My mother has been a bit of an overachiever all her life. Somehow, she passed it on to me.
Initially, I was a fairly dumb and happy child. I didn't have a clue of what was going on around me. I didn't care. I always did my own thing, and was very creative, always leading my younger cousins and siblings in creating plays, songs, games, and all sorts of general childhood fun and nonsense.
It came as a surprise to me when my best pal, Richa, suggested to me way back in class 9 that I could actually study before an exam. It was a real revelation, which gives you an idea of how dumb I was - I always thought that everyone only went to class and then went to exams. It had not occured to me that people actually studied - memorized - crammed right before an exam.
This simple idea changed the course of my life. Before I did this, I was always an average 70%-er, and my mother always wanted me to do better. I am pretty sure she had also advised me to study, but coming from her, it was easy to write off as a strange adult quirk. Who could possibly study after school, when there was so much to be done - bicycles to be ridden - badminton to be played - practical jokes to be pulled on our poor old hapless maid Teeja - and many other daily adventures to be embarked upon?
Apparently, me. Because after my conversation with my best friend, I started to study. And read the subject material. Some of the stuff looked interesting. Other parts didn't. It didn't matter. I had a sharp memory. I remembered everything. What was tough to retain, I read over and over.
As a result of this, I moved straight up from an average nowhere to top of my class. And upset quite a few people who were always competing to be first. It was rather amusing to see how indignant they were, that the irresponsible class clown was suddenly topping. They assumed it was a mistake.
The mistake was repeated over and over until the time I left school. Suddenly, it had begun to matter how well I did academically. I wanted to top and always did. I wanted to beat the others who thought I wasn't capable of it,. I took special pleasure in making it look easy. Term after term, I came out at or near the very top. Suddenly, my earlier teachers who were always punishing me for some reason or the other, and generally making my life miserable, all claimed they always knew I had it in me. I think a couple of my most hated teachers took credit for reforming me.
It was quite a decent balancing act. I continued to clown around in class, and had loads of fun in school. I liked writing and was the editor of the school magazine. I was in the music group, playing guitar and singing, alongside Richa. I was on the basketball team. But before exam time, I did get serious. I crammed. The Board years were quite nightmarish. And tension filled. But I did pretty well. In fact, I left my school as the topper in the Commerce field. And was awarded for being the best all-rounder.
I moved on to what is considered the best commerce college in the country. And then to one of the finest management institutes in the country. But with the passage of time, it wasn't so easy to do the balancing act. Doing well academically became the obsession. In college, I still managed to play some basketball and music. But by the time I was doing my MBA, it all became about academics.
It became a rarer and rarer event to go to the basketball court. I hardly touched my guitar anymore. I didn't participate in any extra curricular activities. I didn't take particularly good care of my health - I would survive on potato chips and cheese. I was as skinny as a stick. It didn't matter much. I entered my institute amongst the top twenty; and when I left, I was ranked in the top ten. I had won a scholarship that paid the entire fees for two years. And I left to join a top-ranking FMCG company.
You may have noticed that the word 'Top' figures a lot of times in this post. It has figured a lot of times in my life. But it has come at a definite cost. My early twenties have passed in a blur of hard work, result-orientation, and competition.
I wouldn't like to make that mistake with the rest of my life.
The fact of the matter is that all this while, I never really thought about what it is that I would like to do. I just pretty much always did what I was expected to do. Or what the others were doing. I couldn't quite figure out what I would enjoy doing for a living. My dream was always short-sighted. It was to crack the next exam, the next interview. There wasn't ever a long term plan or perspective.
Today, I am very happy to have a career. And my academic background has played no small part in getting me to where I am. Everything about our lifestyle, every comfort - all of it is due to the fact that we both earn a good living. And that is very important. But it is not everything.
I have always wanted to do something creative; something meaningful. Something related to writing or music, even indirectly. It continues to be a dream. And with the passage of time, a fuzzier and less achievable dream. It is becoming more and more difficult to imagine ever breaking away from my current path.
The point is - I think I would just have been better off if I had taken myself more lightly a few years ago. I could have still done decently in school; but maybe I would have pursued my interests more; maybe I would have considered a few lower paying but more creative fields. In fact, maybe if I hadn't done that well, I would have been forced to try harder to figure myself, my areas of interest and my dreams out. It is, of course, possible that I would have been struggling too hard to make a living, and therefore, unable to pursue those dreams anyway - but I suspect that reality would have lain somewhere in between.
These last few months have helped put a lot of things in perspective for me. I am still very grateful for my education and everything that followed because of it. But I recognize that I overdid it, and with time, lost out some great hobbies, and more importantly - some great times - some great years that are never going to come back. And ultimately; I am no closer today to my dreams or goals than I was ten years ago - simply because I still don't quite know what they are.
However, I am very happy in this moment - and it's thanks to the perspective that becoming a mom has given me. Because I have finally come to realize that nothing gives me more joy than being with my family. It has taken me some time to understand that these relationships are what matter most in the end. That ultimately, it's about people. I've got back in touch with a lot of my old friends, too, those who I didn't bother to call because I was too busy studying or working. Some of them still don't call back because they are too busy at work now. It doesn't matter. They'll come around. (This very drop in a highly inflated ego is something that is a nice by-product of motherhood too - although it is work in progress and I am still quite a fathead sometimes)
I look forward to becoming a far more well-rounded person again. And to sincerely try and enjoy whatever I am doing- whether at work or at play.
And for Peanut, to ensure that she gets a good education, of course; but more importantly, to help her become a confident person. And if she has to choose between being a well-balanced, decent student who knows how to have fun OR someone who is brilliant at academics and focussed solely on topping and beating others her entire academic life; I just want to be able to encourage her to be the former - and sincerely mean it.
(I have written this post because of a lot of debate related to the topic that is going around at the moment. And also for my three very talented, bright young nephews - who are still far away from the end of their academic years!)