Shortly after college, I had a passing interest learning chess and I used to watch videos of chess games with commentary by Josh Waitzkin. At a young age, Josh played at a very high level and the expectation at the time was that he would go on to be the next Bobby Fischer (which inspired the title of the movie about his life). He did go on to be quite talented but never became a world champion, which he was fine with as me moved on to gaining mastery in other things as well. We tend to assume that when we see someone accelerating in mastery at a young age, they will continue that pace of growth forever, which is why we are so enamored by child prodigies. But this rate of growth eventually leads to some peak. For some, they do become the greatest, but for most they don’t reach the height everyone assumed was a given.
We often see parents putting children through tremendous pressure to become great early, sometimes even against the desire of the children. And while it’s true that childhood is a good time to practice becoming excellent, it’s not a guarantee of becoming world-class nor is it the only time one can become the best. Life is far more complex than any one pursuit. Parents absolutely should encourage dreams and hard work even when it feels frustratingly difficult, but this isn’t the only time we can develop excellence.
Often times parents apply this pressure because they think it’s too late for them, but it’s not. Most of us were not child prodigies, but it’s never too late to pursue mastery.