Running Toward What ?

Growing up, I was the girl who wanted to achieve. That meant several things. In high school, for instance, I wanted to learn French, but I decided to take Latin. Why? Because Latin would help me excel at the Sat’s. I remember the end of my freshman year of high school, a friend of mine, told me to  “find out my rank.” Without hesitation, I marched into the library and asked the woman with the computer printouts, where I ranked in my class after one year of high school. I had gotten good grades but was a little surprised to hear that I ranked high in my class.

I believe that single incident is when the word achievement really took shape for me.

That moment in the library in the summer of 1987 provided me with the feeling of performing on Broadway.   I really envisioned lights around my name. In my tiny world, achievement was most clearly defined by a number, a rank, a grade point average, a SAT score, and so on. And I lived true to that world I created. I graduated at the top of my class with honors in high school.  For the next ten years after high school, I spent it educating myself and running toward what I thought was achievement. I obtained three degrees, a political science degree, a master’s degree, and a law degree all in the name of success.

I sacrified so much of my self during those ten years. Any deviation from a stellar grade point average, I would cry and deem myself failure. It was the number that motivated me, the  success seemed  so real when I got the good grade. Anything less, well, that wasn’t achievement. There were voices that whispered along the way that tempted me to try something different, something less “achievement” oriented like, a stint in the Peace Corps or a summer abroad or a class in musical theory. But I ignored those voices, because I was building a resume.

During much of those ten years, I never took a break. I never reflected. I remember my now husband telling me, after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, to take a year off to really decide how I wanted shape the rest of my life. I didn’t listen. I told him that it was a waste of time to take a year off and that I was on track to graduate from law school and become a lawyer by a certain time frame. All in the name of running toward achievement.

It’s been almost four years since I’ve actively practiced law, the remnants of that life seem like a skeleton of my previous self. All those years of running and I am not even practicing in the career that I deemed an achievement.

I spent more time running, rather than listening.

Now I look back at those times and I ponder, what was I running toward ?

I’m not completely certain. But what I do know is that I have the tools to teach my daughter that she can run, but she needs to listen to her own internal whispers, the ones that may tell her to deviate or explore.

That’s the definition of true achievement.


How do you define achievement? Do you agree that society pressures us to think of achievement in one particular way? 


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24 responses to “Running Toward What ?

  1. I could relate to what you write here in every way, Rudri. Your description of propelling yourself ever faster in pursuit of the Achievement Dream is one I recognize.

    I hope there were fulfilling experiences along the way – even if they were detours. And on the bright side, while you can look at the years spent working towards specific goals as wasted in some ways, I suspect there is a store of life skills that you accumulated which are, of course, coming out in your parenting and your writing – and in your interactions with the world now.

    And you still have time. Lots of time – to direct yourself in other ways, and differently – perhaps somewhere that doesn’t turn away from the satisfactions of excelling (and it is satisfying), but that also takes more time to taste the pleasures of the journey.

    A competitive society certainly contributes to this sort of drive, but I think we are wired to drive ourselves or not – and it’s rewarded (and reinforced) by culture, by family culture, and then life experience kicks in to dissuade us from it or offer other options.

    Passions change. We change. Life changes us.

    • Your wisdom BLW, in this line “Passions change. We change. Life changes us,” that sums it up. It’s whether or not we embrace that change which makes the difference. I’m already appreciating the journey. Writing and motherhood certainly has helped in shaping that pathway for me.

  2. My husband’s experience is similar to yours. He still practices medicine, but I wonder what he missed out on as he charged toward his future?

    • My husband also practices medicine and enjoys it, but often talks about other alternate careers he could have pursued. Those were careers that didn’t meet the “traditional” notions of success.

  3. You are so right…that is true achievement. I was the same way, Rudri. Then when I became a mother? That was the achievement I so desired.

    • Motherhood changes everything. It gives you a perspective that you appreciate and cherish. And those hugs and kisses. No amount of traditional achivement can compete.

