September 20

It's ok to take your time to find your passion

Last week, we had the pleasure of bidding a final ‘farewell and good luck’ to our class of 2019 at our annual prize-giving event.

It was a great pleasure to celebrate with the girls and mark a real milestone for them, especially with those students who have been Blackheath High School girls for 15 years from the Pre School to the Sixth Form! Not only were we treated to a keynote address by Jancis Robinson but we enjoyed some beautiful musical performances by Tiana, Ingrid and the Higgins Trio. A real highlight was a wonderful dance performance by Julia, who is about to start a two year Foundation Degree in Professional Dance and Performance and the Central School of Ballet.

During the ceremony, I spoke about how we were particularly proud of the enthusiasm with which the girls have embraced the breadth of curricular and co-curricular opportunities on offer at school and how this has helped shaped them into the fine young women they are. I have no doubt the skills and attitudes of mind that they have honed, will serve them well in their next steps and thought you might like to read a little of what I had to say about the importance of ‘having a go’ and pushing the boundaries of a comfort zone.

“In particular, this has been a year group of what I would describe as Renaissance women. I’m somewhat adapting the term for my purposes because, of course, in the 16th century from whence this term stems, really we were talking about Renaissance MEN."

So what was a Renaissance man? Think Leonardo Da Vinci - a man – or in our case - a woman who is knowledgeable or proficient in more than one field: a POLYMATH. Equally interested and engaged in arts and sciences for example- engaged in inter-disciplinarity and untrammelled by the construct of the idea of academic subject areas. We saw this breadth, flexibility, and interest in culture in ‘spades’ with Year 13:

  • Sportswomen who were central in school concerts and productions
  • Top debaters with a love of science and medicine
  • Musicians with a passion for aerospace
  • Future project managers with a talent for textiles and fashion

This makes me particularly proud of our Year 13s, not only for the energy and positivity with which they have taken up the fabulous opportunities on offer in the Sixth Form and within the GDST, but also because I strongly believe that generalism, is a rather underrated quality, which will set them up extremely well for the future.

In a recent Sunday Times article, Alice Thomson discussed how generalists are quite often derided in academia, sport, music and business:

‘Being a “Jack of all trades” is considered a waste of time for children and frivolous in adults. No one wants a dilettante; we revere obsessives. The mantra for this generation has been 10,000 hours’ practice to achieve anything, certainly if you’re planning to be a Wimbledon champion, win a Nobel prize or become a billionaire tech tycoon.’

Yet a recent book, by David Epstein, called: “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World”, suggests that we have got it all wrong and that the most successful humans are often multi-talented all-rounders. Generalists, he believes, are exactly what we need in today’s interconnected world where few problems can be solved in isolation. Elite scientists, athletes and musicians need a range of skills to compete and require flair and creativity to stand out, he says. The research is rigorous and compelling. Epstein doesn’t shirk from admitting that in one or two areas such as golf or chess, practice can make perfect. But instead, he argues, we should look at the majority of legends who tend to play numerous sports or instruments in childhood, only focussing in their teens. As a new father himself, Epstein says he now realises that parents who encourage children to experience new passions, enjoy a “sampling period”, quit, change direction, and experiment often bring up the most enthusiastic and exceptional children who think outside the box.

Roger Federer is one example. He tried out lots of sports — skiing, basketball and football — before identifying tennis as his favourite. Epstein cites the statistic that you are 22 times more likely to win a Nobel prize in science if you are also artistic for example.

Parents shouldn’t worry, he argues, if their children pick up and discard several instruments or sports. It may take time to find their skill, and their so-called “mistakes” are valuable. Medical colleges have begun to look favourably on applicants who have also done art because it makes them more dextrous and emotionally aware. Businesses welcome a multitude of disciplines on their boards and search widely for recruits.

I hope you’ll agree there is a super range of activities and opportunities on offer for your daughters at school. Don’t worry if the long-cherished loyalty to dance club, or choir waxes and wanes as they move through school, there is still much to be gained from that process itself!

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