Ooh, some great comments yesterday on my post about Nathan Chen/ the idea of him being “good at life”/ uber talented at everything, apparently!
I was going to respond individually but figured I’d just comment back publicly in a new post.
The main underlying theme from most people seemed to be a sense of skepticism about it all, like “Eh….I don’t know….that doesn’t seem like it’s all it’s cracked up to be.”
I think I agree.
Lisa mentioned a friend with a daughter who figure skates 6-7 days a week, twice a day, etc. at a very young age, and she was wondering what the “end goal” is for her. Elisabeth talked about a young girl who separated from her family for months to train in another country! Several people commented on just how much you’d have to sacrifice to reach that height, that level of achievement. I can’t even really imagine- but yes, it must be immense.
Diane mentioned the Mom Hour episode with the mother of Adam Rippon, Olympic figure skater. I also listened to that episode a while back and found it very interesting! She commented on Adam’s sister basically deciding that she did NOT want that life, and gave up her gymnastics dreams. She also did share about some of the huge sacrifices the family made for Adam to pursue his skating career.
So while it’s true that I still AM fascinated by extremely high achievers….and I love reading about them/ hearing their stories…. I also definitely don’t really think it’s a life I would want- or for my kids. I do love learning about what makes these people tick, though. It seems to me that in order to want to make those sacrifices, there must be something a little…different about you. Something that the rest of us can’t really relate to. Some kind of inner drive or desire or something. That’s probably what it takes to get to the top! If it were so simple and easy, we’d all be there. And maybe for them, the “sacrifices” don’t really feel like sacrifices. I don’t really know!
I read an excellent memoir years ago now called “Open”, written by tennis star Andre Agassi. It was SO GOOD and I’d highly recommend it, even if you aren’t into tennis. What an eye opening look into his life. In his case, it was very sad, though. He truly seemed miserable in so many ways. It’s a captivating story.
Someone commented wondering if Nathan Chen is happy. I wonder too! I hope he is. I’m sure it’s like anything- there are probably good days and bad days. I’m not an Olympic athlete, and I don’t wake up grinning ear to ear everyday, either. So my guess is that it ebbs and flows for him, too. But I’d like to think that these repeat Olympians (like Phelps, Shaun White, Chloe Kim, Nathan Chen, etc.) must be getting some kind of enjoyment and fulfillment out of this experience. I’m hard pressed to believe that they would keep going for years and years if they were miserable. Who knows, though! I could be wrong.
My big thing when thinking about sports/ high level competition is that I always have this little nagging thought in the back of my mind, which is: “Who cares??” Ha. What I mean is- in the long run, does any of this matter? Does it matter which team of grown men in tights ran a little leather ball down a field, across a painted white line the most times before the clock gets to 0:00?? Does it actually matter that one swimmer touched the wall 0.01 seconds faster than the other guy?
Ivan and I were also talking the other night, and I was saying how when we recently watched the Summer Olympics, the athletes were so stressed/ anxious, freaking out about “their turn” in the spotlight…and now, a few months later, does anyone even remember who won?!? Obviously, they do, but in most cases, the general public kind of just moves on. In the moment it seems like this HUGE deal…but then it’s over and life just goes on.
I can’t even remember who played in the Super Bowl last year, honestly, yet in the moment there were probably fans ready to have legit heart attacks over the game. lol. It sometimes feel like a huge “to do” over…sort of nothing. (I’m sure I’m simplifying this, and if I or a child were in that actual situation, I’m sure I would strongly disagree with what I just said. This is just my perspective though as an outsider.)
Oh! And the other thing I often think about is how these people train literally their whole lives for something that is so, so fragile! Think about figure skating. ONE little trip on the ice, one catch of the toe- and boom. You fall down, game over. Or you could wake up on the day of your event with the stomach flu. Or covid! Or get injured. It seems like it almost depends on sheer luck, in some ways, or for the stars to align just so for that perfect game/performance/ race. I guess maybe that’s what they’re chasing though- that “one moment in time”.
The last thing I often think about (jeez, I didn’t realize I had so many thoughts on this) is “then what?” So let’s keep going with the figure skating example. You train your whole life, sacrifice your childhood, win a bunch of competitions/ skate around the world a little bit…and then…as is usually the case for the vast majority of people, you don’t end up in the top (3? I think?) to go to the Olympics. Eventually you “retire” at like age 22….and then what? Hopefully it was a fun ride. But in reality you probably just go on to get a job, start your life, have a family, whatever, just like everybody else! Maybe if you’re really good you become one of those retired TV announcer people. But at least I guess you can say, “Yeah, I used to be a really good figure skater.” Hmm. I’m not sure that’s worth the sacrifice! 🙂
EEK! Just looked at the clock- I gotta go! Apparently my tangent/ brain dump here took longer than I thought. I need to leave for Ethan’s basketball game! Future NBA player in training!! 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Enjoy your Saturday! (No time to edit this at all or re-format, so, sorry if this post is messy! 🙂
5 thoughts on “Follow-up/ good at life”
The “good at life” comment triggered something in us I suppose! Michael Phelps actually made a documentary called “The Weight of Gold” or something like that where he discusses the mental health struggles of Olympic athletes and how he and other athletes were depressed at some point even though they looked super successful on the outside.
