I had this gym teacher in high school who was a real hard-ass. We called him Mr. Mac.

He was the kind of guy who would make you do four laps around the school in the middle of winter if you were even two minutes late for his class.

But he inadvertently taught me one of the most valuable lessons of my life.


One day, we were in the weight room doing what people do in weight rooms (for me, standing around and talking).

Without explaining why, Mr. Mac decided to call us up one at a time and ask us what grade we wanted to get in his class, jotting down each person's answer.

"80...90...85...93..."

Each student would walk up, say his answer, and then rejoin the class.

Then my turn came.

"What grade do you want in this class?" he asked without looking up from his clipboard.

Now, before we continue, let me say that during the tail end of my high school years I wasn't exactly a model student: skipping class, clowning around, coasting through math on copied answers, and landing myself in the occasional trouble—just so you fully understand the seriousness of my answer.

"100," I shrugged.

"Everyone. Come here," Mr. Mac said in his usual stern voice. A circle formed.

"This is what everyone should be aiming for. Why would you only want 80 or 90 percent of anything? Braveen is the only one who said 100." He looked at me and nodded before dismissing us all.

Have you ever felt 25 people rolling their eyes at you?

"Fuck you, Braveen," said one of my classmates who thought I was full of shit.

I was. I didn't care what grade I got in P.E.

In fact, when it came to grades, I was pretty comfortable with mediocrity—70% is a glass more than half full by my standards back then.

But what I didn't realize was that this attitude would hold me back in a big way when it came to what I did care about:

Writing and putting my ideas out there.

I wasn't good at a lot of things growing up, but when it came to that, I did it every chance I got because, to me, it was fun flexing my imagination and having an audience.

It was fun spending months writing full-length plays and bringing them to a stage, hearing people laugh at jokes I wrote, penning poems, performing sketches, and writing essays.

It was the one thing I was frequently recognized for by my teachers and my peers.

I was otherwise "virtually unknown to the administration." 🥲

But I had a line I wouldn't cross: on the other side of it was taking writing too seriously.

The thing about underachieving is it feels great to do well when you don’t really try. But by contrast, it feels terrible to fall short after giving it your all to reach a goal.

Underachievers often choose 70 or 80 instead of 100 to leave ourselves room for the best excuse in the book: "I only failed because I wasn't really trying."

Underachievers often choose 70 or 80 instead of 100 to leave ourselves room for the best excuse in the book: "I only failed because I wasn't really trying."

We'll lower the bar so our goals are achievable, even if it might mean denying ourselves a better outcome.

If you achieve it, you feel good. If you exceed it, you feel great (for about 5 seconds if you're an underachiever, then you realize, "Oh shit, I have to do this again?").

Fall short though and, well, you're a failure and why the hell did you even bother?

It's a paradox that plagues a lot of young people. Some go their whole lives without ever overcoming it. It's much easier to choose to play a game you know you can win, even when the prizes aren't the ones you want.

So when it came time to grapple with the question of what I was going to do with the rest of my life at the tender age of 18, I was this-close to committing to a career as an English teacher despite my dreams of being a professional writer: the kind who left a body of work in his wake.

For some reason, being a teacher seemed safer and more realistic. Writing could be a hobby, I thought.

Even if I managed to navigate around all the broken dreams a career like this attracts, I'd been convinced the pay wasn't worth it. Plus, I didn't see many bylines like "Braveen Kumar" back then.

I'd probably be an English teacher right now, if it wasn't for a Writer's Craft teacher named Ms. Edwards who showed me all the paths I could take and all the jobs I could get as a writer, mostly in marketing and journalism.

Because of her, I chose 100 for the first time in mt life and I made up my mind: I was going to go all-in on being a professional writer, so I could make a living writing while funding my own art.

By my own estimates (and other peoples') I thought I'd be writing shit no one would read for $30-something-thousand a year at 30 years old.

It didn't help that when I shared my ambitions with most people, they'd react with the in-person equivalent of a lowercase "lol".

But at least I was directing all my efforts at something I could get behind:

  • I started a satirical blog where I would publish a piece of creative writing every week and jokes every day, whether they were funny or they flopped.
  • I took on any writing-related job that came up: resumes, essays, press releases, website copy, consulting, blog posts, grad school applications, and favours for friends, helping out on their projects.
  • I consumed everything I could that would help me improve my craft.
  • I pitched and wrote for whatever publications would accept my work.

In the process, I got a lot of invaluable real-world feedback—good, bad, and weird—from the total strangers who read my stuff:

Thanks, Mike 🙏🏾
braveen_kumar__writer
Some people were actually nice.

With a lot to gain and only time to lose, I poured myself into it. I didn't know how much effort it would take, so I gave it everything.

And then something happened.

I hit 100—at least relative to my low expectations.

I got my first job out of college as a "content marketer" in tech—it's what writers call themselves these days to get paid. I was getting a steady paycheque to do my favourite things: come up with ideas and write them into being.

A year and a half later, I landed the best job I could hope to get at what is now one of Canada's most valuable companies. I'd gone well past 100 when I only expected 70.

This sounds great. It was. It is. But for the first time in years, I didn't have a concrete goal anymore.

My "why?" had become "what now?"

I still felt the rumblings of my old hunger—to be a real writer—but I didn't need to feed it anymore. It was already well-fed, decently paid, and couldn't complain about its commute.

Here's the thing though: It's never good when your thoughts linger too long in the place of uncertainty that exists between answers.

Ambition without a personally meaningful direction eventually hollows you out and becomes restlessness and depression.

Despite everything, I was still afraid of failure and the helplessness it evokes, still afraid of success and the expectations it raises.

Looking back over the years, bit-by-bit I shrugged off my dreams in favour of a safer path: a career in marketing.

Without realizing it, I had ended up choosing 70 again.

My ambition gathered dust. I told myself that I'd outgrown it, that most writers eventually do. But I still lugged it around. every. single. day.

When you deny yourself something that is so central to your identity, it changes you. In choosing 70%, I also became 70% of who I really was.

I didn't realize this until recently when I forced myself to write this.

For two weeks, I sat down after work to at least stare at this page for an hour or two, no matter how exhausted I was from writing during the day.

For two weeks, I wrote and edited for free—for me.

And for two weeks, I felt more productive, happier, and more like myself because caring about something—really giving a shit—is contagious and will infect every part of your life.

So, here's the thing I've grown to accept:

A dream is the purpose woven into the very fabric of your life. It will ask a lot of you. Some people can ignore theirs and live happy lives. But the greater your ambition, the louder it is.

It's better to embrace it as a part of who you are.

That's why I finally published this: the first piece I've really cared to write in a very long time.

And it feels good.

Not because I think you'll like it, but because I can say it truly came from me.

So, going back to Mr. Mac (how the hell did we get here?), I think he had a point. Kind of.

I still don't give a shit about P.E.

But this? One hundred fucking percent 💯