The luxury of being average

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been preoccupied for the past two weeks.

Now and then, I wrestle with my fear of being average. I worry that I’ll live an average life that won’t be worth remembering and be just as good or worse than the person that came before. I always want to be better.

This is why I’m perplexed by people who are easy-going. They don’t hustle for anything and they are happy to just be. I’ve actually found them annoying. I can’t even look at someone who dropped out of school or escaped with a mere ‘pass’. I can hear some folks booing me now but I’m just being honest. I admit that till now, I find the motives of the Un-ambitious very difficult to process. However, my seeming annoyance has turned into envy because of my losing battle to be the best at everything. It’s left me permanently exhausted, ungrateful and sadly missing the point of life in general.

It can be argued with the nurture-nature debate. Was I born with a phobia for mediocrity (perceived mediocrity) or was I brought up to loathe it? It’s possibly a little of both. It’s a damning realisation that I can blame on every unpleasant experience I’ve ever had and every person who’s made me feel inadequate. But passing blame won’t help me now. All that matters is: I want to be content with my achievements and not look for the next mountain to climb at every turn.

A few lines from a song I love sums it up:

‘What good is it to gain the world but lose your soul? What good is it to make a sweet sound but remain proud?’

Part of the problem is depending on my ability to excel and forgetting where my true strength comes from. I don’t want to lose my soul – and God forbid that I be proud! I have to ask myself what I’m striving for and if my motives are in the right place. The world measures success by career advancement, wealth, looks and so on. Keeping up is overwhelming and I’m embarrassed that I try. There’s probably nothing wrong with being ambitious and successful. But it appears I’m not built for that kind of pressure. I get exhausted and I turn on myself, always my worst critic. So this week, I’ll be asking myself whether it’s so bad to be “average”, and whether what I’ve long considered to be a curse is really a luxury I should aspire to…

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Comments

  1. you are not AVERAGE!

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  2. Great post because in our society we are all told how great we are without true acheivement. The other side of that coin is the question of what is true acheivement. I have been there, always seeking direction and never know what I want to do when I grow up. Not a good question to ask as I near 50. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I think we are always our worst critic, I know I am. And I’m learning to build myself up more than tearing my own self down. I also believe when we were born on this earth, we were already unique, special, and destined for greatness; whether it be in a public forum or in a private one. We all have a purpose in life and it’s our job to figure out what that is. That’s always the hard part. Loved reading this.

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    • Thanks for understanding where I’m coming from. There needs to be that constant reminder I suppose. It’s hard as you say. Thanks for stopping by! K

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  4. I guess it depends on how you quantify success. I wouldn’t class myself one who is not ambitious, but I don’t appear to have an inbuilt desire to ‘beat’ someone else; not as a requirement to consider myself a success.

    I look at life and see so many with less than I have and thus find it very hard to justify wanting more than I have or looking to tomorrow when I could be focussing on what I have today.

    I guess it really depends on what ultimately will give you that feeling of contentment.

    Don’t be too harsh on yourself ;).

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    • I agree – it depends on one’s success criteria. It also comes down to culture in many respects. For instance, my Scandinavian friends measure their success mostly by family and friends. No matter how far away they go, they tend to come back to the exact same place they grew up. They are people above us and below us I suppose. But it depends on what factors one is considering.

      I will borrow a page from you and focus on TODAY. Thanks for stopping by, Mark :).

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  5. Hey babe, what a though provoking post… Everything you said completely resonates with me. I remember being in primary school and crying when I came fourth out of a class of thirty or so (because three people were better than me!). You’re right, it’s exhausting trying to be perfect. Having two kids has knocked some sense into me because I now accept that it’s okay not to be perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do mediocre. But I’m finally happy to be just imperfect me; who by the way is seen by my sons as the ‘bestest’ mummy in the whole wide world:-)

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    • You are the bestest mummy :-)! It’s hard keeping all the facets of our life together. I think it’s particularly hard for women. I’m considering acquiring a couple of clones…. one for work, one for home, one for school…

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  6. Don’t beat yourself up! Success means different thing to everyone. I know people who aren’t “rich” monetarily but are very successful in life, are able to enjoy the things that matter to them, and help others as well.
    What is an “achievement”? To some it is merely getting up and dressed in the morning.
    And then there’s the definition of “ambitious”. Does it mean a witch with a capital “B” who runs over everyone to get what she wants? Or does she know that she has to look out for her own opportunities, and grab them when they come.
    Sometimes just knowing when to stop and let things happen is the key.
    Let it happen.

