Jun 11, 2011  •  In Career, Education, Parenting, Personal, Relationships

Peaked Too Early

Lately I have been plagued with a nagging uncertainty that makes me wonder if I had peaked too early in life.

Allow me to explain.

Before the age of 20, I was a Little Miss Overachiever: straight ‘A’s in school, tons of extracurricular activities, numerous awards, distinctions, and merits. My accomplishments included the following:

Not only did I qualify for the regional orchestra made up of 50 high schools in the lower NY area, I wrangled solo performances.

I was accepted to the über-prestigious Cooper Union School of Art’s Saturday Program (which has since divided into the Saturday Program and the Outreach Program) which allowed me to take art classes — for free — every Saturday for an entire summer from some of the nation’s most respected instructors in visual arts. I was one of the 40 students chosen out of more than 350 who applied…and I was one of the two high school sophomores (of the mostly juniors and seniors) who made the cut.

I held an internship — a paid internship — at one of the most famous and most respected art museums in the country: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I did not think too highly of these honors at the time, because all I had done is to do the work, apply, and get in. Only do I realize now that these were BIG FRIGGIN’ DEALS. Even my own sister, who is currently a PhD candidate in Art History, has recently asked me, “How in the world did you manage to land that Met internship?”

Post-college, I’ve only held two long-term jobs. While they were fairly respectable and paid well, they were nothing to brag about.

I am now a SAHM with an 8-month-old daughter and another kid on the way. I have not contributed to the household income for the past couple of years, and my life is, frankly, not very exciting.

Did I “peak” too early?

image
I’m writing this on my phone while in the car so I don’t have any
relevent pictures for this post. You’ll have to make do with this
old picture of Claire’s first bath.

When I brought up these concerns with J, he assured me that while the accomplishments of my youth are great to be sure, they are worldy accomplishments, or ones that may seem to matter most to society. Meanwhile, having children and raising them, being a good mother and a wife and a daughter — that is what is more important to him and to our family, and that they far outweigh whatever I may have done in the past.

I know that many mothers consider their children to be their greatest accomplishments, but I do not feel this way. I consider nabbing my husband to be my #1 achievement. :-)

Do you ever have fears that you may have peaked too early? How do you deal with the doubts?

22 Responses to “Peaked Too Early”

  1. Those are some amazing accomplishments! And you should be very proud of yourself for each and every one of those. However, I do not think you peaked too early. You are shaping another human life. Soon to be two. It is a miracle. And in twenty years I am willing to bet you will feel like you did not peak before 20, but learned new and amazing things as you reared your children and help shape them into little people.

    You’ll be a fortunate woman to have both societal accomplishments and family accomplishments. Tap yourself on the back :o)

    • Tommy:

      A miracle? Anyone can make babies. You do not need any special talents, education, or particularly high intelligence for that. Half a million such “miracles” happen every day worldwide.

      So yes, I would say that the author has more impressive accomplishments in her early life. However, she chose herself to stay at home and raise her kids rather than pursue more education or continue her career. And if that’s what she wants to do in life, that’s perfectly fine.

  2. MrsW:

    I think about this sometimes for myself — while my high school resume is not nearly as stunning as yours (I’m saying this sincerely, not sarcastically), I did nab a pretty freakin’ awesome SAT score and was courted by all the big names for college. I ended up going to a private Christian school in Iowa with less than 5,000 students… but that’s where I met my husband. Landing the job as his wife is the thing that makes me wonder how on earth I was qualified enough to do that. :) Now I’m a SAHM who is most concerned about meal planning, laundry, and figuring out how to get my PhD candidate husband to do his work without being a nag.

    I agree with your husband: our work as mothers to our daughters (and maybe someday sons) will be one of the greatest, most significant things we will do with our lives.

  3. Tang Bei:

    Dear “Tiger Mom”,

    As a fellow Asian American, your self-absorbed drivel appalls me. Your accomplishments, which occurred before adulthood, are mediocre at best, yet you insist on boring us with your inflated self assessments.

    If what you describe is considered “peaking too early,” then yes, you peaked too early, are a breeder, talk in cliches, and frankly, most of what you talk about gives me a headache.

  4. VB:

    I understand how you feel. I’m in a different position than you, but my early accomplishments do not match my current life.

    My job as a mom is no doubt important, but I see other classmates with more accomplished current lives and I can’t help but feel like the sore loser.

  5. Tang Bei:

    What a sad, lame, response.

    I send a legitimate reaction to your post, yet you cannot tolerate any critique!This, from someone who is supposedly so accomplished.

    You are more of a tiger kitten then a tiger mom, sweetheart.

    • Like I said, if you are so offended by my blog, please feel free to stop reading. *shrug* What do you expect me to say? I’m sorry that you feel the need to diss a complete stranger behind the anonymity of the internet for writing HER thoughts on HER blog? Thank you for judging me by the small slice of what I choose to share online?

      Just to be clear, I never said I was a Tiger Mom. I have stated that I have some traits of a Tiger Mom, but I do not consider myself one. Nor was I raised by a Tiger Mom — my parents NEVER pushed me to study, practice, etc. Rare, I know, but it’s the complete truth (and I have my sister to back me up on this).

