I want my daughters to strive to become Olympians.
If I share this with my friends, they tell me I’m a helicopter parent. Or I’m trying to live my unfulfilled ambitions through my kids. Or I want to bask in their reflected glory.
I don’t know my deep psychological scars. All I know is that I want my daughters to taste the deep, transcendental joy of pursuing excellence early.
Becoming an Olympian doesn’t matter.
Striving to reach the absolute pinnacle of a sport gives you a glimpse of divinity though, moments when you’re so absorbed in a pursuit that you lose yourself completely.
I didn’t know this feeling most of my life. Five years ago though, I decided to stop dabbling. Instead of writing another bestseller in India quickly, I decided to write the perfect novel. I unlearned everything I knew and started from scratch. I read every book published on writing (or so it felt like!), de-constructed the works of authors I’d deemed inaccessible like James Joyce, Philip Roth, and a hundred others, and quietly plodded through one rejection, then two, then some more, for a total of sixty-one rejections, re-writing and improving my own novel, until I thought I’d purged it of mediocrity.
The goal fades away.
I failed miserably to reach my goal. Let alone being considered the perfect novel, The Yoga of Max’s Discontent has made it to just a couple of 2016 Best Books list and none of the major ones. The Indian sales of The Seeker (the Indian version of the novel) are actually lower than Keep off the Grass and Johnny Gone Down. US reviews and sales are solid but not blockbuster.
The strange thing is: I haven’t felt bad for a minute.
I stumbled, pushed, stretched, trying to be bigger than my abilities and in my own small way, I lost myself and glimpsed a purity of intention I’d never known before. My life simplified. I didn’t want to go out drinking or try the newest restaurant in town or expend energy in empty conversations and restless travel. I never thought about trivialities like work-life balance. Everything that didn’t fuel the pursuit of excellence felt redundant. It was harsh yet beautiful.
The quest for excellence has spilled over in every area of my life. Now, I want to be the best country head for Discovery, tomorrow I’ll want to dive deep into meditation to attain enlightenment, then…
I know I’ll fail miserably again.
The results don’t matter.
Goals fade away.
There is a reductiveness, a purity, perhaps the only glimpse of transcendence possible in this limited human form, in the simple pursuit of excellence.
Imagine experiencing that when you’re eleven or twelve years old.
I hope my daughters decide to pursue excellence early. If they don’t take to striving for the Olympics or gymnastics or another sport, perhaps they’ll aim for acting in films or making great music or changing the world or for anything else where the pinnacle is steep and the pursuit is arduous. And if everything else fails, there’s always writing
Whether they become any of these is irrelevant.
Is this being too prescriptive? Should you just let kids be? Our kids are two years old and six months old and we’re still forming our views so I’d love all parenting advice below!