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  7. Gosh, Kemi, you remind me so much of myself. Except I am older (I think by about 20 years) and I know that trying to excel at everything and not wanting and ordinary life is very wearing. I’ve said so many times how much I enjoy “average” people. I have wished I could settle for being average, as it has been my observation that average people enjoying their average lives are far happier than people like me. And guess what? I’ve turned out to be average after all. Not without striving and expecting to do something special, but never really achieving what I wanted to achieve. So now I’m realizing I’m average, and feel somewhat disgruntled about it.

    I’m trying to enjoy/accept my life as it is, but having unreasonable expectations of yourself is very hard to let go of. I’m sure you are your own worst critic. I know I am. Just try to work on being happy in the moment, and let go of that inner critic. There are lots of books and courses, etc., on how to accept yourself and be less critical, and I would strongly urge you, as a very critical person myself, to try to let go of that aspect of yourself. You will (I think) be far, far happier if you do.

    For me, the critical self has carried over into relationships and it’s not much fun for the other person, that much I know. You will be a much kinder person, too (again, I think this from my own experience) if you drop the critic and just accept life as it is, moment by moment, and choose to be happy in the moment. Being perfect, being achievement-oriented, all those things are fleeting and you must reinvent these things again and again to gain satisfaction from them, but choosing to be happy and disengaging the inner critic can be a lifelong gain that you and those you love will truly benefit from.

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    • I meant to say “envy” not “enjoy” average people! Freudian slip?!

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    • First of all, I doubt that you are average. I think people who are not average are the ones that worry about being average. I don’t think I’m average – it’s the worry that if I relax and stop pushing or learning, I’ll then be “average”. It’s a bizarre paradox but I agree that average people are the happiest people. The wealthiest and smartest are looking for ways to be more of that and the lowly are surviving on little. So it’s the guys in the middle that are happiest!

      Sigh, I’ll probably never save the world but hopefully, there’ll be some interesting things to remember about me. Perhaps the people I loved will remember how much I loved them and that will remain with them for the long haul.

      Your words are always insightful. Thank you. 🙂

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  8. Jennifer says:

    Me thinks this is perfectly normal and OK. And by the way I think we are all great achievers if we look through what I will call the right lens/telescope; counting our achievements and all the things we have been through- e.g developing a career whist having kids and nuturing your family….it takes great balance, guts and grace to achieve those.

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    • I knew you’d get it:-).
      Sometimes it’s not quite in balance though. In trying to get ahead, other things can suffer. This is what I’m finding anyway…

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  9. Somehow I think that if you are concerned about being average- it tells me you are not. That you write about it further verifies this. And what is average? Is it not different for each of us. I think I worry more about mediocrity than being average.:)

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    • Hi Jo, yeah, I guess it’s different. It depends where we set the bar. Are being mediocre and being average the same thing? Hmm, I’d thought it was. Great to meet you, Jo! And I love your blog :-).

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  10. nflsportfans says:

    best wish to you!

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  11. you arent average!!!

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  12. I think you might be surprised by how few people actually think of others as “average” . There’s always some more specific description that can be used and that comes from each persons individuality. The number of people who actually reach “the top” are very few indeed and often pay a high price. The older you get the less life is about possessions as a measue of achievement and more about experiences and a holistic approach to life. The sad thing is it takes many of us too long to realise that. If you are realigning your view of your life to cut yourself some slack when measured against what others expect or your own high standards then that’s not such a bad thing. Having high standards is not a bad thing, either. 🙂

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  13. Kemi dear
    Single Malt Monkey’s lady wife here on his log-on. This is a wonderful honest, beautiful piece of philosophical writing – I felt you were reading my heart and mind. This is not advice, its a plea – please stop judging yourself so harshly – you are incredible. When I get in this mindset (too often), Max Ehrmann’s wise words from Desiderata come back to me through the gloom of introspection. Hope they offer you some solace or insipiration …

    “Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be.
    And whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life,
    keep peace in your soul.
    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

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    • Your words are very kind, Mrs. SMM. I loved that you took time to encourage me. Thank you very very much. I guess the first step (realisation) is complete. All I have to do now is change :-)…

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  14. I’ve only recently come to believe that most (if not all) of the people we deem to be successful got a lucky break along the way. Not that they aren’t smart, talented, and hard-working — but you can be all of those things and still fall short of your goals. Very often it comes down to things we have no control over. Then there’s always the worthwhile objective of helping someone else who might need a lucky break of their own. You’ll never feel like a failure, or even average, for helping another human being. And if it’s true that “the world measures success by career advancement, wealth, looks and so on,” then the world has got it wrong. But I think you already know better than that. I agree with your other readers: an average person could never have written this post.