      Since you were so quick to reply, I can only assume that you are a troll and not respond to any of your future comments. And if you continue to harass me, I will block you…because just as you have the right to not read my blog, I have the right to block whoever the hell I want. :-) Have a good night!

  6. If you are an ambitious person, can’t you accomplish more once your children are older (like schoolage)? I think Nancy Pelosi (highest ranking US female politician in history) and Sandra Day O’Connor (first female supreme court justice) were housewives when their children were small. Being a SAHM is not a permanent job: after all, you are trying to make yourself obsolete (by training your kids to be independent).

    So don’t feel bad about yourself: you are just on a temporary break and soon will begin your peaking again!

    • I have been thinking about this too. :-) I’ve actually read that some women improve their careers after having kids because they learn, through their children, essential skills such as multitasking, negotiating, etc which they are then able to apply to their jobs.

      And since I have been thinking about returning to work, maybe I will accomplish more, career-wise, in the future. I’m only worried that my drive will not be as strong because I have always had some trouble compartmentalizing the most important things in my life — and as such, my mind may always be on the kids while I’m at work!

  7. I’m only 24, but sometimes I feel like this too. I did/accomplished a lot in high school, and somewhere along the way in college I stopped doing so much. I’m not sure why – there’s so much more I should have done, but since high school I haven’t done anything remarkable. I just finished my teaching credential, but sometimes that feels like more of a punishment than an accomplishment, especially since I’m now unemployed since finishing school. That’s weird – it’s hard to be successful when the extent of my average day is cleaning and cooking.

    Hopefully we both look back in 20 years and feel differently… but right now, sometimes, it’s hard to think I will!

  8. Yes! Totally! I won’t go into what I have done or have not done, but I do feel this way. Plus, I am older than you and I have the pressure to have children (not from myself but from society. When you’ve been married for a certain period of time and have not had kids people start to look at you funny). The only thing that keeps me going is that I know that not everyone’s path in life is the same. Not everyone has achieved what they have wanted in their 20’s or even their 30’s. Hopefully, God-willing, my life will be long, and there will be a time and season for everything.

  9. Jan:

    I hope my post doesn’t come of as trollish as the one above me. But I feel sad when I read statements like “Meanwhile, having children and raising them, being a good mother and a wife and a daughter — that is what is more important to him and to our family, and that they far outweigh whatever I may have done in the past”. No offense to J, but if he decided to take a few years off work to take care of your kids while you went back to work, would he consider this to be true for himself too? I am not dissing moms who only take care of kids, but taking care of Claire and Baby Deux does NOT outweigh your impressive achievements in high school and college. It pains me when obviously talented people like you stop working after having kids. Is this the message you want to give to your daughters? Study and work hard so that one day you can take care of your kids?

    I know I may be stepping out of my bounds with this comment, but this is an issue that is close to my heart. Taking care of children is hard work, but it is hard work that the father must also do. I see so many men who want their wives to stay at home because they don’t want to do any any extra work in taking care of their kids. I don’t know know if that is the case in your home. I honestly don’t think you have peaked yet and you have a lot more time to achieve more in the coming years

    • No, not trollish at all. :-) What you’ve written are completely valid points.

      In our situation, J would actually would not mind at all if he were to give up his career to raise the kids. The only thing standing in the way is our finances; not only is he in a a field that has the potential to make much more money, he earns more than twice what I was making. I really have no doubt that if I could find a job that pays even close to what he makes, he would quit and be a stay-at-home-dad. (And he admits it, as we’ve seriously considered him being a stay-at-home-dad.)

      Yes, it’s true that I can always go back to work and leave the kids at a daycare, or a nanny. But we firmly believe that no matter how great of a caretaker, he/she/they will never raise our children with the amount of love that we can. At least in the first few years of their lives. (And I am not looking down on anyone who leaves their children in the care of others — this is just what we have decided as a family. And this is also a big reason I am still hesitating to go back to work.)

      On a more personal note — and I’m sure that I’m not the only parent who feels this way — I made a conscious decision to make certain sacrifices when I became a parent, and one of these sacrifices include a career. Yes, I have moments of doubt here and there (as is apparent in this post), but I am sure that I am not the only SAHM who wonders “What if.” To me, and to J, our children’s health, happiness and growth are more important than our careers. We realize not everyone feels this way, but it’s true for us.

      As for the question you raised about whether if this is the message we want to give our daughters, we only want them to know that they have a choice. Just as I made the choice to be a SAHM (who may or may not return to work), they have the choice to go on and have high-flying careers, or choose to marry early and have kids. Yes, we want them to succeed, but ultimately, we just want them to be happy.

      • Jan:

        I do agree that nannies and daycare can never replace a parent. My mother was SAHM when we were growing up and she gave up her career when I was born. She often wondered about the “What ifs” like you do. But seeing her sacrifice everything for family, I told myself I would never give up doing something I love for anyone. But I don’t have kids yet, so maybe it is just famous last words :)

        Even if you don’t go back to work fulltime, I hope you will atleast take some time off to create some art. I have seen a few that you put up on your blog a couple years back (some sketches and a New Year card) – you are really talented. Good luck!

