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Embracing Multiplicity

On my first day of school I realized that I was a bit ‘different’. When break time arrived I found myself going from one group of kids to the next, saying hi and playing, 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.

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 water polo matches, surfing, golf tournaments or  flyfishing club. 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 (mostly) enjoyed having me around, except for Mrs McLaughlin in maths, we pretty much never got along because some people aren’t adaptable teachers. 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. Deep down every kid in high school is just masquerading their own insecurities. 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 you’re told to specialize and ‘focus’ if you want 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 if we specialise we usually just make our world smaller. 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 and friendships.

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. People 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, social circles or pursuits.

In recent years I’ve been hesitant to tell people that I run a business, work on education reform and sustainable business, play pro golf and speak at various conferences. 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 in one field – and I would most probably agree that it does. But I guess I’ve justified it to myself that making less money and winning fewer accolades but living a life filled with variety is rewarding, to me.

So here’s to my coming out party, celebrating my multiplicity, I hope to become the best entrepreneur, athlete, speaker, education and sustainability 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!