Is Being Average a Failure?

Can you be happy living an average, routine, ordinary, even mediocre life?

Years ago I heard a song (from the musical Pippin) that has stayed with me ever since. It basically said: I need to be extra-ordinary and do extra-ordinary things. And there’s a math joke about “75% of people think they are above average”.   I know that I was always expected to “do great things”. Even when I was retiring, many colleagues commented I would go on to do something big and amazing.

I think our society supports the image of being above average, extra-ordinary, an over-night success, or having a great purpose in life. You’re expected to stand out in a crowd, get your 15 minutes of fame, get the quick promotion, or become a YouTube sensation.   Retirees are challenged to start a second career, find their life purpose, and leave a legacy. Go big or go home (meaning fail).

Life often feels like it’s about proving oneself to others and getting approval. Everyone seems to worry about how many likes did they get? Have they been noticed? Did it get shared on social media? Did it go viral? [One blogging link-up I join insists on likes and shares as part of its engagement model.]

We are so brainwashed to not be just average, to not be ordinary, to be unique in some extra-ordinary way. Am I not enough as I am?

When I see the social media highlights of girl-friend dates, and I am sitting on the couch alone once again, am I a social pariah?

If I am not monetizing my blog or getting lots of follower and comments, is it really a success?

If I’m not building a second career, becoming a board member of a non-profit, watching grandkids on a regular basis, or striving for some physical goal like running a marathon or biking cross country, is my retirement life meaningful?

Can I accept this mediocre body of mine… one that will remain borderline obese because I really like to eat? How can I accept the fact I have no desire to work out at the gym every day? And how do I feel OK with being the “average American size 14”?

How do I accept that my daily life is more about mundane, routine activities like morning journaling, blog reading, walking, a bit of home chores, or a yoga class? Not any social activism, not a major connection to the divine, not epic workouts or grand adventures outside of my comfort zone.

Is it OK to be just OK at something? What if I don’t publish a best-selling book and then speak before thousands? What if I don’t become an artist selling her art? What if I never get better at stand-up paddle-boarding or bicycling? What if I don’t get on the board of a non-profit? Or become a globe-trotting adventurer? Or a gourmet cook?

Will I be enough if I’m just OK at writing or doing art or paddle-boarding or cooking?

Is it enough if my life is just an ordinary one? Maybe even unimportant. No saving the world. No 15 minutes of fame. No proving myself to anyone else. Just living an average, everyday, ordinary, mediocre life. Is that failure?

“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments.

We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.”

Brene Brown

Nothing grand. Nothing extra-ordinary. Nothing changing the world. Can I be happy just being average, ordinary me?  

 

Picture Credit: Pixabay

The expression “08/15” is used in colloquial German to express that procedures or objects are on average or mediocre.  It has become a standard reference to average. 🙂

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47 thoughts on “Is Being Average a Failure?

  1. Pat – such an interesting conversation — and very thought-provoking. I am reminded of Mother Teresa’s saying something along the lines of – “We do not need to do extraordinary things, but ordinary things with extraordinary love.” For me, I also think defining what is important to you really determines how we accept our reality. I have always – and perhaps will always – have a desire in the back of my mind to be a bestselling author with an accompanying movie – the whole enchilada – that includes being famous. BUT very few of my life choices have aligned with that desire. So I know it is not really a priority or a driving desire (at least yet). I don’t feel regret or less than or unfulfilled. But wouldn’t it be so cool?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janet – a great insight to look at big life choices to see what is really desired! I’ll be thinking on that for sure.

