(Last) Weekly Roundup: The World’s Tiniest Violin Edition

“One feels nothing but anguish and sympathy for the poor child.” Our musical contributor, John Marks, sent this to me a few hours ago with an acerbic note on “child labor for the benefit of parents’ egos.” He has a point. The near-complete command this seven-year-old girl has over her violin is the sort of thing which does not happen by chance. The memorization of an eight-minute piece cannot be accomplished by, let’s say, an hour or two of daily practice. What you are seeing here is what I call child as machine. Children are plastic by nature. This one’s been forced into the shape of a concertmaster.

I would never do anything like this to my son, so I feel completely confident posting the video with a critical note — except that Mr. Marks also mentioned “youth motorsports” in his email. Which leads me to a pair of questions, one for those of us who are parents and one for all of us:

0. What is the value of being a prodigy?
1. What is the value of being exceptional at anything?

And this is where things get a bit unpleasant.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you know that my son is a fairly avid BMX racer and downhill mountain biker, with eleven class wins in about sixty weekends so far. He’s also a competitive fencer with a few tournament wins in epee (using his left hand) and a few decent finishes in foil (using his right hand). He plays upright bass in the school band and electric bass elsewhere, which led to a pretty neat opportunity last year. He’s won 50cc kart races and will likely return to competitive karting in 2021. Also, he is a reasonably accomplished high-level-language computer programmer, writing his first functional video game in MIT’s Slack language two years ago.

What bothers my son is that he is not truly exceptional at any of these things. He knows this not because he sees other kids outdoing him in real life — that rarely happens — but because he has YouTube at his disposal. YouTube is filled with single-purpose child prodigies whose parents are actively monetizing their existence. Jackson Goldstone, seen above, is a good example. At the age of ten, he was no better than my son is now at that age — but his parents spent the next four years promoting the living shit out of him. Now he is on “Nitro Circus” at the age of fourteen. He’s a household name in mountain biking. He has endorsements, he doesn’t pay for bikes. You get the idea.

I am 100% certain that I could get John to do everything that Jackson Goldstone has done. We would have to focus our whole efforts on it, relocate to NorCal or Squamish, grind through the inevitable broken bones and soft-tissue injuries. Any plans we have to kart or fence or just travel for our own amusement would have to be put on hold. I wouldn’t be able to race my cars, or support Danger Girl in her racing. It would cost some real money. But it could be done. I know it could be done — but I can’t bring myself to do it. It feels like child abuse.

There are a few dozen parents out there who have made the same calculation and decided to pull the trigger. I’ve communicated with some of them about bike setup and equipment. In at least three cases, the parents have quit their jobs, sold their homes, and entered the “vanlife” in the cause of making their children famous. They are omnipresent on social media. They hire advertising agencies to produce lush feature films about their children. The kids are both object and product, the two-wheeled versions of a 7-year-old violin prodigy.

What’s the payoff? It’s tempting to dismiss the whole thing as “child labor for the benefit of parental ego” — but there’s a flip side to this. There is a true joy in being the very best. If you take the safe route, as I’m doing — if you never force your kid to practice anything for more than an hour or two, if you ask him what he wants to do this weekend instead of telling him a schedule, if you enforce a diversity of activity so the kid doesn’t become a one-trick-pony — then you are willfully depriving your child of a chance to be the best.

We’d like to believe that isn’t true. We love the origin stories of scrappy, self-motivated teenagers who work hard and exhibit massive natural talent to succeed in sports or music. Think of Michael Jordan being cut from his high-school team, or of Wes Montgomery picking up the guitar at 17. These stories reassure us that we don’t have to push our children, that they will naturally discover whatever they’re best-suited to do.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that most successful people start early. Jimmy Page was already playing the guitar on television when he was thirteen. Earl Woods was literally beating excellence into his kid, Tiger, when said kid was eighteen months old. The majority of today’s top-shelf auto racers were in karts by the age of six or seven. There’s a substantial body of medical evidence which says that a boy will never be first-rate at anything he doesn’t practice before puberty hits.

Therefore, if you want to be really good at anything, you should start when you are young. Which means you should start before you can make an informed decision for yourself. Which means that your parents will ultimately decide what you’re going to be good at. Which is absolutely terrifying. Consider, if you will, the fact that my son is a pretty decent recreational soccer player, and that Bark’s son is a pretty good rental-kart driver, even though Bark and I don’t encourage either of them in those pursuits. What if we are unknowingly training our kids to focus on the activity for which they have their second-highest potential? What if Jaco Pastorius hadn’t injured his hand as a child? Would he have become the world’s greatest jazz drummer instead? Or was that injury the proverbial happy accident that pushed him into his one true gift?