I think a lot of these people also aren’t very “well-rounded.” They can’t be because they put so much time and energy into excelling in one area of their life. I think they keep going because it’s all they know and because they’ve often sacrificed having hobbies and friendships and schooling etc to pursue, in these cases, athletic pursuits.
I also read Open and found it heartbreaking. He was sick with nerves every time he went to compete and really hated playing tennis. HOW SAD. Such a good book, especially the first 1/2 – I couldn’t put it down.
I don’t envy sports stars; the pressure (Simone Biles this summer!), the relentless media pursuit (digging up “skeletons” or hounding them when they make a mistake – it doesn’t feel fun.
Such a good post, Kae, and lots to think about. I think I’m drawn to athletic memoirs because it reminds me how they really are just like us with all the foibles and heartbreak, just on a much more public scale (same with celebrities, too – people that seem to “have it all, do it all” really don’t, never did, and never will because as humans we all struggle, just in different ways with different strengths and weaknesses…
I have been meaning to read Open! I need to bump this up my TBR list. I love sports memoirs and things like that even though I am not at all athletic! I also love sports documentary. We watched one recently on Netflix. It was about another tennis star that I was not familiar with (not surprising – I do not follow that sport!). But it was mostly about the mental health aspects of being a pro and how much that comes into play. Another great sports doc is “The Short Game.” It’s about juvenile golf pros. You can see the emphasis the parents have to get their kids to where they are. I have to imagine that a lot of the time, it’s the parent really pushing the child. The child has to have interest and ability, but maybe in some circumstances, it’s the parent pushing because they see potential and want something for their child that they wish they had achieved? My husband has talked about the influence of Tiger Wood’s father. I don’t recall the specifics but I think much pressure needs to come from the parent to get a child to a certain level. I’m just a hard pass on that lifestyle but it’s a you do you situation of course. I enjoy watching the Olympics and seeing what the human body is capable of, but I also wonder what is next for these athletes? I also think about the financial aspect and how much it has cost the parents to get their child to this level. At some point, they receive sponsorships to help pay for things, but it’s a huge financial undertaking to get your kid to an olympic level. And then think of all the kids who get close but don’t make the olympics! I thought the coverage of Suni Lee was interesting in that regard because she did not come from an affluent family at all. Her parents are Hmong immigrants who came here with nothing. The Hmong community helped financially, I think, so she could train with the best of the best. And she reaped the rewards by getting a gold medal and she can tour for awhile and make money that way and I imagine she will buy a home for her parents, etc. The whole thing is just fascinating, though, from the financial aspect to the mental health impacts, etc.
Ok I don’t know if you check comments on old posts (as I am wading through your blog as a newbie!) but this is something I’ve REGULARLY discussed with my husband and friends. The concept of achievement in general, beyond sports. I have always been very skeptical of prestigious universities and their value, and I would have a really hard time not overtly discouraging any of my own children from attending one. The debt alone would be a huge reason, but also the people you’d be surrounded by seems to be a recipe for comparison that can be so damaging. I admit my own bias as a SOLIDLY average person – I did well in school but not TOO well, and have many friends who are the highest of achievers in their fields, went to prestigious universities and have big-name jobs and they are all SO deeply unhappy that I would never wish that life on anyone. I know that is more anecdotal than anything, but it seems to be common enough to be a trend.
In terms of sports, I do often think “who cares” – and of my kids, so far I only have one that gravitates toward sports at all, the other 2 ….. not at all. And even just that one and the basic leagues we are WILLING to sign him up for takes up a HUGE amount of our family time. If it was all 3 of them?? Nope. Not interested. Anyway I could go on about this concept forever but in summary – my goal is to have solidly B+/A- children who excel in the ability to be grateful, and also are at least mildly productive members of society. Here’s hoping!!
Yep, I see all the old comments!! (thanks to the WordPress app which alerts me 🙂 ) And oh, yes…the prestigious university thing is absolutely fascinating. I can’t even really think of too many people I know of who went to schools like that, but my impression has always been one of skepticism.
I feel like personally, I’m probably similar to how you describe yourself. I did generally well in school and music and athletics, but mostly just because I tried really hard. I do not feel like I’m exceptionally “naturally” gifted in anything! I’ve always felt like I’ve need to add this disclaimer after any achievement, my whole life. “I just worked really hard!”
I also feel like growing up in a medium/smaller sized midwest high school, I probably seemed more accomplished than I maybe was..if that makes sense. I mean, I was near the top of my class, but we only had like 109 in my graduating class. I was one of the “top” volleyball players at my school, but we were a D2 school without oodles of competitive volleyball girls. If you had put me into a big school in Texas (or wherever they have really competitive sports) I probably would have looked like chopped liver. LOL! So I was maybe a bit of a “big fish in a little pond”, kind of. Not trying to detract from my abilities or talk down on myself! I worked hard and was good at both school and sports, relatively speaking. But I was never going to get recruited to play college volleyball or anything, much less professional or Olympic level. That being said, I feel like I was pretty well rounded, was able to do a lot of different things, etc., so I’m happy about that. I think I’ve turned out mostly like what you said- B+/A- and I think at least a mildly productive member of society. hahaha! That’s a great description!
I could also go on and on about this!! It’s just such a fun topic for discussion. 🙂