The Wall Street Journal’s blog carried an article yesterday about Samir Patel, a participant in the 2007 Spelling Bee.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I am besotted with the Bee, or should I say Bee-sotted. I tape and watch the finals every June. I love all things Bee-related. I watched “Akeelah and the Bee” sitting on the edge of my seat. I stood, shivering on a cold winter day, in a seemingly endless line for tickets to the Broadway show.
I also root for every Indian (or Indian American) kid in the contest. So it was not surprising that I was very disappointed when Samir Patel dropped out in the final few rounds in the 2007 Bee. Samir was the favorite, a shy, chubby little boy who was a star performer in the previous two Bees. Samir was the unlucky twelve-year-old who had narrowly missed victory in 2006, and was fated to miss it again in 2007.
Did I say unlucky? Well, apparently, not everyone thinks so. The WSJ article says “Samir Patel is destined to be remembered as the Dan Marino of the national spelling bee.” For context, Dan Marino was the Hall of Fame quarterback who never won a Super Bowl for his football team. He was to the NFL what Sachin Tendulkar may be to cricket – his unquestionable greatness has not (yet) translated into a World Cup for India.
Saying “Dan Marino” carries with it the taint of “it could have been”. It involves accusations like “did not live up to his full potential” and sentences starting with “for all his greatness”.
But great people are not necessarily the most successful ! Success involves much more than greatness – it involves luck, circumstances and fate too. Success involves never having a bad day at the wrong time. We know all this, but somehow we suspend all these rules for the great and the talented.
Why do we treat our great men (and women and children) so badly? Why do we set impossible standards for them, and taint them with failure when they do not achieve those standards? Is it because we want to see them win every time? I guess we would like them to have the perfect careers that we ourselves can never hope for. We would like to idolize them, in a world where true idols are getting increasingly rare.
As I was writing this blog, I was watching Sachin get the “Man of the Match” award in today’s cricket match. The questions were not about Sachin’s excellent batting in the game, which helped India win the series against Pakistan. Instead, the questions were about why he missed his century. You see, we would have liked Sachin to score a century and win the match; and we are probably more disappointed than he himself is. We have just watched a great game, but it fell short of what would have been an ideal game.
Merely being great is just not good enough.