Admit it: you think you’re above average. Your parents, your best friend, a coworker, that one teacher at school—they all told you. But more than that, your A-grades, your 100+ likes on Instagram, your post-secondary acceptance, the fact that you got hired at all—they confirmed it. We grew up in the generation where grades were bell-curved and everyone was told if we just worked hard enough, we could have any job we wanted. This is no secret, but the revelation doesn’t make it any less true.
You see the flaw in this plan, right? When everyone tries to be above-average, it just increases the average, and about half of us will always be below average. Society can’t even function with an entire generation of dream-jobbers-only, where nobody works for city sanitation and everyone is a celebrity. We have all been told that we are special, slowly conflating the belief that we are above-average with simply believing we are above everything: failure, loss, even other people. As we all should have learned the first time we heard it in The Incredibles (2004), “If everyone’s super, no one is.”
I had an epiphany two weeks into 2019. I was going to the gym every other day, practising a second language, following a healthy meal plan, going to therapy, living with my partner, learning web development, keeping in touch with friends and family, and even flossing every night. I was keeping up with every resolution I’ve ever written down over the past decade, being the best version of myself, but I was ashamed. I didn’t have a stable, full-time job lined up, and I didn’t have as many close friends as I thought I should. “I’m special,” I thought. “I should be working an amazing dream job with a #squad of friends by my side.” I wasn’t giving myself permission to be happy with doing my best unless I was visibly above average.
You might agree that I shouldn’t have been proud of the current state of my life. After all, we can’t be seen being average. Even engaging in popular activities makes us unspecial and must be avoided at all costs. Take Exhibit A, the epitome of average: a girl in UGGs, drinking a pumpkin spice latte and posting about it on Instagram. There’s a reason UGGs and PSLs are so popular—they’re easy choices and they’re actually good. But instead of praising women who follow in these tried and true choices, we mentally demote their IQs and belittle them as late-adopters. This isn’t an example in isolation; we’re constantly saying we’re “not like other girls” as a dig to all things traditionally feminine.
You might say participating in these mainstream activities instantly earns the dreaded “basic” status, not because it’s seen as feminine, but because it shows a general lack of originality. But when you break down those activities, what exactly is so cringe-worthy about wearing boots that keep your feet warm and comfy, and buying a drink that tastes delicious? Nothing: it’s just average. (Okay, I know we could get into the negative impact of $600-million global trends, but you’re missing the point.) We separate ourselves from averageness the moment it is discovered, so we come up with categories like “basic” that dehumanize average people to maintain our “special” status above them.
You might argue that raising the bar for “average” advances progress and betters all humans—but when the privileged work themselves into burnout just because they can, they’re hurting everyone. They’re setting unattainable, dangerous standards while increasing the gap that sits between themselves and the other 90%. In reality, we’re facing unprecedented debt, unemployment, mental health issues, climate change, and political turmoil. Now is not the time to work ourselves to the bone just to maintain that we are as special as prophesied.
You might have thought the tides had shifted when you heard that the trend expected to blow up in 2019 is self-care. I can’t help but wonder: how can self-care happen when “busy” is still the biggest flex, not sleeping is the most relatable punchline, and living off of coffee and pizza is our celebrated diet of choice? We’ve romanticized the burnout-inducing go-getter lifestyle to such a degree that I don’t think our weekly face masks on #selfcaresunday can single-handedly dial it back. We have to reset our idea of what’s expected, of ourselves and of others, accepting that most of us are not above-average and that’s okay.
So I want to introduce a radical goal that I think we should all strive toward in 2019: allow yourself to be happy with average. If you’re doing a pretty good job under the circumstances but you think you should be doing even better, I’m talking to you. Give yourself permission to not do your best 100% of the time. Stop feeling shame for enjoying something popular. Hell, stop feeling shame if you’re below average at something. We all know by now that the perfect lives we perform on Instagram don’t tell the whole story; celebrate your peers’ highlights instead of comparing your average to their 100%. Let’s cheer on everyone who is just trying to live their happiest life—even if it includes a pumpkin spice latte.
Stay in the loop for all things Common by joining our newsletter!