The race that I never signed up for
Updated: Feb 18
Are you running the race, too?
I was 8 years old when I entered "the race".
While I was preparing for "the most important exam" of my life.
"Your life depends on it," my mother told me. I took her word.
Aside from her being overdramatic, this exam was to switch my primary school at the 4th grade.
There was a test where the highest-ranking 25 students are going to be accepted at this new school.
I saw my mother, so stressed and anxious. I got worried too.
I thought "it must be true, that my life depends on it..." even though I did not comprehend it fully.
I studied hard and I was among the first 25. I was "successful".
My mother was very happy. "I made her proud," I thought.
But was I? Was I proud of this achievement?
Did I even comprehend what it meant?
Did I even want to go to this particular school? I never gave much thought.
During my studies at this particular school, I aspired to be a high achiever.
After all, I was expected to be successful.
My father didn't like average students. He told me not to be "a mediocre".
So, I delivered. I studied hard and graduated in the first place at the high school.
After that, I went on from "success" to "success"
Scholarships, fellowships, degrees... A decorated student.
I studied every exam as if "my life depended on it".
It gave me deep sorrow to realize slowly that my career that I worked so hard for so long, did not make me happy.
What was the purpose of all these, if they didn't make me happy? I thought.
I worked very hard for all my degrees and earned every bit of them. They matter to me.
But feeling comfortable, successful, and happy in your own skin is a completely different issue. And that became the focus of my life lately. Being real.
I don't remember explicitly being compared to other children.
But I guess I internalized it deeply because I sure did compare myself. A lot.
I worked hard to be very successful. The best. Number one.
I looked successful on the outside. But I felt like an imposter on the inside occasionally, not belonging where I am. I felt like I ended up being somewhere after working so hard and being ashamed of not being happy with it. It became almost impossible to give up a life that I build myself, a "successful career".
yet I did.
It didn't happen until I started asking myself "do I really want this success? or do I just want to be myself?"
I realized that I was in a race that I never signed up for.
A never-ending race.
I realized it was not my race and decided to stop.
Even one step further now, I call this race off.
The best way to win a wicked game is, not to play it.
This race, where children are forced in a way to run side by side,
constantly compared to one another since so little,
programmed to be successful on someone else's terms,
is wicked and unfair.
It assumes they are all cut from the same cloth. They are identical.
and that there is only one path to success; getting an education, then a job. Easy peasy.
I am living proof that this whole assumption is wrong. I am done playing this game. I am done running this race.
And as a parent, I am not letting my daughter get into it by following this simple rule: Never comparing her with anyone.
I want my daughter to be successful on her own terms. I know she needs to work hard. Very hard. She needs to take tests and do well on them. But the race is not about any of this.
It is not about progress, it is not about being a learner or being a hard worker even.
It's about winning.
It's about the competition.
It's about the end game.
It is run for someone else,
and it is wrong.
Today I was having a phone conversation with my mother where my daughter was playing with her toys and she was observing her.
She proudly told me that my daughter is doing extremely well compared to my cousin's children who are around the same age. She meant in terms of her motor skills and her overall growth.
She told me that she is way ahead of these other two children. I guess she expected me to be happy or proud of this news.
I was not. I was terrified, to be honest.
I told her that it is not healthy to compare children with each other.
It is like apples and pears. That they are so different.
That it's not fair to compare them as long as they are growing healthy and hitting their own milestones.
It is only fair to watch their progress personally.
She reiterated that she was doing so well, ahead of the other ones... as if she never heard my remarks.
I asked myself quietly "Under whose criteria she is doing so well or so bad?"
I wondered what if she was not doing so well tomorrow in my mother's eyes, would she tell me again?
or worse would she tell Eleanor herself, that she is falling behind some other toddler??
and what I was expected to be doing here after hearing this news?
be proud of my own child when she doing "so well" and not so proud when she is not, according to my mother? What was this all nonsense? I thought quietly.
I see this coming as I know my mother and I am vigilant. But I have to say I am still shocked, that the race nowadays starts at almost when children are 2 years old!!!
I invite all parents to be vigilant and see this coming: "The race"
The race that we were placed in one way or another at some point by a well-meaning parent, relative, or a teacher.
I invite everyone to ask themselves; whose race I am running?
Simply by asking: Am I happy with my life? The one life that I get - Am I using it wisely?
Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing in this life - fulfilling my purpose or living someone else's life? someone else's dream?
Am I running a race that I never signed up for?
These are hard and unsettling questions, but a life without these questions could be wasted.
So I invite everyone to have the courage to ask these questions, even it means " not being successful or failing" in some sense.
I think not being successful in some subjective way is way better than failing to realize who we are.
It is way better than running a race that you have never signed up for,
and ending in a place where you don't belong.
And most importantly, becoming someone that you were not meant to be.
I am not running this race that I never signed up for anymore and I do not let my child run it either.
My daughter is not up for "the race"
Not up for a race with other children. Not from this age or later. Not at my eyes.
I want her to believe that she can be whatever she wants as long as believes in it and works hard for it.
I want her to see that we are there for her as her parents, supporting her at every level.
I want her to know that this is not a race; the life.
It is not a race.
There are no timelines to reach a milestone,
there is no limit to get another degree,
or change your path.
I want her to understand this and be brave.
I want to be a living example for my daughter by changing my career path at age of 33 or fail at your career. Miserably. I want her to see that it is better to fail at something and lose the race, rather than losing yourself.
I want her to see that once you fail, then you can have the strength to build something new.
I may not have my parents around me when I quit my race now,
But I promise I will be there for you.
I will be there for you every step of this journey that is called life.
Because, life is a journey.
It is your journey.
Live it as you want. And be happy.
January 17, 2021
Image courtesy: Canva