Making matters worse is the fact that kids don’t socialize and play outdoors the way they used to; they’re almost entirely focused on video games, which have an immediate dopamine hit. So they don’t discover or develop their athletic talents without parentally-guided opportunities. Making the water even murkier: There’s starting to be real money in video games. My son, and Bark’s son, can both win a Fortnite “battle royale”, and John is a regular top scorer in competitive-league CounterStrike matches. What if their true gifts are video-game-related, and we’re harming them by making them go outside to ride bikes and play soccer?

There’s another perspective to be had here, one espoused by my child’s mother. She doesn’t think it’s a good idea to be exceptional at anything. She thinks that the happiest course is to live an untroubled middle-class life with as little stress as possible. It grates on her when I push John into doing something exceptional. I know, and have worked with, a lot of people like this. They’re just cruising along. Watching Peak TV, enjoying life as a fan of the Browns or the Buckeyes or Porsche’s GTLM teams, earning decent but unspectacular livings, relaxing on the weekends, having travel vacations where they just look at stuff and drink wine. Getting very excited about food trucks, restaurants, new-release movies, Funko Pops. These are the people who ask me how I can spend my “retirement money” on car races that cost five, ten, or thirty thousand dollars per weekend. What’s the point of that?

John’s mother is right, after a fashion. There’s no evidence that truly exceptional people are happy. In fact, the evidence suggests that exceptional people are hugely unpleasant to others and miserable to themselves. Would you really want to be Elon Musk, for example?

At some point in the next few years, my son will have to specialize. He will have to place his bet. On a bike, on a bass guitar, on a sword, on a keyboard. And then all bets are off. He could be the next John Lennon or Jaco Pastorius, with all that implies. Or he could fail, and live to be a cheerful fellow in a suburb or a retirement home. Either would be fine with me. The question is whether it would be fine with him. What would it be like to reach true excellence in something, or to come very close to it, only to fall back into a mediocre everyday existence? Would you even be able to get up in the morning and live the same life as everyone else? To put it another way — how you gonna keep them down on the cube farm, once they’ve played Paganini?

* * *

For Hagerty, I wrote about waterboxer crap.

For TTAW, I reviewed a pair of Japanese-made, affordably-priced Anniversary G-Shocks.

53 Replies to “(Last) Weekly Roundup: The World’s Tiniest Violin Edition”

  1. AvatarJohn Van Stry

    I had a friend in school who was a musical prodigy. But he became an engineer and did his music on the side. That musical talent (he worked part time as a studio musician) ended up getting him hired into a major engineering gig (way bigger than the stuff he was doing for NASA) and now he’s quite rich.

    I myself was forced to put my creative works on hold because I needed a steady income to support myself and my family. So I did engineering work for over 30 years. Now I’m an indy author and I’m making far more money than I did in engineering.

    The point I’m making is that if your child has interest in multiple things, you should encourage all of them. Yes, one will win out over the others, for one reason or another. But there’s no saying that the other one won’t help them make a career one day, or that they can’t come back to it many years later. The whole line about ‘you’ll never be good at something if you don’t start at an early age’ may be true if you’re talking about people being good when they’re twenty. But otherwise, it’s just bull.

    Christopher Squire didn’t pick up a bass until he was 16. Yet no one will argue that he wasn’t one of the best bass players of our time.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Agreed on Squire but he didn’t play anything that I can’t play and my son is awful close to being able to cover him as well.

      I’m thinking people like Jaco or Victor Wooten or Brian Bromberg.

      Reply
      • AvatarPanzer

        I think you’re doing the right thing Jack. His Mum is right that there’s no shame in being ordinary, but nonetheless you -we- should always push our kids to be the best they can be, and as John V above said, the kids will figure out themselves what they want to specialize in one day anyway.

        Reply
  2. AvatarTom

    It’s Scratch, not Slack, but otherwise a great post.

    As a parent, I share many of your concerns. I generally side with John’s mother on this: Trying to push kids into anything, even if it is something they are good at, may end up having the opposite effect. Always be there to pick them up when they fall (and they will), but don’t force them into anything.

    Most people will eventually find their own happiness, just like you did.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Well, I didn’t say that *I* was any good at Scratch!