      And yeah…selling a lot of books would be so cool. But I’m telling myself to just be happy with having it in hand (published). And hopefully a few folks (besides my mother) might buy it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, Pat, you’ve given us another ‘extraordinary’ post! I’ll be sharing on Facebook and Twitter for #MLSTL. I named my blog ‘Me in the Middle’ for many reasons. I’m a middle child and we tend to feel invisible and ordinary. I earned average grades ~ Bs and Cs. I tend to fall in the middle politically. And most likely I won’t be selling my novel and giving talks, or selling my art work. I’m just average and that’s ok! 🙂
    https://meinthemiddlewrites.com/2018/10/31/me-in-the-middle-of-inktober-2018/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for saying my post was extraordinary! I too am a middle child…but the eldest daughter. So I think I have oldest child tendencies as well. Learning to be OK with being OK is something I’m working on…as for many years I worked hard to “meet or exceed expectations”. When folks i admire say “I average and that’s OK”, it helps me feel better at being average at things as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. WOW! This post hits the bulls-eye for my current life struggle. You bring up some great questions, Pat … and while I know the answer (of course it’s okay to be average) … I know my actions and life choices do not reflect that belief (and consequently, I am close to burn out AGAIN). I am pinning this for future reference and plan to set aside some time this weekend to journal. Thank you for concisely putting into words what my muddled brain has tried to process for months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Molly, I’m not overly surprised this resonates based on your current line of posts … ones that I’m loving reading. A long held belief that I need to be extra-ordinary? Hah. And yet, my favorite insight I think was “your ordinary is probably someone else’s extraordinary”. Just be you, ordinary and all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I can see that this post resonated with many others Pat and I’m one of them too. I love all the great advice in the comments to your post and have nothing much to add except to say you’re not alone and yes its definitely OK to be just you, as you are! There’s nothing mediocre about that at all. Take care and thanks for your thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debbie, Learning I’m not alone in the feelings is one reason I continue to blog on these type of introspective posts. And the encouragement from so many to just be me! Thanks for contributing to both of those.

      Like

  5. I think mediocre is a state of mind. My dear husband (on his truly admirable days) tells me I’m the most amazing mother, wife and daughter. Although I’m always berating myself for only being mediocre on this or that. He says I’m a fantastic blogger (on his better days!) when I think I’m useless or just about making the grade but no more. We don’t need to blow our own trumpets, but mediocre is okay – and not everyone sees us like that. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, A few people who know me quite well have taken a but of umbrage with this post, telling me I am pretty amazing. A case of beauty in the eye of the beholder perhaps? Extraordinary is in the eye of the beholder…doesn’t have quite the same ring. And yes, I too am often berating myself…self-love is a challenge, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve written something similar to this Pat – that notion that we aren’t enough and aren’t competing on the big stage of life. I think a lot of people oversell themselves and inflate their successes. There are very few gorgeous, perfect women out there, there are very few “real” bloggers making a fortune, but there is always the highlight reel to make us feel like we’re not enough. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my life is calm and I’m happy with a calm life. I’m happy if my friends and family are doing well and include me somewhere in their busy lives. I might not be all that I have the potential to be, but I’m okay with that too – maybe I’m just getting a bit lazy in Midlife, or maybe I’m just content – I think we’re all just doing our best – and that’s more than enough isn’t it?
    MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂 (just in case you need help going viral with your post!!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Leanne, I laughed at the help going viral comment! I was talking to someone today about my book (looking at publishers!) and she said…”oh, it’s a passion project”. Meaning… “Oh, you won’t really sell many copies or make any money”. LOL. Like my blog. And many other things I do. Simply “passion projects” – things I enjoy, might not do very well (be average!!), but give me a feeling of contentment. And as you point out, I need to stop looking at highlight reels, and slay that Compare & Despair monster. And listen to folks like you, who are very content with a simple, “ordinary” life.

      Like

  7. I definitely saw myself in this post. There are two times a woman becomes invisible in her life: once when she retires and again when she enters senior citizen status. The worst thing about social media is that it constantly reminds us that we’re insignificant, not doing enough, and need to be constantly seen by others as an expert in something. I haven’t found the answer yet to coping with being just average. Some days I’m okay with it and other days, not so much. I think the solution does lie in finding satisfaction and pride in who you are and what you’ve accomplished, without looking too much wistfully into the past. It’s doing things that are meaningful now that need to count and forget about those social media stats.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jean. I agree with trying to focus on things that are meaningful now… and stopping the “compare & despair” that I tend to do too often. But it’s hard to give up SM…it does help me stay connected. And get the support and advice like I’m getting here! Thanks for joining the conversation!

      Like

    1. Thanks for sharing your blog post. I am always amazed when bloggers talk similar topics on similar timings. Last week there were so many on “out of your comfort zone”! Now… being average…or not being great. Bob below also references the need to put in the time and effort to truly become above average in something. I don’t think I have a passion in anything I am willing to put that effort into. Dabbler it is for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pat – I need to coach you on how not to care about what other people think! It’s YOUR life. I don’t care who someone is, their thoughts about how I live MY life are irrelevant and I would be perfectly comfortable saying that to anyone’s face. If they want to judge someone and have that person take the judgment to heart, they’d better find another target because I. Don’t. Care.

