Back in 1998 when I first started to train racehorses I did very well at it. Better than anyone expected, and relative to the stock I had, better than most could do.
As time went on, I still did well, but not as well as I should have. I have some theories on that, and all of them are somewhat valid, but mostly it boils down to one thing. But more on that later.
After a while of winning way more than my share with very ordinary horses, I ran into several problems. Among them was that I didn't have my own place to stable, or adequate money or time to do what I needed to do. There was also the fact that I am very honest and horse training in today's day and age involves a bit of cheating to succeed. But mostly, the reality was, I sabotaged myself. I raced the horses above where they could be truly competitive and make the most money, and ultimately win races. Why would I do that? Bottom line is, as I started to do well, others wanted me to train horses for them, and the expectations that brought on me was not something I was prepared to deal with. By not doing as well as I was capable of, I solved that problem. This was not the first time I had done this, but more about that later.
When I was young, I was an active child. Not the kind running around the house always bouncing off the walls. That wasn't me. I did do all sorts of physical activities, but mostly it was my mind that was always going. To some extent, that has never changed.
I remember one thing in particular and one thing later in my early teens that bore this out.
Like most boys I had toy Cowboys and Indians. Like most boys, I played with them and my friends, and we chose sides and fought mock wars. But after the playmates went home, I didn't stop. My playmates were good kids, fun kids, but they weren't me. They could not create major story lines, name the characters, create elaborate war scenes and progressions like I could. So, after they went home, I did that for myself. I had a creative side at a very early age that has persisted to this day.
In addition to being creative, I was also always really good at math. I liked to also figure stuff out, and keep track of things. Many times I remember as a child being told "One day you will be an accountant" and "you should be a statistician when you grow up". I could have been both of those things, as I am more than capable and competent at both of those professions, to this day.
But I didn't want to do it for a living, and I made that clear to anyone who asked. I have always been creative and wanted to write and create stories, as I did with the Cowboys and Indians. I have always liked keeping track of things and figuring them out, but for a personal interest, not as a career. So ended any career path in those directions very early on.
Being a young Jewish boy in the early 70s, it was commonplace to find the kids talent and foster that with an eye to becoming a professional. My major natural talent was Math. I am very good at math and I always have been.
During elementary school I would write creative stories and they were very good. But I was never rewarded for that. They were dismissed as just something I could do. If I did well at math I got praise for that. I never wanted it, but I got it anyway.
One day in grade 3, they gave special tests to determine skills that certain children possess. As would naturally happen, I scored very high on math. I was in grade 3 but I had a better than grade 6 level already.
A week or so later, my parents showed up at school and we met in the Principals office. I had no idea what this was about, but when I got there it was clear what was going on. Because of my elevated level of math ability, I was to be taken out of my grade 3 class, and away from all of my friends who I played sports and recess with, and moved to a special class for gifted kids.
I said okay to this, because that is what my teachers and parents wanted, but I never wanted it. Being a smart kid, even at that age I was crafty enough to know how to get out of such a predicament on my own.
When I got to the new class, I basically tanked any test I took until they decided that it was a mistake and moved me back. When I got back to my math class for Grade 3 I made sure to never score higher than average so I would not stand out again. That original test I had taken just looked like a fluke now and they left me alone.
That is until grade 7, when we had moved and I was now in a different town, different school and had all new teachers.
I guess I wanted to show how smart I was in this new setting and environment, so I was the new kid with all the answers. The teachers took note. Again, it came time to take the assessment tests. This time though, I was ready for this and wasn't stupid. I made sure I tanked the assessment test. How did I do this?
I basically skipped one line and then by doing that got every answer wrong on one whole page, thereby lowering my score to average at best, maybe even lower than average.
Because they noticed what I had done (I wasn't as crafty as I first had thought) they made me take the test again. This time, I answered on the right lines, but I deliberately got enough wrong to make sure I was just a bit above average, but not special. Problem solved, and they left me alone.
Two years later, we moved again. New town, new school, new teachers.
One of my favorite teachers, and one I remember the most, was Mrs. Rubin, the math teacher. Unlike a lot of math teachers, she taught all grades, from grade 9 up to grade 12. We came across each other multiple times over the 5 years I was in high school. I also had many connections with Mrs. Rubin.
Firstly, while she was not a beauty queen, she was an attractive woman and I had a bit of a crush on her. Second, her daughter was best friends with my cousin. So I would come across Mrs. Rubin at some of the functions for my cousin and her brothers and sisters.
Mrs. Rubin was not your average teacher. She was very sharp, and recognized how good I was at math. Since I had that crush on her, I was eager and motivated to please. When a question was asked, I always had the answer ready and put up my hand. At all times through all years, she knew who I was. She knew how smart I was.
However, when it came time for the test, I would only score just above average. One day she made me stay after class and asked me what was going on. I said I didn't know, but I did, and I knew she did. She ended up letting it go. We never really spoke about it again.
As the years went by, she would mention on some occasions that I was the smartest kid she ever taught who got the worst grades and how frustrating that was for a teacher.
So what had happened? I had learned to stop trying halfway, so I would not be moved out of the element that I enjoyed, which was being with my friends.
As my life has progressed and I reflect on that, it is clear to me that I have never stopped doing that. No matter where my natural talent takes me, I always tank on some level so I don't fall into that trap.
I can think of many examples of this. When I was young, I was also a very good baseball player. A pitcher. I could throw harder than anyone and I was better than most. I was scouted young and it was expected I could be drafted if I stayed on track. With that kind of ability came large expectations. Being on the stubborn side as well, I ignored the advice that I should not pitch too much and ruin my arm, which is exactly what I ended up doing. By doing this, in retrospect, I was ensuring that I didn't have to get to the point where performance was expected of me.
In University, I had the goal to be a professional basketball coach, and I was on track for that. When I graduated, I had opportunities to pursue that, but instead I took the easy route and began working for my uncle running his factory. When that blew up two years later, I blamed him for ruining my chance to be a coach, but the reality is that I sabotaged myself again and only have myself to blame in retrospect.
The trap for me is fear of expectation. As soon as I show my natural talent, things become expected of me. Those things are not always want I want to do, so I hold back and deliberately don't achieve my full potential. I find ways to sabotage my true level of achievement.
As I move forward with my new found passion (writing scripts), I have come to realize that I am doing it again.
In reality, no matter what I do, I stop just short of doing it to the level I actually can, and in many cases do not finish the projects I can, so I don't have to deal with the expectation that will come with that.
In life we hope that we learn from our mistakes so we don't repeat them. I am hoping, some 40 years later, that I have licked this problem and won't repeat the countless mistakes I have made along the way.