It was to have the cool career and the awesome car. To be, possibly, the journalist that broke the new story that changed the world, or the filmmaker that moved the audience to tears. It was to be different from the rest.
As I grew older, ‘success’ kept changing in meaning. Sometimes it was having the perfect family, at times being an influencer, or being able to buy or get exactly what I wanted when I wanted it.
At 35, success has lost its sheen. It is no longer as glamorous a word as it used to be. Is it a case of sour grapes, you may wonder, considering I have not hit any of those childhood goals.
Or is it because the past few years have seen some exceptional people, who were successful in every possible way you could attach meaning to the word, choosing to give up on life itself. Kate Spade, Robbin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, the list is painfully long and heartbreaking.
And it’s not just those who have hit the success mark, but our kids that I worry about. 2015 data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that one student commits suicide every hour. Shaibya Saldanha, co-Founder of Enfold India, attributes and I quote “from poor relationships with parents, excessive expectations, the feeling of being unwanted, poor understanding of their peer/romantic relationships. These result in an impulsive decision or a long thought-out deliberate suicide”.(*Source)
When we were children we were okay with our friends doing better than us. We were aware you win some, you lose some and somehow it was okay to not hit the best markers all the time.
I remember my ninth grade. I had moved schools almost at the end of the 8th grade and what a roller coaster ride it had been. I was successful – making friends, being noticed, being asked out and even getting selected for fun stuff at school. And then in the ninth, I was clubbed with the ‘best’ students of that grade – kids who had specific plans for their life, who knew what scores they needed and who were willing to do anything that it took to get it. These kids were signed up for courses outside school, their entire life seemed spent on finding the right answers and scoring better grades. And amidst them were four of us, absolutely clueless and aimless kids who had not yet considered what our life goals or plans were.
Guess what, I was miserable!
I could not for the life of me figure why I was in that grade while all my friends were in another more sorted spaces. I wanted to do well, but not knowing how to and the unwillingness to tell folks back home that I was no longer on the top of my game.
I hit my life’s lowest. 17 out 100 in Maths.
But through it all, looking back, what I remember most is that I was not treated as the girl who got shitty grades at home or at school. I was not the child who couldn’t get it, who was lazy or uninterested. I was more than my marks, my attitude, my inabilities. I was the girl who could at any point walk into the Vice-Principal’s or Principal’s office to question school rules. My parents or my teachers always knew I was screwing up academically but they didn’t hold me back from doing everything else at school. And there was so much more than grades!
Above all, I do not for once, remember my teachers calling my parents to school to tell them how hopeless the situation was or being sat down and told that my attitude was beyond fixing. Neither were my parents behaving that my right now was going to be the end of me. They never have!
And it wasn’t. Ofcourse, I quit Maths the first opportunity I got but life moved on. I regretted my choice (because I do love Maths), but I worked around it.
Some of the ninth graders I used to worry about, have given up their careers. A close friend who flunked eleventh grade is extremely happy following a career in marketing in another continent. The boy who ran away from school, has such a beautiful family across the seas. We are all surviving our ups and downs.
I was, by example, taught that I matter despite my grades.
And that faith, helped me survive a horrible marriage, some painful heartbreaks and so many changes in life and careers.
I am not sure we are doing that anymore for our kids.
And so today, what I wish for our children is no longer success.
Instead I wish for them strength to deal with failure.
I wish them the opportunities to try something new.
To engage with the process, rather than the outcome.
To enjoy learning.
I wish for them the willingness to take risks.
To lose everything, if necessary, when they feel something needs to be done.
To have the guts to stand up, or walk away when it’s not where they should be.
To not be victims of circumstances and situations.
To be able to make choices and own their choices – good or bad.
I wish them happiness, to find joy even when things don’t seem to be going their way.
To allow themselves to wander aimlessly and to be able to make sense even when life seems to be drifting away from their original plans.
And I wish for us, parents and educators, to hold back when necessary, to reach out when crucial and to believe, even when they don’t.