      Like most 48-year-olds, I went

      TRS-80 Basic
      AppleBasic
      AtariBasic (couldn’t afford the MS cartridge)
      WATCOM Fortran
      Atari assembler

      (life happens here)
      C
      Perl

      Reply
      • AvatarRobert

        As a 48 year old myself, I went:

        AppleBasic
        TI-99/4A Basic
        Commodore 64 Basic
        Fortran on U of H mainframe
        (decade lost in social science career here)
        Visual Basic for Applications
        VB6
        C#

        Reply
        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I forgot the TI — my father somehow won TWO of them at work.

          As I recall, the TI language had sprites.

          Reply
          • AvatarRobert

            I dimly remember plugging in an Atari joystick and driving a sprite around on the screen, but that might have been the Commodore.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            If an Atari joystick worked, it was a Commodore. TI used the same dimension plug but sent TWO joystick signals along it.

          • Avatarbenjohnson

            TI sprites were awesome – the had collision detection and velocity baked into the (what we would now call) GPU. In my opinion – Scratch could be replaced with TI Logo and our kids would be better for it.

            Back on topic: Valve has an interesting idea on hiring generalists that also have a deep talent. They call it a T-shaped employee and it makes sense: If you did have a musical prodigy, you’d want them to have enough street smarts to not sign shitty contracts.

          • AvatarRobert

            “TI used the same dimension plug but sent TWO joystick signals along it.”

            So..the only reason I remember the sprites is because of the adjacent memory, seared into my amygdala, of my father lashing out at me in the most cruel and demeaning ways I had yet experienced. I think I’d left my Dungeons & Dragons books out of the kitchen table again. A few days later he handed me the splitter cable I needed to make the joysticks work as a peace offering, so maybe it was the TI.

            He worked at NCR, started out fixing cash registers with a hammer and punch in the 60s, saw the personal computer revolution coming, and thought it would be good for me to have one, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

      • Avatardejal

        Atari assembler. The machine code and NCR Mainframe Neat/3 machine code was more or less the same. They both used essentially the same 6502 processor. A coworker decades ago came in for his job interview and was given some NEAT/3 computer code print out. On the right was the machine code. He knew exactly what the instructions did.

        Reply
  3. AvatarFred Lee

    My brother and I have had this conversation frequently, always wondering if we perhaps wished we were pushed harder by our parents in athletic pursuits. Then again I’ve known people who were exceptional teenagers, but very few of them made the cut as adults.

    There’s one of my good biking buddies who was an exceptional road racer. Cat-1 at 16, pro at 17, and he skipped college to train and go for a spot on a protour team. The problem is you can be really, really good as a teen but it turns out there are a lot of exceptional teens. Going from average teen to exceptional teen is, if anything, easier than transitioning from exceptional teen to exceptional adult. And to try to make that second cut, you’ve got to be all in or, unless you’re exceedingly lucky, you have zero chance. That friend has spent the last 30 years regretting the decision to shoot for exceptional because the reality is he fell way short and gave up a lot for it. He’s been working in various auto parts stores since. Making a living, but barely. No retirement nor prospect of one.

    I grew up in a cold-weather climate and quite a few high school friends and neighbors made winter olympic teams in various disciplines. Of course an exceptional olympic nordic skier from the US is in a different league than one from Europe. Maybe that’s why most of them turned out OK, with post-olympic professional careers. They knew going in that they had a short career as a pro and planned early for their exit.

    I’ve lived a largely unremarkable life, despite being intelligent and reasonably athletic. Then again I make a good living in computers and that enables me to do the occasional trackday, buy the occasional fast car, and enjoy riding fast on an expensive carbon fiber bike. If I’m not going fast enough, I can always buy more aerodynamics. Sure, it would be nice to be a Tiger Woods (sans the drama of course, though then again drama and exceptionalism seem to go hand-in-hand) but I’m experiencing life pretty well. Seeing and doing cool things, hanging out with people I enjoy hanging out with, and who are hanging out with me because they like me, not because I can give them a ride to Paris in a private jet. Would I really be happier if I had a 80 foot yacht to travel on? Probably not.

    And all that enables me to retire in my early 40s if I want, and enjoy the hell out of the next 40 years. Maybe being not exceptional is pretty exceptional after all.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I think you’ve perhaps underestimated the personality necessary to retire in your forties. That is in and of itself exceptional.

