Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Achievement Exhaustion

"She's got all these degrees. She's a doctor. She's a surgeon. And she's here [Richlands, Virginia mobile trailer park]."
"I've got one year of community college. I know why I'm here. I look at her, wondering, 'Why are you not working somewhere else?'"
"I want a normal relationship."
Jamie Looney, fiance

"I don't want to be normal. Normal is not quite right. Normal is not excelling. That's why they call it normal."
"I'm very misunderstood because I look at the world differently. You can call it the Olympian mentality."
"I guess I'm somewhat under-achieving. Olympian mentality is rough because you just get frustrated with how everybody does everything. Everything needs to be done with excellence."
Debi Thomas, African-American Olympian figure skater
Former Olympian Debi Thomas is now broke and jobless. Credit: Steve Mack/FilmMagic

"She wanted and expected to be treated like a star. She would argue back. It was almost like she was contrarian, like she was trying to argue with everything I do."
Lawrence Dorr, Dorr Arthritis Institute, Los Angeles

This woman was an astonishingly capable high achiever. But then, she comes from a family for whom achievement was simply normal. In 1939 her grandfather attended Cornell University where he achieved a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Her mother was a pioneering computer engineer and her brother received a bachelor's degree in physics from University of California followed by a master's in business from Stanford University.

She was right behind them in pursuing her own professional future studying at Stanford, then on to medical school at Northwestern University to become an orthopedic surgeon and simultaneously training for the Olympics. She achieved her medical degree, she competed in the Olympics and she has medals from the World Figure Skating Championships and the Olympics. And she is now 48 years old, twice divorced, and no longer sees her son or the rest of her family.

She is, it appears, sick and tired of achieving. Why not? She has managed to achieve in her yet-young lifetime far more than most people could ever dream of. She has her demons to contend with. Her prickly personality has not endeared her to any of the people she has interacted with either in her profession of medicine or her brilliant avocation of competitive sport. "I've never lasted anywhere more than a year", she notes.
debi skating
American figure skater Debi Thomas performs her long program during the women's competition 27 February 1988 in Calgary at the Winter Olympic Games. JEROME DELAY/AFP/Getty Images

She has long since left her life of celebrity and accomplishment in both areas behind. Her medical license has expired. She has not worked in the health field or skated for quite some time. It has all been abandoned; she is a person of great talent who has alienated herself from her previous life. Her early plans to become an astronaut will never now be realized.

She is as close to penniless as it is possible to be, yet another American who has no health insurance, and who has gone through bankruptcy proceedings.

She lives now in rural Virginia, in a trailer, with a new partner, along with his two young boys. She says she enjoys her present life, without the pressure of a woman of colour having to be a role model as a spectacularly high achiever. She feels that where she lives now, the people are genuine and generous and she appreciates that. And the landscape, well, she appreciates that too: "I didn't know we even had this beauty in this country".

She is where she is because this is where she wants to be, she says. "I'm free. Don't you get it?"

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