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My Fear of Average

When I was a kid I got bad grades. So every end of term when I came home with my report card, I would fear the lectures my dad would give me. Even the times when I thought I had improved, getting a C as a mean grade, it was always met with disdain from my dad. Sometimes I would protest, “But a C is average.” And he would yell at me, “Average? Why do you want to be average!” - as if those words were a literal slap to his face. #AfricanParents

Fast forward to adult life post college, where the label of being average has been a meandering fear in the back of my mind. I was really depressed in college and the first year after completing college. There were opportunities I was capable of going after, talents and skills I could have used to help myself be better, but I never did any of them. Why? Because of fear. Because of fear of failure. And deeper so, fear of performing average.


Now, yes, this sounds like perfectionism, which is exactly what it is. I know I’ve had issues in the past with perfectionism leading me to be my own worst enemy. In fact, I call myself a “recovering perfectionist”, as from time to time I’ll go after a task so hard over and over until it looks otherworldly, then I’ll come crashing down on myself for it not being perfect. I struggled with this as a music major especially, because I knew I could never be my “best”. I don’t know if this is an artist thing or what, but I always saw myself doing better than what my teacher might have thought excellent. And whether that “better” existed or not, I found myself subconsciously measuring myself to it. And I would feel sorry for myself and angry at myself, because I could never reach that ideal level I had imagined. It was sort of like chasing after a rainbow, and still holding on to the chance that I would reach it one day.

Cue self-hatred.

I used to obsessively come up with all these ideas and reasons to hate myself, and therefore not even try certain things. I would tell myself I sucked, and even if I did do things that would be helpful and appreciative to others, like volunteering or playing piano in church or making a cake for someone, deep inside I always told myself I still was just basic. Like, if I couldn’t be an excellent type of person, then I wouldn’t try things that I was just average at. I was just a C type of a person and couldn’t move above that, maybe a B, but that was the limit! And what’s so crazy is that no one told me this, I just invented it in my head and somehow turned people’s compliments and praises into critiques and blame.


As I moved away from the pressure of perfectionism, and sort of accepted that it’s O.K. to not be amazing at things I’m supposed to be or should be good at (again, invented by me), I moved towards the fear of average. One time I had a conversation with my friend about the notion of “chasing your passion” and “following your dreams” that gets thrown around so much. We were talking about what happens if a person ends up not living out their passions. And what if they are meant to be average. Like, yes, some people are going to just end up keeping the same job position for 30+ years. Some people are not going to make gargantuan influences in their lives. And I’m not sure if that’s 100% O.K. Like, I don’t know if as humans, we have a responsibility to make the most of our lives, or if that’s just a line to get people pepped up. What if some people are meant to be C people, average people? What if I’m supposed to be average? Is that so wrong, really? Or am I just so self-absorbed and privileged in thinking that someone like me has to be beyond average? I DON’T KNOW!

I had the same conversation with my mum, and she said, “No one is meant to be average. People just limit themselves.” And for once, it was some wisdom my mum had said that I really mulled over. And I’m still thinking about it. Like, maybe people do limit themselves and their capacity to the point that they become content in their averageness. Maybe it’s something we’re so used to in our society, that someone going beyond their capacity seems so commendable, when really, we are all capable of doing the same, but we just don’t because of the limitations we believe are put upon us. Again, I DON’T KNOW!

“No one is meant to be average. People just limit themselves.”

All I know is:

  1. God says I’m fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) - meaning, He loves me and created me purposefully, whether I end up being an average Joe or ending up on CNN heroes awards.

  2. Everybody is different - meaning, what I think is average someone else may think as excellent.

So I think for now, I’ll just believe that I am capable of being above average, and though I shouldn’t obsess over it in everything I do, I am doing O.K. right now.

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