05/27/2016 02:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Making the Case for Average


We are bombarded nonstop with media messages reminding us what we need to do or learn in order to be the best. What we need to buy in order to have the best. What we need to provide for our kids so they can have the best.

The goal is always to be the best. But what's so bad about being average?

Excellence is a laudable goal but is often unattainable. Continually trying and continually failing to reach the goal of excellence can lead to disappointment, unhappiness and a sense of being unfulfilled in life. But no one talks about that. Instead, we are surrounded by products and services promising to help us attain the unattainable goal of being the best.

According to the sales pitches, the reason we should buy their product or service is because it is the best. The best acupuncturist, the best Ramen restaurant, the best school, the best piano teacher. No one advertises their skills as "good but not the best" or "good enough if you aren't too picky." No, everything is advertised as the best. And the ads will remind you that you want the best because you deserve the best. Who's going to argue with that?

The truth is no one is the best at everything. Very few people are the best at any one thing. People who appear to be great at lots of things may not be happy. They may not be able to handle failure or rejection. We are all good at some things and bad at others. Most of us are profoundly average at most things and that's OK.

Most restaurants are average. Most colleges are average. Most TV shows are average. Most people are average. Yet by the numbers, average is at least better than half the others out there.

There's no harm in trying to improve, however. Seeking to improve and seeing improvement is empowering. But embracing your average abilities can also be freeing. I'm not particularly good at any sport and lessons have not yielded any noticeable improvement. So I've decided to save the time and money and accept my average athletic ability. It's good enough for me. I no longer stress about my lack of athletic improvement. It is what it is. And I can take the money and the time that I used to spend on trying to be a better athlete and use it for the art classes that I love.

But parents don't want to convey the message to their kids that average is OK. They want their kids to be the stars of their sport and get into the best schools. Parents want the best for their kids and also want the bragging rights. But the pressure to be the best and get into the best schools is potentially damaging to the child who doesn't want to disappoint but isn't one of the best students or one of the best athletes.

The message some kids hear is that if you aren't one of the best, you aren't good enough. This is a terrible message to send to a child who is working really hard but not measuring up to be the best at anything. Maybe the child is no good at math or no good at lacrosse. Maybe he or she isn't good at standardized testing or interviewing skills. Maybe he or she is average at most things. That child can still be happy and lead a healthy fulfilled life while never being the best at anything.

There are plenty of public and private schools and colleges for students who are average. There are plenty of good jobs for workers who are average. There are plenty of houses and apartments that are average and good enough to live a happy life in. There are plenty of fun evenings to be had with friends who are average at just about everything.

So maybe we need to leave the cult of excellence and return to a more sane appreciation of average. Maybe stress levels will decrease and happiness will increase. We'll have more fun and learn to savor the moment for what it is. More people will feel good about themselves even if they aren't the best at anything.

We can always try to improve and we can celebrate actual improvement. But we can also find a separate peace in knowing that however good we are, it can be good enough. Life is short. Enjoy the ice cream. Even an average ice cream cone is better than none.

Photo courtesy of Janet Eve Josselyn.