The majority of people are destined for what approximates an average life, by definition, and we need to learn that this is okay, that there is still plenty to gain from this, and that it is still possible to have a good life.
Before we get too far into this, I’m not saying people shouldn’t aim high or aspire for greatness. I just wanted to explore a few things around the misguided idea that everyone can and should be extraordinary and how this type of thinking is leading people to have miserable lives.
When I was thinking of what topic to write about this week, I was racked with the need to find something remarkable to talk about and that it must be researched and written exceptionally (to be fair, this happens every week for me haha). For the most part I’m relatively kind to myself and forgiving for not writing Pulitzer Prize nominees every week and the topics vary in content and seriousness. I know my writing is still in its infancy, but I don’t have a nationally syndicated column and that is okay. I don’t have a best seller on the New York Times list and that is okay. I don’t have thousands of people reading my stuff every week and that is okay. By a number of metrics, I am not exceptional and that is okay.
Now, it would be hypocritical of me to sit here and preach about accepting my alleged mediocrity because I’m not one who being average sits well with. It’s a real inner conflict of mine which I might save for another post as it’s quite complex (do you even know me? haha). I try and balance the “stop trying to achieve things beyond you” and the “you are more than you think” mentalities and it’s not easy, but enough of me, let’s move on.
The idea that everyone can be great is setting people up for disappointment, issues of self-worth, depression, anxiety and so on, as it is impossible. If the population is normally distributed (think: Bell Curve) like it is widely accepted, then your Michael Jordan’s of the world would fall in the category of two or three standard deviations above the mean i.e. somewhere in the top 0.15-2.50% of the population. This means that at least 97.5% of the population would not be in this category. Think of it another way, it’s like how everyone thinks they’re above average drivers, it’s a logical fallacy, as everyone can’t be above average.
Now, this is not to dampen your spirits (although it might), but it is supposed to lift the burden of expecting an unlikely outcome. Similar to the Stoic conception of "Memento Mori", how the acknowledgement of our own mortality and inevitability of death liberates us to approach and embrace life, in a strange way this too can liberate us from the shackles of unrealistic otherworldly achievement and remind us that there is still something to gain from a less than extraordinary outcome. If we have this constant need and expectation to be exceptional then we may not give things a go or we may be incredibly critical of ourselves and others for our supposed shortcomings and reach points of self-hatred or loathing. Even if you do become exceptional, expertise is non-transferable, that is, it is generally only in one domain of competence.
I’m just full of the joys of spring today…no wait, it’s winter and overcast and raining.
Please, people, I’m not saying don’t pursue your dreams – it’s okay to have ambitions, even big ones – just understand the likelihood of achieving them and be aware of what it will take. Society is moved forward by exceptional people, and a number of us want to be those exceptional people, but only a very small percentage get to make Einsteinian-like discoveries and there are many factors involved in achieving such outcomes. I’m still trying to convince myself that I don’t have to be exceptional. I’m even wearing a shirt with a quote from philosopher Alan Watts which ends in “…yet everyone rushes around as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
You can be a good writer, a good plumber, a good teacher, a good athlete, a good parent – and that is good enough. An ordinary life IS good enough.