      If I’d banked $50k every year from my 30th birthday to now I’d be retired. Could have easily done it. Was more interested in spending the money. I don’t regret it that much. There were a lot of things I did at 35 or 40 that required a lot of money and wouldn’t be as satisfying later on in life, like having a naked 19 year old girl in a Mercedes SLS outside some bohemian Toronto home. Nowadays my first impulse would be to tell her to get dressed and seek psychological help for her daddy issues.

      Reply
  4. Avatarczed

    “Specialization is for insects.” – Robert Heinlein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Competent_man

    We want our twin daughters to be exposed to as many activities as possible that can build a broad range of talents. We are not chasing one activity that appears to be a logical path for a scholarship, or even a look over by an ivy-league school. I see the parents who devote their spare time to one child’s sporting activities, occasionally to the detriment of other children in the household, and wonder if they are conscious of the opportunity cost of how they allocate their time. But as the US public appears to idolize how a person smiles for the camera, or catches a ball, it does appear to be all about entertainment these days.

    As I tell my friend’s kids: do not peak in high school.

    Reply
  5. Avatarstingray65

    John’s mother displays the attitude typical of women – on average they just aren’t that competitive or risk seeking, which is why you see few women in the garage tinkering on a “million dollar” invention, or training obsessively in sports or video games, or staying up all night to get the next big pop song out of their brain, or working 60-80 hour weeks to make law partner or be the youngest Fortune 500 CEO. This is the primary reason that women fail to break those glass ceilings that feminists are always harping about.

    To be the best you have to have the natural talent/intelligence to do difficult tasks relatively easy, and the interest/drive/compulsion/competitiveness to polish and refine and extend that natural ability to the very highest levels. Throw in a little luck at overcoming risks and obstacles and you get to be a Superstar. We have all known naturally gifted people who just never worked very hard, and who inevitably end up being a good high school athlete who gets a scholarship and washes out on the bench at university if they even make it that far (or equivalent in music, chess, math, etc.). We have also known people who worked, trained, studied their tails off, but just didn’t have the natural talent to get very far. Thus to be the “best” you need both talent and drive, and I’m not sure most children can naturally have the necessary interest/drive/compulsion except perhaps the need/desire to impress/get approval from a parent, which will most of the time wear off during the teen years.

    Of course the other side to this desire to be the best is that most people fail at it. No matter how hard they try or how much talent they have, there is almost always going to be some others who are just that little bit better or more obsessed or a little luckier. The problem is that we constantly get exposure to the “winners” at the awards ceremonies, on magazine covers, and in documentaries celebrating their accomplishments, but the childhood prodigies and the almost famous “losers” are often never heard from again except perhaps in some “where are they now” short story about how they have overcome drug addiction, bad marriages, prison, and low status careers to find meaning by coaching little league or finding God. Of course most of these “losers” are also men, but the feminists never want equality in that direction.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I just read back through the Laszlo piece. My mother did something similar with me, although much less intense: she made it necessary for me to read things in order to get by. So I was reading children’s books before my second birthday and John Toland’s The Rising Sun before my fifth. Until I had a series of pretty major head injuries I could read and retain at the rate of perhaps one paperback page per fifteen seconds, whether it was fiction or a textbook. I’m still a much faster reader than most people and I am much better read, having knocked out a few books a day for maybe ten years of my life and a book a day for a long time afterwards.

      All this has done for me is give me a sense of just how many things would be imitation were I to write them. 🙁

      Reply
  6. AvatarJohn C.

    On the poo-pooing of your reader’s budget 996 911 dreams. Interesting all the talk of reduced quality overshadowing the improved performance from lighter weight and better aerodynamics of the 996. Talk of 90s Porsche always includes talk of opening their processes up to their Japanese friends for helpful advice. It is almost like the Japanese had no advise to give on how to make a 911 better. Or perhaps the more important trend was the opening up of all those now EU old eastern European factories into the supply chain for cut rate parts still to overly complex German specs. After all the car making skill being taken advantage of was just the skill to slap things together while cashing a smaller paycheck. How another countries cars are ruined by not sticking to strengths.

    I doubt he would want a Camaro, perhaps he should satisfy his wasserboxer fantasies with an Subaru BRZ. Toyota going to Subaru for the engine in those was a touching tribute to Porsche and budget design.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      The Porsche which benefited from Toyota’s involvement was the 993, which cost less to build (and sold for less) than the preceding 964 while being fundamentally better built of more durable pieces.