  4. suzicate

    Degrees are definitely achievements, but your most profound and rewarding will be in rasing your family. We don’t realize those things when we are young or pushed towards society’s definition of success. You are a wonderful success in so many ways, Rudri.

  5. Interesting, Rudri. I saw Race To Nowhere a few nights ago, and it ponders this exact thing, as well as what pressures we are putting on our kids. The funny thing is that I was not that concerned with achievement- I did well but I wasn’t a stressor about it. I always wonder how much more I could have achieved if I had pushed myself harder and been more of what you describe. I’m not sure I would have ended up anywhere different, but I do wonder.

  6. Maybe it was the achievement itself you craved, even more so than the reward (a law career)? Great post that strikes close to home. I’m a Type A over-achiever myself, and still find myself running, running, running instead of enjoying.

  7. Rudri, thanks for the post. That speaks so much volume to me. I was running a life that emphasizes on achivements, milestones, and checking off the to-do list of the path I thought I ought to follow. I wish along the way I had stopped, breathed, and run off to something that were more to my calling, my intuition, the “internal voice” so to speak. I do wonder how much of the family background, our up-bringing and the competitive society influence some of us in such way. Luckily I recently became awaken. It’s never too late to realize that you can always get in touch with your instincts and follow your heart’s desires. I read from a book that our intuition is our ultimate best friend, and she always looks out for our best interests. Our job is to trust and follow her. Wish I had done that sooner…

    I’m glad that you have now felt your true “achievement” in teaching your daughter to live a fulfilling life to her heart’s desires. I, too, look forward to the day when I can infuse that notion onto my own little ones. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity.

    • Miss Chi,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am glad that you have the wisdom to listen to your intuition. It is what whispers and tells you to move in a different direction. Our ego and need to “achieve” sometimes prevents us from embracing intuition completely.

  8. Maybe our path, looking back, was inevitable… but it’s great to support each other to drop our identifications with this or that role and trade over toward actually living. Less ambition, less ego, more love and compassion… this seems the way. All Good Wishes

    • Dropping the identifications with prescribed roles allows a sense of freedom. It really makes you embrace who you truly are instead of using the role to define that for you.

  9. Rudri,
    Right now you have such an important job of impacting your daughter’s life in addition to sharing your wonderful wisdom via your writing. I’ve learned that you can always reinvent yourself as long as you slow down to listen to those internal whispers that you speak of. George Elliot the writer tells us that “It’s never too late to be who we might have been.” Journaling has helped me to slow down, ask myself many tough questions, and listen for an answer… and then realize that it’s okay not to know the answers but to be willing “to live the questions” as Rilke says.

    • “Live the questions” – this is one of my favorite quotes from Rilke. The internal whispers are my guide. And journaling helps me listen to those whispers a little more carefully.

  10. Kathy

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that drive to succeed and make good grades. I was like that as well, and I think most people who go to college and get graduate degrees have that drive. I totally agree with you that it is important to balance the need to be “successful” and be happy and listen to that inner voice. Like Big Little Wolf said, you have tons of time to find new paths. The path that you took led you to where you are now and enables you to have more paths to choose from. I hope that my girls will have the drive to make good grades and push themselves so that they can have as many options open to them as possible.

    • Kathy,

      I certainly agree that good grades are important. It gave me opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise pursued. All the paths are cumulative. I like thinking about it in that way.

  11. My gosh this resonated with me….

    As the daughter of an Indian father I have been running towards something my whole life…more status, a promotion, more money. And yet I find myself tired of running. It often seems an exercise in futility and seeing as I’m 35 and have gone nowhere I do believe I’ve wasted so much time rushing towards nothing.

    You are so eloquent…I love how you said so much so concisely!

    • Thanks Ameena. I believe the running perpetuates itself. You keep doing it, but really don’t know why. It’s harder to stay still. I’m trying, but I find myself wanting to run again.

  12. A raw and real exploration of your wonderful journey, Rudri. Thanks for sharing.

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