The Problem With Being Well-Rounded

Being well-rounded is something that we generally encourage in our society. But is this "jack of all trades, master of none" attitude holding some back?Today, we live in a world that is so focused on shaping us into people who are mediocre at everything but masters of nothing. This jack-of-all-trades mentality is something we participate in from a young age, before we are even aware that that’s what is going on. As young children we take classes on every subject matter, including math, English, science, history, music, art, physical education, and more. More than likely our parents enrolled us in various extra-curricular activities outside of school to further our skills development and to encourage us to develop some hobbies.

Being well-rounded is not a completely bad thing, but it is definitely different from how things were done in past. For generations, people focused their learning on one trade, skill, or interest until they mastered it.

By encouraging us to be well-rounded, I think we are losing some of our individuality and the chance to pursue unique interests. College admission boards and job interview committees often say they want to see candidates who are unique, however our society does not encourage this uniqueness. Like a group of cattle, we are all treated and taught the exact same way.

But the problems of being well-rounded run even deeper than that. Here are two examples of how being well-rounded might be a detriment to society.

Lost Skills

The better-rounded we’ve become, the less our society seems to know about some of the most basic skills that our grandparents possessed. Things like being able to sew, fix shoes, weld metal, basic carpentry, and more are all but lost skills to my generation.

This means that we’ve become a society that relies on other people (or machines and technology) to do these things for us. It also means that we’ve become more likely to throw things away and buy new, rather than find ways fix them. In addition to polluting the earth, this habit wastes time, money, and natural resources to create more products that we really don’t need.

Lost Knowledge

Not to open up a can of worms, but in addition to the skills we’ve lost, some of the best and brightest among us are being held back from their full potential. I think this is a symptom of us trying to be politically correct by encouraging everyone to be well-rounded. Although it may help some, I feel like we are trying to even the playing field by dragging others down.

For example, take education bills like No Child Left Behind. These were likely created with the best of intentions, but in practice they simply made some children feel bad about their naturally slower-paced learning. In addition, the law made other children become bored and unruly due to their natural tendency to pick up on new concepts much quicker.

In complete honesty a bill like No Child Left Behind was doomed to failure from the beginning. No matter how much we try to encourage it, no two people are skilled in the same areas or to the same degree.

Just think how much farther ahead our world could be if some of the brightest members were allowed to excel independently from a young age.

Can you think of any other problems associated with our society’s tendency to encourage all people to be well-rounded?


10 thoughts on “The Problem With Being Well-Rounded

  1. I started to notice this in the tech world years ago. Technical disciplines that took years to master went without having anyone coming up the ranks to gain the in depth knowledge because the corp no longer valued that level of dedication and knowledge and valued more the people who moved around learning the surface of many disciplines. Of course when the sticky brown stuff hit the fan and nobody knew quickly how to restore something then the business paid dearly for the outage.

  2. I’m surprised you brought up this point -> “This means that we’ve become a society that relies on other people (or machines and technology) to do these things for us.” I would think that this is actually a product of specialization. If people were truly well-rounded they would have those basic skills you described (sewing, basic carpentry, etc.). Instead I think we are focusing on the wrong aspects of being well-rounded and not teaching young people some of those basic life skills. But as far as education is concerned, it’s difficult to disagree with you. We definitely hold some students back for the sake of others.

  3. As someone who struggled in school, I am glad they are making sure everyone is not forgotten, but I also see your point as well. When I was going through college, you could be a video editor an that’s it…not a motion graphics artist, colorist, etc. Now they want you to be able to do it all, and that’s what younger kids are forced to do, when those jobs really should be broken up into three people.

    1. There are definitely two sides to everything Tonya, thanks for the reminder 🙂 I do hate how they expect 1 person to do the job of 3 people a lot more often these days. I have that situation at my FT job right now as I’m expected to stay up-to-date on both sides of our company’s business. It’s difficult!

  4. I’m actually surprised by the number of people who still believe that being well rounded is necessarily a good thing. I’m not saying that people are better off when they lack basic life skills such as literacy, numeracy, cooking and observing social mores, but after that being well rounded has diminishing returns.

    I think this belief is rooted in the myth of the “Renaissance Man” or that the enlightened person can learn anything. In reality, true “Renaissance Men” were absurdly focused on their particular interests (the possible exception being Benjamin Franklin who is just fascinating).

    This myth is one reason that I hope to homeschool my son until I feel confident that he is independent minded enough to pursue his goals even if it means sacrificing other people’s goals for him.

  5. You know what Steve Jobs said – the key to success is to focus, focus, focus. When you become “well rounded”, you becoming good at many things but great at nothing because your time and energy is divided. Greatness is achieved by laser eyed, unwaivering focus on doing 1 thing really really well.

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