      The 996 came from Porsche’s own hubris — they thought their brand was so strong that they could make the Boxster and 996 identical looking without any consequences. Toyota certainly didnt teach them how to make $900 control arms with a lifespan of 20,000 miles, or how to design a boxer six with long areas of unsupported bearing surface.

      The DaimlerChrysler “merger”, where Daimler-Benz absorbed all the secrets of how to cut supplier costs a la Neon and LH cars while simultaneously starving Chrysler of development funds, is probably closer to what you’re envisioning. That horrifying deal gave us a decade of shitty Benzes PLUS it kneecapped Chrysler’s ability to compete in the newly critical segments of midsized SUV and compact crossover.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn C.

        The 964 was to me the pinnacle of 911. They were still doing for themselves in the proper cost is not object German way and they had taken to heart the message that going modern with the front engine was a mistake, as was handing over the Presidency to Americans. Yet they managed to modernize enough to avoid gradually becoming a Morgan. Pretty clever dance to pull off.

        Think a Porsche might work their suspensions a little harder than Toyota so it might not be an apt comparison. You occasionally detail trouble with your racing Accords that probably doesn’t show up much in street driving.

        Agree that MB was disastrous for Chrysler. That Iacocca was the one making the investments for the future was not the story that would have been gleaned from the press of the day. They simplistically just used the losses caused by those investments as an excuse to bash K cars.

        Reply
        • AvatarCJinSD

          Are you aware that when pesky facts get in the way of your arguments, you change your arguments to maintain your conclusions? I think most people who read your comments are. The was 964 pinnacle 911 because Toyota helped Porsche implement the lower maintenance requirements and increased efficiencies of the 993? I had to look up the definition of pinnacle to determine that I hadn’t been using it incorrectly all these years.

          “Think a Porsche might work their suspensions a little harder than Toyota so it might not be an apt comparison.” You’re probably right. If so many Porsches didn’t rack up hundreds of thousands of miles as New York City taxicabs, they probably wouldn’t have suspensions issues as frequently!

          Reply
          • AvatarJohn C.

            Yes Porsches designed by Germans for use as a German sports car is a terrible thing. It undermines the cache among the many non Germans who may want to buy it with their ill gotten gain. When they drive it they will use it in the manner of a NYC/ taxi just as they do in their video games. Eventually it just transforms from a rare bird that people pine for to some clown machine driven by every Hunter Biden wannabe. Japanese “efficiency experts” sure can help you speed down that particular road. Get that aluminum out of the suspension mein Herrin, Hunter’s going to be hitting some potholes.

            It is interesting that the Japanese worshipers are all so precise that they get credit for the 993 but somehow were pushed aside by the time of the 996. After all a mighty Japanese efficiency expert would never tell a client to make a cheaper seat or dashboard. My evidence for that is a look at new 97 Camry or 98 Altima or 98 Accord interiors compared to the previous models. Oh wait…..

            Lido sure was right about having a national inferiority complex when it comes to the Japanese. I bet even he didn’t know the disease would go international.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            “Yes Porsches designed by Germans for use as a German sports car is a terrible thing.”

            When did that ever happen? Porsche was an Austrian. Sports cars have always been economic instruments for Brits and Europeans. Their domestic market was never as important as California in dictating what they made. Europe never needed a Speedster. The Targa was about fears of threatened US roof-crush standards. Porsche put short hoods and impact bumpers on all 911s once they became law in the US. The rest of their business didn’t merit keeping the long-hood in production. The 911 became a neo-classic because US buyers resisted their more advanced successors. Europeans bought 928s, which were infinitely better than ’80s 911s for use in places without speed limits. At one point something like half the F1 drivers had 928s. They just didn’t buy as many as balding Hollywood studio executives bought 911s that were suitable only for cruising. That’s why there was a 3.2 Carrera, and a Carrera 4, and a 993, and the complete absurdities that followed. Porsches by Germans for Germans? That’s hilarious. I’ve got some bad news about Santa for you too.

          • Avatar-Nate

            Oh sure ~

            Next you’ll be telling me The Great Pumpkin and Easter Bunny are fake to, right ? .

            (right? trembling) .

            -Nate

          • AvatarJohn C.

            CJ
            When Austria was left an ethnic rumpstate after WWI one of it’s first acts was to rename itself German Austria and start the process of uniting with Weimar Germany. The victors of WWI said no.