    That said, would I like to make a positive, life-changing impact on the world? Sure I would! Is it likely to happen in a fantastic, public fashion? Mmmm, doubtful, but I won’t rule it out. Everything has to converge perfectly for someone to have that kind of impact. I used to tell new hires that one of the biggest factors in their success would be luck. I don’t think they liked that, but it’s true! Of course, intelligence, hard work and cleverness are necessary, but they are not sufficient to insure success. Being in the right place at the right time and being seen by the right people can make vastly more of a difference than just your skill and effort will produce.

    However, whether you realize it or not, the way you live your life DOES have an impact that you will probably never fully understand. I used to know a priest who was fond of saying “the way you live your life may be the only gospel some people experience”. That has stuck with me and I try to live my life in a way that would be a good model. I think my favorite cultural example is the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. You just never know how the little things you do in your life; a kind word here; a thoughtful act there; may have a lasting impact on someone else. They, in turn, act in a positive manner toward someone else and the world advances just a little rather than regressing.

    I had someone tell me once that I had made a huge impact in their life by the way I interacted with them at work. You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had no idea, but that’s the kind of influence you can have, maybe unbeknownst to you. Just imagine the influence you are having with your blog! You’ll never know how many good things have resulted from your thoughtful words and your willingness to share them with others.

    Now that I’m done preaching, ha ha, I will get practical. There’s absolutely no way you can be an expert at everything. You know that from your experience at work. Malcolm Gladwell‘s rule of thumb is that you need 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. There just isn’t enough time in life. I think the best you can do is choose one ‘passion’ to which you really want to devote the time to become an expert, “world class“, or however you want to describe it. Then you have to be content to be a dabbler in other areas. Yes, you can be decent enough at many things that will enrich and fulfill your life, though you may not be world-class in anything. This is the way I prefer to live. I have a huge variety of interests, but none of them is sufficiently intense to drive me to want to become the best. I am just not built that way. I prefer to engage in lots of things and then choose what I want to pursue and discard the rest and maybe only ever become fair at what I do choose to pursue. That’s OK! I am very happy operating this way. Do I always try to improve and be a better person? Yes I do. Does it eat me alive that I am not Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Pope Francis? Nope.

    So, yes, Virginia, it’s ok to be average at things. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the best at everything. It’s an impossible goal to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob, I love the “yes Virginia” line. 🙂 I KNOW….I need to stop the Compare & Despair. I need to stop worrying what others think. I need to be able to say with confidence… I Don’t Care.

      The idea of being a dabbler has come up a couple of times today… I really like the term. I’m not sure there is anything I have that much a passion to that I want to devote time and energy to become an expert at it! And thanks for pointing out the influence I might be making with my blog…I truly hope that I do.

      Like

  9. I just loved this Pat! I’ve been struggling a bit with identity loss following retirement and this really is a healthy perspective. Your math joke reminds me of a statistics joke that the “average” person has one breast and one testicle. We really need not apply numbers to everything about ourselves. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL at your statistics joke! Identity loss post retirement is a tough issue. I’m still not 100% comfortable in my new identity and still often refer to myself as “I used to…”. Mid-life Manager perhaps is best description!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Good question, Pat. People can live extraordinary lives and not be happy, and people can live average lives and be perfectly content. The challenge lies in tying happiness to the next destination or accomplishment. Happiness has to be found in the current moment or you’ll always be chasing it. I hope you are having a happy day–whatever you are doing with it.

    ~Christie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christie, Thanks for the perspective. I do believe that I am living a happy life. I regularly practice positivity…from being grateful for the many blessings I do have to being mindful of the little pleasures in life. It’s when the Compare & Despair monster comes out to play that I worry about it being just an ordinary life. This is why I love my blogging community….they give me a virtual “slap across the head” sometimes to re-notice the blessings, the simple pleasures, the fact that I am quite content. And yes, I do believe I will have a happy day today!

      Like

  11. Hi Pat, you are expressing how I’ve been feeling lately and my need to take a complete break from blogging and social media in particular. So much pressure, often self-imposed to be more than what we are, because of the bar set by society. Sure I love challenging myself, I want to be better and grow as a person but I also need to recognise that sometimes I am enough and that is good enough. thank you for the reminder and since my trip my mindset has certainly changed for the better. Have a beautiful week. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sue, It actually makes me happy when people say I have articulated their feelings – both because it’s nice to know I’m not alone and also because it makes me happy that I’ve communicated it well. You are right about the self-imposed pressure. That Compare & Despair monster is one that I need to figure out how to slay. It’s helpful I’ve got such a great group of blogging buddies who can help me remember I too am enough…just as I am. Have a wonderful week!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The topic of being “enough” came up in conversation this past week. Who decides if we’re “enough”? Enough what? It is so subjective. When I’m asked, “How are you?” I often reply, “Good enough.” That’s not the usual reply of, “Fine.” The occasional person will ask, “Good enough for what?” to which I reply, “Good enough to get through the day.” Because many of my days are made up of the “ordinary” day-to-day tasks that support my extraordinary, unique life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mona, Good enough to get through the day. Yeah, I need a reminder as I told Deb below, of all I have “enough” of! And to appreciate the ordinary days filled with little moments of simple joys.