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    • Whoo, I never thought about helping others quite that way – and you’re right. It’s always refreshing to deflect attention from ourselves to others.

      And yeah, part of my rude awakening is discovering I don’t have “super powers” and so I can’t really control anything…. Except my attitude, perhaps :-).

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  15. i believe that being “average” depends up on the place that you are at….!! if you are amongst Shakespeare s and Einstein s,being an average just means being normal.. 😛 but from your posts it definitely seems are you are multitasking and in no way just an “average”….and the thing is that no matter what you do, if you aint an average you will never be an average, even if you try to be one..! 😛 because of what you are and what is in your blood (its just a phrase that we use in our country!!)… n more over its good to push the limits and strive for perfection…but at times it better to take a break, stop worrying about loosing your potential and then again come back with a blast… well then again, its just my thought… 😉

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    • Hi Ch, It’s finding the balance – I agree :-). And we use the phrase, ‘It’s in your blood’ in my home country too!!! 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

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  16. Instead of worrying about being average, just be the best that you can be, and still be happy.

    Perfection is impossible, and over-rated.

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  17. I bumped into your blog via linkedin and boy what a pleasant surprise. Thought provoking post I must say and well written too. Have you ever wondered what got you to think about being successful? when did this thought start? were you always like this? Did things change during school? During university? the reason it is worth exploring that question is to understand what was the initial impetus that made you so driven and motivated. The other thing is psychological nature of success.

    There are two aspects to it. the social aspect and Soul/ Internal aspect. The social aspect is the perception of society’s perception and value of you. The internal aspect is what makes you feel good which is usually looking at your acheivement through the prism of your value system and personality.

    The conflict that arises between balancing professional, personal life is sometimes due to a conflict between the social valuation and internal valuation of your choice. Understanding this is important because it is what causes tension when you have to make choices with life. One thing we can be certain is life will force you to make decisions.

    Personally I found a very interesting framework when I heard Doris Kearns Goodwin a presidential historian talking about the lives of US presidents and understanding what made them happy. i’ll leave that url for http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCQQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ted.com%2Ftalks%2Fdoris_kearns_goodwin_on_learning_from_past_presidents.html&ei=agcoTsS2Ac-JrAeG7ZSiCQ&usg=AFQjCNFTZqTH4gzV7rVyTRqqAqh6U1JLyw&sig2=0BCWm07D5c2NUj2ousyBhw

    you to listen.

    Ciao

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    • Thank you, KK. I’ve now watched the video and what an inspiration, indeed! I have something to think about, as you ask when all this started. I believe I grew up to believe that being average is not good enough. I’m working to remove an image that has been stuck in my head for as long as I can remember. It’s one of disapproving irritation on the face of someone that I very much wanted to please… I’ll mention you in my last post for the month as I revisit this, with the hope of closure. I hope you can back again soon. I’m glad you stopped by! 🙂

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  18. Wow! Way to make me think! I’m going to be completely cliche and throw two of my favorite quotes ever out there:

    “I’d rather have my soul in tact than the suit of clothes I wear.” -Some Matheson short story.
    “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.” -I don’t know who this is. But I love it.

    What makes us extraordinary, above average, is the strength of our character, not the size of our home or paycheck. Fame does not equal a good life or positive influence, despite what our society may try to inflict upon our consciousness. The strength of our character is what others will remember about us, whether that’s five people or three million. That being said, it’s always good to be trying to improve in all areas of our lives. Family, self, career, social. What builds our character is that perpetual work. When we become apathetic we actually start backsliding. But work towards something good yields happiness and self-satisfaction. As long as we’re doing it for the right reasons. It’s soooo hard not to get caught up in the goal as opposed to enjoying the journey!

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    • Hmm, I really like, ‘if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.’ It’s finding the balance as you allude to… I’m almost there. Thanks for stopping by! K

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  19. Kemi, you’ve never been average. Being too laid back also has its cons so don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can do and don’t stretch yourself thin. You’ll only end up being tired all the time!

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Trackbacks

  1. […] year ago, It would have been a much harsher, irritated tone. I wrote the letter following my post, The luxury of being average and after listening to a TED talk by the historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. She spoke about the […]

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  2. […] 7. Posts I’m most proud of . . . (1) Arguably the right side of 30 & (2) The luxury of being average […]

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  3. […] blog for a while, you may remember one of my popular blog posts back in July 2011 titled, ‘The luxury of being average‘. Here is an excerpt from […]

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