  10. Sunny:

    Ewww, what is up with the Tang troll? Anyway, just like there are different kinds of intelligence, there are different kinds of achievements so to each their own in what makes you feel accomplished. I feel like I peaked too early as well and it’s been a downward curve from there. Oh wells! Something to consider though, after high school we get lumped into smaller elite circles where it’s harder to be at the top. Like at Hopkins where everyone were achievers at their high schools. And then at law school for me, where everyone were achievers at their colleges. =P

  11. Jen:

    I like how you responded to Tang. Very calm, composed, and rational! Nice contrast to his or her unnecessary vitriol.

  12. kristin:

    No. You did not peak too early (do we peak?!?!). Those are some amazing accomplishments, but think about it this way: those were opportunities for young people. Those kinds of opportunities don’t exist for people our age. There’s no fancy groups to join or internships to be had.

    I’ve often wondered the same thing. I busted my butt in high school/college only to be slightly unhappy with my job a decade later and yearning to go home and spend time with my daughter.

    So I agree with your husband. Being a great mom is definitely a big task to fulfill. It’s not the met, but it’s her future you’re shaping.

  13. Juliette:

    I’ve often wondered the same thing about myself and my accomplishments. I always joke that I peaked in 7th grade. I went to school in Korea (until 2nd grade) so I was pushed pretty hard early on. Even in 1st and 2nd grades, I stayed up until 1am memorizing multiplication tables, doing drills, etc. I remember I was doing 7 different extra curricular activities as a 2nd grader and was so exhausted that my nose would often bleed. Then, when I moved to the States, I obviously excelled in math and I applied my studying/memorizing skills (that were honed early on) to my school work and got straight A’s and won many awards as well. When I got into high school though, I was already burnt out and didn’t want to really study anymore. I’m not sure how I got into Hopkins but I didn’t really even study at Hopkins either. Only when I got into grad school @ Columbia did I get really good grades. It took me like 15 years to recover from being burnt out!

    I think it’s such a shame that in the US being a SAHM is not glorified as it is in other countries. For instance in Japan, women take SO much pride in being a SAHM and being the best at being a mom. Even the bentos they make for their kids are so freaking elaborate. They take their jobs pretty freaking seriously. For the time being, I take being a SAHM pretty seriously and often find myself being obsessed with everything anything about raising Alina. But like you, I often wonder if there is more to life than being a SAHM. Life would be so simple if I wasn’t so educated and didn’t want so much for myself and family. I want to be content and be happy too but I always want more. We’ll see what that mean and I’m sorry I’m kinda just rambling. I like the questions that you bring up and I think that random Tang Bei person needs to shut the fuck up, get a life, and stop being so disrespectful.

  14. Well, I’ve never been a Mom, but I think motherhood and career are a bit like apples and oranges, it’s not like one outweights the other, and there’s a time and place for each of them.

    I’m sure Caire and Bebe Deux feel like a lot of work right now, but in a few years, they’ll be off to school and you’ll be building on top of the accomplishments you’ve already got. ;)

  15. Asha:

    Hi Geek in Heels!
    I just came across your blog yesterday and while I am a ‘newly-wed’ and have no IDEA about kids or raising them, somehow I have been fascinated enough to comb through your blog! First up, a giant kudos about providing a realistic insight into being a mother, while we are nowhere near prepared enough to bring lil ones into the picture its nicer to have a realistic idea of what I’ll have to face when that day comes around. Now, regarding this entry, I would just like to share a story that someone passed onto a friend of mine who has two kids of her own, I have a feeling that it may help you:

    The Invisible Mother

    It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the
    way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and
    ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on
    the phone?’

    Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or
    sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner because no
    one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The Invisible Mom. Some days I am
    only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this?
    Can you open this??

    Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a
    clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What
    number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30,
    please.’

    Some days I’m a crystal ball: ‘Where’s my other sock? Where’s my phone?
    What’s for dinner?’

    I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the
    eyes that studied history, music and literature–but now, they had
    disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going,
    she’s going, and she’s gone!

    One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
    friend from England . She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and
    she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting
    there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was
    hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty
    pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and
    said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of
    Europe . I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her
    inscription: ‘With admiration for the greatness of what you are building
    when no one sees.’

    In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would
    discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after
    which I could pattern my work: 1) No one can say who built the great
    cathedrals–we have no record of their names.
    2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see
    finished.
    3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
    4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes
    of God saw everything.

    A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
    cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny
    bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are
    you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be
    covered by the roof, No one will ever see it And the workman replied,
    ‘Because God sees.’

    I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was
    almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you. I see the
    sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.”

    No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake
    you’ve baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small
    for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but
    you can’t see right now what it will become.

    I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As
    one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see
    finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The
    writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever
    be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to
    sacrifice to that degree.

    When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend
    he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My Mom gets up at 4
    in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a
    turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That
    would mean I’d built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to
    come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend,
    he’d say, “You’re gonna love it there…”

    As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
    doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will
    marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been
    added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

    The Will of God will never take you where the Grace of God will not
    protect you.

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