Greatest Of All Time? Not for me, thanks

By Edward Keeling

It is easy to be jealous of people who are specialised in a particular field: often they will reap rewards, attain glorious status, and might even earn lots of money. However, I think that to be the Greatest Of All Time (or the GOAT) is not only is a misnomer, but also something that should not be considered so wondrous.

Firstly, the GOAT is typical of the time we live in. It seems that the GOATs are all around at the moment. This suggests that we have reached the pinnacle of achievement in athletics and a host of other fields. Such a claim is naïve, and completely misunderstands the notion of the ‘greatest’. That is something we will not know until all is said and done, if ever. Only when the Olympics are cancelled for good could we confidently say that Usain Bolt was the greatest. Obviously, there are different measures of greatness, but even by vague and arbitrary standards, someone could conceivably come along, better such standards, and hence become greater. Likewise, everyone calls Federer the GOAT, and damn is he good, but there is little stopping Nadal overtaking his record. What then for the people who have so recently claimed Federer is the GOAT? Humble pie? Well, hopefully, but those who proclaim people as the GOAT probably don’t like humble pie. It is not in their nature.

Secondly, though being the GOAT may suggest that you are the ultimate specialist, frankly, nobody is a complete specialist. Take, for example, a golfer: they may be a specialist golfer, but in fact, they are generalists, masters of many skills. They need a straight drive, a delicate putt, a mastery of iron shots from the fairway, and control of the mental game. They are therefore both specialists and generalists. Most golfers would probably admit that they are not the best at every individual skill, but the best are those that can accumulate the general skills and, on average, be the best. This generalisation is what might allow someone to become the GOAT.

Still, I don’t want to be the GOAT. I would prefer to be the JOAT. What on earth is a JOAT? Well, I made it up. The Jack of All Trades. Of course, as I said, the GOAT will probably be more successful, but wouldn’t it be nice to be fairly good at everything? I wonder, can Federer play the piano? Can he perfectly barbecue meat? Can he differentiate butterflies? Or equations? To have a basic grasp of many things is better. Here’s to being mediocre (I mean, quite good, but nevertheless average). Not only can you try your hand at everything, probably enjoy conversation with more people without having to fake interest, but you are probably more likely to discover that you might be really good at something too. Perhaps you might even become the GOAT. Yet, you would never have known this if you hadn’t started as a JOAT and given whatever talent it is a go. You are probably better are dealing with failure if you try all these things and are good at some and average (or terrible) at others.

Perhaps I’m bitter, but I don’t think that’s it. Maybe it is the feeling that everyone seems to be better than me at something. I would like to be horribly successful. Yet, sometimes it is reassuring to sit back and think, firstly, “I bet I am better than them at X”, and secondly, “Poor them, that must take up a lot of time.” Enjoy not being a dab hand, but just trying your hand at everything.

Photograph: Guilherme Lueders via Flickr and Creative Commons 

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