            Period California Porsche drivers were coked up thieves who do nothing for the cache of an expensive car. Probably 10 lawyers and managers for every star. Like China today. You do it just for the money knowing you are shitting yourself and actually destroying yourself the more you cater to them.

            The 928 was a failure in the marketplace even though it looked 15 years in the future and was plenty fast. Why? Well a V8 and rope drive, is that really what Germans dream about? Of course not. Well for a grand tourer you might say. The checkerboard interior shows how little the German designers heart was in to building that. Copying an American style layout must have made them felt positively Japanese.

          • AvatarCJinSD

            Have you ever heard of a Pegaso? They had overhead cam V8s and rear transaxles from about 1952 on. Some Ferrari sports racers of the ’50s were front engine, rear transaxle as well. Did they copy Pontiac too?

            The 928 was such a failure that they remained in production for over fifteen years, longer than the 356. How long did the 996/997 last? The 928 sold fine in Germany, where its high speed composure and comfort made it far superior to a 911. The problem was that the US market kept buying antiques and the US market steered the Porsche ship until China took over.

          • AvatarJohn C.

            Who could forget Pegaso, 110 cars by a Franco era Spanish bus maker. Each with different bodies because in house body dies are for professionals, not for people dealing in shoestrings. Just the thing to drive to the Valley of the Fallen to not pay your respects to Franco. To influence rope drive, excuse me Weissach Axle, come on….

  7. AvatarSnavehtrebor

    “Watching Peak TV, enjoying life as a fan of the Browns or the Buckeyes or Porsche’s GTLM teams, earning decent but unspectacular livings, relaxing on the weekends, having travel vacations where they just look at stuff and drink wine. Getting very excited about food trucks, restaurants, new-release movies..”

    I feel compelled to point out that many of us are 100% satisfied with this, if you substitute for the Browns, of course. One of the best lessons my late father taught me was that there would always be someone taller, or faster, or smarter, or meaner out there, and if you constantly chased Being the Best, you might turn out to be a tremendous asshole that nobody wants to be around. I would guess that pretty much everyone who comments here at RG was above average in one or more ways as they developed into adults. It’s completely okay to have a decent job you enjoy doing, one that provides you with a comfortable life but doesn’t consume your every waking thought. It’s completely okay to enjoy competitive sports when you are younger and becoming a spectator later in life. It’s completely okay to have what you want and want what you have.

    Reply
  8. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    “He could be the next John Lennon or Jaco Pastorius, with all that implies.”

    Is probably the darkest thing you have ever written. Why would you be fine with that?

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Well I don’t think I’d be fine with having my son beaten to death outside a jazz club.

      But which would be better: to have Jaco’s career, or to work in a call center your whole life and die in some state Medicaid home at 90?

      Reply
      • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

        That is a false dichotomy in so many ways. First of all, and obviously, Lennon was also murdered. But, here we go… Lennon was a wife-beater who abandoned his first son. Jaco may have been widely respected shortly after his death but would probably have been the second act after your brother while alive. He was literally mentally ill. There are plenty of successful people who didn’t die in a gutter. Some of them even get to rape a girl and die in a helicopter crash or jail cell.

        Reply
  9. Avatar-Nate

    As the father to a middle aged man (is 41 middle age ?) I find this a good thread .

    I think encouraging your children to excel at things that they enjoy doing is the key .

    I have little doubt John is going to have an interesting and rewarding life as an adult .

    -Nate

    Reply
  10. AvatarKeith

    Your wife’s idea is probably correct, for her. And your idea is probably correct, for you.

    So I think it depends on the person. If your son is the type that seems comfortable with high stress and under scrutiny, perhaps he’d rather be a prodigy.

