out, then moving on to the next group. This continued through to high school where I was friends with everyone including jocks, nerds, goths, surfers, bookworms, musicians, and every race or religion present etc. Limiting myself to one social group seemed silly and short sighted, and I did the same when it came to activities or interests throughout my school years.

I played rugby and sang in the choir. Read WB Yeats poetry and punched people in the face at karate. I loved drama and debating, which hopefully didn’t clash with surfing, golf tournaments or a flyfishing trip. I was passionate about certain (obviously non curriculum) academic topics and would spend many breaks in the library researching and reading, if I wasn’t involved in a soccer or cricket game, chasing girls or listening to Pearl Jam, Celine Dion and Red Hot Chilli Peppers (as loud as we could play it without blowing the speakers) in the school hall with other musicians.

Most teachers/students didn’t quite know where I ‘fit in’ but they all enjoyed having me around, except for Mrs McLaughlin in maths, we pretty much never got along because I don’t like the abuse of authority for authority’s sake. Some kids in certain ‘groups’ would make fun of the fact that I was also in ‘other groups’ or into ‘XYZ’ but it never really changed my behaviour or pursuits. I wish we all could embark on our individuality and varied interests in the same way as I did when I was a kid. Because there came a point where even I stopped telling people I was into ‘XYZ’ if they weren’t into it.

Maybe it’s because teenagers can use peer pressure to be assholes and conventional schooling is horrible at allowing kids to explore multiple interests or talents, or because much of society also expects us to ‘fit in’ with a certain style of behaviour, dress, code of conduct or language – depending on which ‘group’ or ‘career path’ we choose. We get stifled and our natural curiosity gets suppressed. Everywhere you look we’re being told to specialize and focus if we are to succeed. And it’s odd to meet an accountant who is a good painter, a nightclub bouncer who is a great sommelier, or a fisherman that does physics on the side, right? But maybe we only make our world smaller, because then our beliefs, ideas, friendships and comfort zones won’t be challenged. I think that’s a big joke on us. Because the happiest, most interesting people I’ve ever met, have been the most open to exploring their whimsical, unfounded or unconventional interests. Ironically, people we hold up as icons, like Elon Musk, is passionately pursuing 3 different industries…

People who I’ve found to add the most value in business aren’t always those who have specialized and know the industry inside out, but the person who brings lessons and perspective from multiple other industries or work experiences. I’ve also found that the most tolerant, kind, humble and caring people are those who move in varied social circles. Those who have travelled to numerous countries tend to be a bit more interesting than someone who hasn’t used their passport. Variety wins for me, whether it’s in actions, ideas or pursuits.

In recent years I’ve been hesitant to tell people (especially in the same conversation/social circles) that I run a business, work in education reform, play pro golf and speak at various conferences or companies as a professional speaker. There are people I’ve known for years who are reading this right now going “wtf?”. I’m sorry, I should have told you. I guess I was worried about whether you would judge me, mostly questioning whether my lack of focus is costing me success – and I would most probably agree that it does. But I guess I’ve justified it to myself that making less money and winning less accolades but living a life filled with variety where I pursue what I care about is, ok.

So here’s to my coming out party, celebrating my multiplicity, I hope to become the best entrepreneur, athlete, speaker and education change agent possible. And I hope that I can one day support you in whatever varied or polar opposite interests you choose to pursue. Good luck!

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