Why Are We So Afraid of Being Average?

Why Are We So Afraid of Being Average?

The history, scare tactics, and reasoning behind why no one likes "average."


Lets be honest, being average has never sounded like a good thing. Well, I'm sick of it. Sick of the inspirational quotes and anti-motivational speeches about the idea of being "average." 95% of the world is average, soooooo that leaves few people reading those messages. The adjective always held guilt, a powerful undertone of current disappointment and higher expectations. It always signaled you could have been better, done better, said better. It made us feel inadequate, but adequacy has nothing to do with it. Average is exactly adequate. And while it's reputation is not a "positive one", it doesn't have to be made true.

The negative association began once people transformed from a past ideal of "fitting in" to the contrary action of "setting apart" - doing anything they could to stick out in a crowd. Being different came into fashion. It caught on at full speed. In fact, so many people are striving to be anything BUT average that average in itself is nearing an obsolete term. No one wants to be referred as it, no one wants to admit to it, and no one wants to feel it. People regard themselves as being terrible or terrific, they succeed or they fail an the black and white world becomes stronger.

So back to the point; why am I, and so many other people, afraid of being "average?" hmmm....let's see.

Whether you had pushy parents, bossy teachers, competitive siblings, or your own innate desire to be the best, average was a word to run from. I'm sure it stems from many things, but common characteristics of the 20th and 21st century have affected us all. Unfortunately they are so present that often they go unnoticed.

As children we grow up believing that striving for success is the answer to being praised. It starts with popcorn reading in elementary school - the fastest reader and the slowest are always easy to pin point and the rest? The rest are in between. Through school we continue to get graded, the bad grades and the great grades and the ones in between. Those ones? They are normal. For those who choose to participate in sports, arts, dancing, or music, we get tested here too. Members strive to learn and grow, which is great, but in the process of that fight, they forget why they started in the first place. The ones who do not perform well are more likely to quit and those who excel will foster a reputation and gain attention. What about the rest? They are average. The ones in between are never the last ones out the door, nor are they the first. They are not being punished for their terrible behavior or being rewarded for the outstanding. But, that doesn't, and shouldn't, be viewed as "bad." Not at all. Everyone is average in some way yet we still do our best to be unassociated with its use. Avoiding the skill or activity altogether becomes the preferred course of action. We would rather quit, walk away, or not try at all than risk doing poorly. Better yet, we would rather resist than risk being "average."

It's funny to me, even as I write this, considering my personal struggle with this word and an overall pursuit of perfectionism. Since I can remember I have lived with a sense of urgency and I've always allowed it to determine my state of mind. The combination of a competitive nature, rocky self esteem and fear of uncertainty created my own inner monster. A critic that demanded success and hated the idea of "average," worked hard to avoid it at all costs. Truly, I had a hard time being average at anything. I wanted to do it great or not do it at all. I was exactly the person I am writing to now.

The first week at a new job, experimenting with workout classes I'd never done, painting, writing, biking, essays, grammar, food routines, sleep schedule, family life, social life, planning for the future, room aesthetics, cleanliness, organization, romantic relationships, you get the point. I wanted to excel in all areas because I thought it proved something. I was working for myself in a way, but I would be lying if I said I didn't do it for other people too. I was used to getting attention for the things I did well and I liked it. I'm human. But, I needed to only be "not average" in the things that really struck a cord. The things worth of my time and attention. That could not be everything, no matter how much I wish it could be. Starting in grade school, as mentioned above, things went well for me. I was unknowingly putting myself into a category that years later would define me. Neat, on top of it, overly prepared, leader, perfectionist. The reputation pretty much found me and before I knew it, had obliged to letting it run my world.

I was determined to have a life I was proud of, but it was exhausting and often not worth it. I imagine If I could loosen up in, how free I would be, how much time I could give to the areas I really cared about. How much I could excel there when I stopped trying to excel EVERYWHERE.

Maybe a part of me worried that if I was not this way, if I did not try so hard most of my life, if I let go of the reigns and welcomed the thoughts of balancing out, of "average" that people would not look at me the same way. That everything would change. I thought letting go could send my whole world into chaos. It was what I had always known, even if I didn't volunteer for it. What I failed to realize that while no one wants to be an average person, no one person is average at everything. Simply put, everyone has their thing and no one can be the best all the time. Admitting this was the beginning of freedom.

By taking small steps to notice the tendencies and question their origin, it's easier to break down the reasons behind perfectionism and prove their worth to be less than previously known. The process is pretty fascinating, but dually exhausting. Breaking down failure, average, and winner portrays them as just that - words. Everyone has been all three, no one can be them all, all the time. One person's average is another's mistake and another's success.

I just think we all try too hard to be something that in the end, won't matter at all. No one is really average because no one can do everything you can do and vice versa. You would have to try really really hard to be someone's average. Having connections, being happy, working at something you love, accomplishing large scale dreams - those things matter. The little stuff that's in between, the tasks you spend time thinking about getting done, and the stress we carry from fear of failure - no one remembers those things. Average doesn't have to be scary. Average can be ecstatic. It can be the thing you need to relax and finally let go. Embracing the simplicity of the word can allow you to finally live.

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