The Fear of “Being Average”
One night, for some reason, my colleagues (who’d become friends) and I found ourselves drunk in the middle of an isolated beach in Maharashtra. After a couple of light jokes things got serious when someone posed the question, “What is your biggest fear”? Call it the booze or genuine honesty, my response was “Being Average my entire life”.
I was 23 then, fresh out of college and all I could think of then was that I didn’t want to be average my entire life. Not getting caught drinking by my parents or my then girlfriend breaking up with me was not my fear. No. I was afraid of being average. My colleagues who were relatively more experienced assured me that I was in no way Average. Though re-assuring, I didn’t think their comments were genuine. Because deep down, I knew that I was an average soft developer.
It’s been 10 years since that night and now I’m okay being Average. Don’t misunderstand it with unambitious. I’m still ambitious. I’m just done with the pressure of being “special”. Because some time in the past decade I realized that it is statistically impossible for everyone to be at the top.
You Are Special, You Are Special, Everyone is Special
But let’s examine why are we all trying to be special?
It’s probably because it has been drilled into our heads since childhood that we are exceptional or at least that we have the potential to be. It’s quite a fascinating idea. And this idea is propagated again and again either by our friends, family or very often these days, by the Media. We are made to believe that with the right talent, if we work hard enough, have a great idea and the conviction to see through our idea come rain or snow, we are bound to succeed (a code for being special).
But the fact is, most of us won’t.
The place where I come from is fiercely competitive. That’s probably because there’s 1.4 billion of us and for us to get somewhat of a decent life, we need to compete with a billion other people. Since childhood we’re compared with our neighbors’ kids. For every kid who is happy with a 97% there’s an angry or unsatisfied parent because the “omnipotent Sharmaji ak beta” managed to get a 99%.
We’re told from the beginning that we need to get a certain score, go to a certain college and get into a certain profession (it is only restricted to Medicine and Engineering) if we ever want to be successful in life.
I was a decent student. Stood second for most of my school life. My parents were fine with it. On Report day, I used to see some of my classmates getting scolded by their parents for getting 25th Rank in a class of 53 students. It didn’t matter that the 25th Rank holder had scored >80%. The fact that he was average (25/53) was enough for his parents to scold him in front of his friends and teachers. It didn’t matter (at least in our culture) that the kid in question was also the fastest runner in our batch of 110 kids. That is not how we measured success.
One can only wonder what it did to that kid’s self-esteem at that early age. This also explains the growth of the self-help industry in our country.
The Self Help Industry
India’s self-help publishing industry has grown exponentially over the last 14 years………Retailers and booksellers such as Landmark, Crossword and ecommerce giant Amazon estimate that about 95 lakh self-help books are sold annually across the country. — 21st Century self-help gurus go Desi
The opposite can also be harmful. In the West, most kids are told since childhood that they are special. That they deserve the best things in the world and that the world is full of possibilities. And their world comes crashing down when they realize that at an early age, that it’s not true.
One just needs to go to the Self-help section of a bookstore. There are mainly 2 kinds of books there. One, that tells you that you are great and can achieve anything you set your mind to and the other that tells people how to deal with low self-esteem. And if you think about it. It makes sense. You read the first and feel that life is full of infinite possibilities and we can conquer the world. But when reality comes crashing down, we’re left picking up the pieces and need the second type of book that tells us how not to feel bad about ourselves.
It’s ironic that on one side we put so much pressure on ourselves to stand out, to be unique, to be above the rest of the world and yet in the past year we’ve celebrated some of the relatively not so sought-after professionals — nurses, firefighters, delivery persons, grocers and other essential workers.
The Big Eureka Moment
What I’ve realized is, our idea of success or being special is not our own. It is a combination of what our parents and society think is special enough. What this boils down to is that we may not be successful at everything. Therefore, our vision of success also comes with its trade-offs. For example, I might have been an exceptional software developer but that would have meant I would never know if I could be a storyteller.
And it is ‘this’ realization that led to my Eureka moment. That I’ll probably never be the best at something. But statistically, it is possible that with enough practice I will at the very least be better than some people in this world. It is this understanding that has led to my acceptance of Being Average at this point but has also let me strive to get better each day.
Because no matter how much we try, we are Average — For lack of a better word 99% of the population are nothing but ordinary. And it’s on us to rationalize the illusions of grandiosity or fantasized talent or continue to push ourselves.
And this brings me to the final part of this blog.
If you notice, most people do not have a problem with people who are average. They have a problem with people who are average but detached from reality and continue to behave as if they are special. We are usually appreciative of a person who under promises and over delivers. But we don’t usually like people who sings praises of themselves.
A modest person of average talents is usually more likable than a self-important person of average talents.
So, here’s to being Average together.