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Sunday, 2005 January 9 - 10:50 am
One of the things I've always wanted in life is to be really good at everything. The fact that I am not is a source of frustration. It's a neurosis, I know.

North Carolina has been really warm this winter. Yesterday, temperatures reached 70F (21C), so I went to the driving range to hit a bucket of golf balls. I am not what you'd call a GOOD golfer; I am pretty mediocre. But I enjoy the fact that it's a finesse game, and there is a real science to the technique of the golf swing. So I study it, I read about it, and I try to use brainpower to make up for my lack of physical coordination.

It doesn't work.

Now, I'm better than a rank beginner. I can play a reasonably enjoyable round of golf without embarrassing myself. When I looked around at most of the other folks at the driving range, there were a lot of people struggling to even hit the ball. So I feel good about being slightly better than the median skill level of the general population. I try to achieve at least that for everything that I do. But sometimes I wish I were really good at it. I watch professional golfers in awe, because I know just how difficult it is to achieve that level of skill.

After reading The Queen's Gambit recently, I've become interested in chess again. I used to play as a kid quite a bit. During high school I played chess in English class by passing notes to Steve Chizek. Again, I'm somewhat better than average at chess; if I had a rating, it would probably be in the 1500 range.

But the computer kicks my ass whenever I play it, unless I crank the skill level way down. I don't mind losing, but I hate when I fail to visualize a sequence of moves that results in a disadvantage for me. "Oh, he did that; now I have to move my knight here and now I'm going to lose that bishop over there. Damn it." I feel like I should be able to see those things. Moreover, I feel like I used to be able to do that, but that I've just grown lazier and dumber in my old age. I think perhaps it's good that I've started to play chess again; perhaps my alcohol-dulled brain just needs some exercise.

Meaning no offense who those who don't play chess: I believe chess ability is somewhat of an indicator of IQ. And I do mean "IQ", not "intelligence"; that is to say, if you're good at chess, you'd probably do well on those standardized IQ tests. Chess is a game of visualization and pattern recognition. Now, I know lots of people don't play chess simply because they don't find it interesting... I don't think that's a function of intelligence, I think that just means some people are more into games and puzzles than others. (In other words: DON'T SEND ME ANGRY LETTERS BECAUSE YOU DON'T PLAY CHESS. I'm not calling you dumb.)

I take some comfort in the fact that I'm slightly better than average at a lot of different things. So, I can tell myself it's okay not to be a superstar at any one thing. (Well, the one thing I'm really good at is my job, as a computer engineer. I just wish I found that more interesting.) Alas, there is no fame and fortune for the modern renaissance man. As a society, we reserve our accolades for those who are spectacularly talented at one thing, even if they are utterly unskilled at everything else they do. (Britney, I'm talking to YOU.)

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Posted by Ken in: life


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