The Hannah Montana Ideal

hannah-montana

Hybridity is almost a good idea, but not quite.

-Nicholas Thomas

We live in a world of hybrids. From phones to cars to entire nations, the reach of hybridity is inescapable. The one thing common in our world is that we all want to have “the best of both worlds.” What was once just a 2000’s pop song is now a cultural reality.

Hybridity, by its simplest definition, is a mixing of different elements. It’s a combination of traits that are viewed as separate into a single entity – gas-powered and electric, book and tablet, labrador retriever and poodle. Perhaps you drove a hybrid today or are holding one in your hand to read this post. And, if you live in the United States, you are especially surrounded by hybridity. The U.S. has a unique label – “the melting pot” – a mixture of cultures that forms one hybrid American culture.

But what happens when you apply hybridity not to a nation, but to an individual? That’s when things get a bit tricky. We’re talking Hannah Montana levels of tricky.

At least once if your life, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of being “well-rounded.” It’s said to be one of the qualities most looked for by university admissions officers and employers alike. But what does being well-rounded really mean? What is it that we are trying so desperately to round out?

A well-rounded individual is something of a human hybrid. Logic-based creatures that we are, we tend to categorize ourselves and others: left-brain or right-brain, STEM or humanities, athlete or intellectual. Now, these qualities aren’t mutually exclusive; there are plenty of highly intelligent athletes and mathematically gifted artists. But being well-rounded necessitates hybridizing numerous different traits and talents. It’s the modern-day obsession with “having it all.” It’s no longer acceptable to be good at just one thing; we have to possess a plethora of skills. We’re expected to be rational and artistically gifted, emotionally open and socially cautious, spontaneous and prudential.

One of the main tenets of being well-rounded is developing skills that don’t come naturally. It’s the classic argument of nature versus nurture.We’re constantly being pushed to attempt, even to excel, at activities that we’re not adept at doing. In fact, the practice of “nurture” has gone so far that some even argue talent is a myth.

I believe that talent, while not a big a factor as some people may believe, is not mythical. Every person has his or her strength and that strength is something that comes naturally – a talent, a gift, a penchant, whatever you want to call it.

Yet however big a role talent plays, nurture plays an even bigger one. Talent can be lost if it is not nurtured and talent can be developed if you practice something enough. In that sense, talent is a myth, because it is not restricted to a certain number of people who are born gifted.

So what’s stopping us all from becoming the best, most talented, well-rounded people we can be? Not so fast. While you may have a desire to become a jack of all trades, you don’t want to end up being a master of none. Those who try to master too many things at once usually wind up being merely adequate at those things and great at none of them. While the idea of well-rounded is still very popular in our culture, there is a movement, particularly by parents, to encourage children to focus on one thing that they truly enjoy.

This isn’t to say that you should never try anything new. You should always aim to have new experiences. No matter what stage you are in your life, you can find new interests. And, once you find something you’re passionate about, you can stick with it. Nurture that skill, whether you’re a natural or not.

Take it from the Stanford representative that gave a presentation at my school: “We aren’t looking for well-rounded people; we’re looking for lopsided ones.” Maybe not all colleges want well-rounded students after all.

It’s okay to be a hybrid. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to be. But remember that you’re not a phone or a car. You’re a human. And humans don’t have to be a perfect hybrid. They can be a lopsided one.

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