You Can’t Do It All

I’ve been thinking lately about how we educators (whether explicitly or implicitly) often encourage students to spread themselves too thin. Part of this is the insanely competitive college admissions race. But another part of it is simply our well-meaning desire for kids to experience the richness of life. I was that kid once–getting good grades, playing sports, being in school clubs, doing community service, working a part-time job, playing in the school jazz band as well as a garage band with my friends, spending hours on video games, going to the movies, staying up late talking to my girlfriend (now wife) on the phone, throwing tailgate parties with my friends, etc., etc. You get the idea.

Just the other day, though, I had a conversation with one of my classes about how I’m finally realizing–now that I’m in my thirties–that I can’t do it all. My interests are still as wide-ranging as ever, but the realities of work and home life mean that I just don’t have the time (or the energy) to pursue everything that tickles my fancy. And I’m struggling with that.

A couple of things I’ve read recently brought this idea to the fore. First: “The Unending Anxiety of an ICYMI World” from the New York Times. ICYMI (in case you missed it), the gist of the article is the fact that the ever-increasing amount of content available on the web means that we’re caught in a perpetual “catch up” mode. For me, this is no doubt the case. Twitter, blog subscriptions, the NextIssue app for iPad, my constantly growing Amazon wishlist, Netflix, etc., etc. Again, you get the idea.

The other source that provoked this line of thought was Mark Crotty’s recent post “Death of the Blog?” In it, Crotty writes:

For me the best blog posts have a meditative quality, as if the writer has peeled back his or her scalp and allowed you to see the neurons firing. Such posts echo the origins of the essay, its name derived from the Middle French essayer, which means to examine and to test. Part of the power lies in the struggle to construct that scaffolding, and it’s why we hold in awe those who can do it so gracefully that we read the words and they seem so natural, so easy, so much what we want to say…but can’t figure out how. They capture humans at their reflective best.

This struck a chord with me. As I wrote in my very first post on this blog, “I hope that this blog will be a forum where I can ‘wonder aloud,’ so to speak, about the things that arouse my curiosity, most notably teaching and learning, history, and ideas in general.” And it has been just that. Occasionally. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to “wonder aloud” as much–or as deeply–as I would like. Blogging, like so much else, often feels extraneous. I do value it, but then again, I value lots of activities, and there are so many that feel much more urgent than blogging.

These days, the struggle at the forefront of my mind revolves around basketball. I’m the head JV boys’ basketball coach this year. I’ve invested significant time learning (re-learning) the game over the last couple of years, but as our season progresses, I’m realizing every day just how much I still don’t know. And here’s the thing: I don’t know if I want to. I do enjoy coaching basketball, and I enjoy learning the intricacies of the game, but to become a truly successful coach at the high school level would take a serious commitment of time and energy. And I just don’t know if I want to make that investment.

The nature of working in boarding schools is that you’re often required to be a jack-of-all-trades, but in how many realms can we be truly competent? I can be a passable basketball coach (depending on how one defines “passable”). But I don’t know if I can be great–at least not while still doing all of the other parts of my job well. In fact, I don’t think any of us can truly do it all well. And if we try (as many of us in boarding schools do), what is the cost? What is the cost in terms of our family lives? In terms of our longevity in our careers? In terms of our health?

And how do we apply these questions to our schools and our students?

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