      Like

  13. Pat, I love being ordinary and average. I too have struggled with this though – thinking I should be doing and being more. But, when you come to think of it, I am extraordinary in one respect: I am happy and content with my life, 99% of the time. And the things I don’t like about my life I have the power to fix, so far. And when I look around me, it seems that that is pretty special and above average, after all. I had to go through hell to get here, but here I am.
    Let’s celebrate being OK, and content to be so!

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb, great perspective! Celebrate being OK. Yeah, I am happy & content most of the time as well. I am also financially secure, in a great long term relationship, am a cancer survivor, and able to choose what I do every day. Sometimes it takes a slap across the face to recognize all I am blessed to have. And to stop worrying about doing/being more. Thanks!!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for voicing a conversation I’ve been with myself almost every morning.

    It’s why I’ve lately been re-evaluating what I do and why. It’s what led me to let go of a contract position I’ve held for the past 2 years. It’s why I’ve finally stopped asking myself what I want to be when I grow up. I AM grown up and I just want to be comfortable in my own skin – stretched and baggy as it is.

    Love this post, Pat.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. LOL… comfortable in my own skin. Mine is quite plump, not baggy. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one having this conversation. It’s always helpful to know I’m not alone in trying to figure out what to do. And yeah, we are grown up now….scary thought.

      Like

  15. Wow, young lady. Considering our same place of career employment, I’m a little surprised by your expectations of extra ordinary. In order to feel my work had value, I had to remind myself it was the “little joys” that made life worth living. Otherwise working on one more fragrance line extension or “clearly not rocket science” product change would cause me to feel I’d wasted my life. Guess I have it easy. I wasn’t an “important” person at work so I have no need to be an “important” person beyond my family and friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think part of my personal challenge was I did feel like I made a difference at work. OK, if was not rocket science, but I had influence on project & brand direction and I mentored many. Even getting the promotions made me think – I’ve arrived. And work was in fact my “family and friends” and people knew who I was. So now…when I no longer have the badge of level, or people to mentor, or even projects to influence…I feel a bit lost at times. And then the “compare and despair” comes in as I look at other retirees who have done amazing things in this next life stage and I wonder if I’ll ever again feel important, able to make an impact, do something important with my life. Can I be without that? I’m not even sure I am important to my family (beyond my hubby!). I will work on being happy with little joys, ordinary moments, routine days.

      Like

    1. Donna, I had this post completely written when I came across that quote. Serendipity for sure! I also recall my word-of-the-year a couple of years ago was Joy. Find joy in each day. That habit remains (most days)…yesterday I simply enjoyed the fall colors. Picking up red and orange and yellow leaves as we walked. A simple, ordinary walk on a Sunday afternoon.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Just for that, I’m not liking this wonderful post of yours. Take that, social media experts! I certainly agree, Pat, that there’s too much pressure to be a success and to trumpet your experience.

    On a tangential note that’s probably a bit off your intended thesis here, I started to get dissatisfied in my profession (librarianship) when the marching orders from on high said that we had to do a better job of “marketing” ourselves in order to survive. I found it depressing that a service occupation long known for helping people was now in the position of having to sell ourselves for relevancy. That’s when retirement started looking awfully good.

    I read articles in Money Magazine about post-career tips, and nearly all of them mention having a Linked-in page. I did have one for a while but eventually deleted it. I think I’m happy just plodding along, thank you very much. Thanks for the collegial validation, even though I meandered a bit to finally get to your point! – Marty

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Marty, Sigh….I still have a LinkedIn page. Why? I have no idea! Maybe because I think someday I might want to work at something again? I still keep my coaching license current and my LLC active, too. Again, I wonder why? All those post-career tips make it hard to let go of the idea of second career.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great thought! I’m learning to like myself more, being comfortable in just being me. It’s a growth area for me, and blogging buddies help with things like this: my average could be someone else’s extra-ordinary! Thanks.

      Like

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