    Reply
  11. AvatarS

    I’m wondering if social media is exaggerating this – where once upon a time we were only comparing ourselves to our immediate surrounding (school, town), with online activity now kids are comparing themselves to anyone anywhere. Statistically, however, very very few ever make it to the level you’re talking about. There are only ever so many pro ball players, so many basketball players, so many who make it in Hollywood or Broadway. And the average person looks at those who don’t make it and you marvel, since some are so very, very good. If you give up all but one discipline in the hopes of being the “best”, you’re entering a higher probability of not making it than a lower – because you may have chosen wrong, or the right thing but at the wrong time (physical peak, intellectual sophistication, emotional maturity all contribute to our success). I think it’s actually unfortunate, the trending towards younger and younger specialization – settling on one sport to play year round by 10 (and actually that’s late at this point, in my area (east coast) if you haven’t specialized by 8 or 9 you’re behind), focusing only one instrument, so on. We’re closing off the natural openness of youth, forgoing the young’s willingness to try anything in the name of becoming the greatest at one thing (and maybe getting a scholarship to college). It stunts growth, in my opinion. If the goal, as parents, is to raise children to live a well rounded and fulfilling life, they need to learn and practice the art of new things routinely, before life begins to forcibly remove options as we age. I raised three (all in their 20s now but I’m just a little older than you), they had to do things, but I didn’t demand what. No regrets. They’re happy. I’m confident they will find excellence as adults, more so than as children, and it will be in something they chose, not something chosen for them. That said, every parent gets to make their own choice, which is important. When he’s grown you want to feel you did right and well by him, so go with your gut.

    Reply
  12. AvatarPaul Alexander

    Jack, ‘The Best’ is subjective, I never leave it up to someone else to determine that for me. The rules of every competitive endeavor are arbitrary. I agree those are the rules, but that doesn’t mean that I, as someone who has sufficient experience and familiarity, cannot imagine the same objective accomplished under different parameters.

    I’m also reminded of a conversation I once had with a girlfriend. She asked me what my FAVORITE something was. It struck me in that moment how limiting that concept is. One, and only one, favorite? I told her I didn’t have a favorite (which of course infuriated her as she felt I was being pedantic again) I have a number of favorites and I wanted more. Why would I want to subscribe to a mindset that cultivates disappointment every time I have to SETTLE for what I had subjectively determined was second rate merely because it was not the ideal. I think this need for the best, greatest, favorite, etc. is ultimately just a successful marketing tactic. And I ain’t having it!

    Now excuse me as I have one of my favorite foods for dinner, tacos.

    Reply
  13. AvatarCliffG

    Coaching summer league basketball a number of years ago I was upbraided by the parents of a 6’7″ high school junior because I was less than enamored of him playing shooting guard. They had obviously invested a lot of time and money in him to try to get him to scholarship level play. Alas, he was stuck being slow, a genetic feature no amount of training could cure. Put him inside and we could win some games, asking him to defend other shooting guards was like watching a turnstile. I hope, since he never sniffed a scholarship offer from even a Div. II team, he learned that basketball could simply be fun. I did coach scholarship level players, but honestly, you could see the difference in raw talent from across the street. I’ve also learned that all of one’s dreams can be snuffed out by a momentary event (war is hell). Be thankful for what and where you are.

    Reply
  14. AvatarMopar4wd

    Years ago a friend of my father’s in college, said he thought the happiest people were those that made enough to have a nice house and some decent hobbies (boats campers motorcycle etc) and worked a somewhat steady low stress job (at that time union workers). Recent studies seem to bear out truth in this.
    The trouble is if your brain is wired certain ways you will always strive for more. So you have a split in the population, with people who will likely never be happy no matter what they attain and those that hit a magical level of contentment.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Marks

      The problem with “recent studies” is that they usually rely upon self-reporting of subjective moods, rather than being based on objective indicators.

      To analogize my point: early research on owner satisfaction of first-generation Mustang owners showed that handling was as often cited as the worst feature as the best feature? Hunh? Well, it depends whether your previous car had been an MGA (in which case, the handling of “the Falcon in a sports jacket” would have been disappointing), or a Buick barge, in which case the Mustang’s handling would have been wonderful.

      That’s why when there was a factoid going around that married monogamous faithful Christian women were more satisfied with their sex lives than adult video actresses (supposedly) were, I took it with a sack of salt.

      If your upbringing and your education left you with an appreciation of high culture and intellectual discourse, you might not be happy if all the people you interacted with every day never read books and were generally incurious (which can be a stock brokerage as easily as a factory floor).

      On the other hand, in my first real job (bagging groceries) some of the (unionized) adult workers had an informal reading group where they would pass along serious books, not Stephen King–the phenomenon of the “Blue-Collar Intellectual.”

      The problem with child music prodigies (as well as chess prodigies and denizens of other realms) is that the tremendous weight of the big numbers is against you. Being the chess whiz of a small park on the East Side of Providence is one thing; facing all those kids from the Former Soviet Union is another.

      Every year, North America’s educational institutions church out several hundred piano graduates whose playing is on an artistic level where they should be able to expect some sort of a career. But in terms of a top-tier career, there is only room for about 10 to get a shot at that career, and there are only six or so recording contracts to be had. And it will only get worse. There are more serious piano students in China than there are people (of any sort) in Israel.

      In any event, I wish the young lady a long, well-balanced, and happy life. There was a violin whiz of a couple of decades back who made a splash and not too long after, announced her plans to marry. The patron who owned the Guarneri (del Gesù) violin she was playing told her that to him, that showed a lack of serious commitment to her career, and he demanded the return of “his” violin. (I knew the chap, who since has joined the Choir Invisible–but which division of it, I know not.) Thank G_d she stuck to her plans and sent back the violin. She appears to have been married to the same chap all this time, and it seems they have four kids. (Irony alert) What a tragedy! .

      Yo-Yo Ma later suggested a modern maker from whom she commissioned a sound-alike violin. Story here:
      https://www.cleveland.com/musicdance/2011/03/vioinist_dylana_jenson_finds_h.html

      jm

      Reply
      • Avatarrambo furum

        Discernment is the enemy of contentment, which means that the easily satisfied, were to you to scan their brains, would be objectively proven to be happier. Ignorance is bliss. Buddhism is stupid, but it is right about desire .

        Reply
  15. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Technical perfection without any human passion at all.At times she looks as though she’s afraid of making a mistake. Maybe by the time she’s a teenager she’ll know how to make music.

    I know an 19 year old guitar player who’s been playing with Detroit’s best pros since he was 14. His name is Brendon Linsley. Great player and musically wise beyond his years. One night he was really digging in on a blues song and you could tell from the edge that he was feeling it. Afterwards I said to him, “Brendon, what the hell are you so angry about? You’re only 18, give it a few years and you’ll really learn what the blues are.”

    At 14: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC2lksoEQU

    Reply
  16. Avatartracktardicus

    Reading this post makes me think about “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” The book’s premise is that virtually anyone can reach the pinnacle of performance in any given field. What divides the supreme from the merely great is primarily the amount of focused and productive “practice until it hurts” the supreme performers are willing to do-not innate talent or IQ.
    I wonder how many are able to have balanced and happy lives.

    Reply
  17. AvatarWill

    From experience on being a highly recruited athlete coming out of high school and playing a bit in the professional level, I can certainly say that focusing on sports matters starting in high school and not younger. The ones who had done it since youth, were often passed by unless they had innate talent that you couldn’t coach. I think the mistake that people make is that the parent pushes the kid into something they dislike, rather than further pushing something that they enjoy practicing and doing at the same time. If you can harness that, that might be the key to success. You have to love to practice and kids will show you what they hate to practice at.

    Reply
    • AvatarMike B

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s the parents who miss the signals from their kids about what it is they truly enjoy who manage to stunt development of the kids natural talent.

      The parent drives them into something the child may have never wanted for themselves; in time they become good or even great at their developed talent and will probably enjoy their competitive advantage despite not having a passion for the art or activity they were bred into. This was my life with hockey. I didn’t want to play soccer, or basketball as much as I wanted to try hockey. But I never enjoyed practicing hockey that much, despite getting very good at it over 18+ years. Meanwhile I had boundless enthusiasm for speed, exploration, and adventure, whether on a bicycle or motorized anything. My parents never thought this speed addiction was a practical practice however; better to have me invested in traditional team sport. Once on my own, I abandoned hockey and started my career and my hobbies focused exclusively on what I wanted to do – live and work around cars and racing. By the time I could make this decision for myself it was far too late to compete in anything resembling professional level. Although when I race a kart or a bike today I can beat just about anyone piloting a less expensive machine with a lot less practice than my competition. Shame my parents didn’t see a future for me in my first love, racing. They chose a different path and didn’t really listen to my thoughts or pay attention to my actions.

      I’m convinced a lot of parents never stop to ask their kids what activities make them the happiest, or engage with them about what passions they have… which is even more important to pay attention to when the child isn’t sure how to develop their passions on their own.

      Reply
  18. AvatarWidgetsltd

    The “that’s not a real 911” game is a bit silly. But if you want to play that game…how could they call a 993 by the name 911? It has coil springs instead of torsion bars. Everybody knows that REAL 911s have longitudinal torsion bars in the front suspension and transverse torsion bars with semi-trailing arms in the rear suspension. The 993 suspension system is shockingly similar to the (gasp) 996! Seriously, though, we can draw these dividing lines anywhere.

    Reply

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