In defense of being average

Learning to accept being 'okay,' 'mediocre' or 'alright' at things

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After my first round of midterms, a professor of mine was kind enough to shoot the class an email letting us know our midterm grades had been posted online. Before even finishing the email, I trepidatiously logged into my Collab account to check my grades. “Huh, not bad,” I thought to myself, before returning to my inbox to finish reading. However, after scrolling down I realized that my professor had been generous enough to include the class averages at the bottom of the email. Suddenly my grade seemed not-so-good anymore. I was tragically (one point) below average.

In the midst of the inherent competition and drive for success that characterizes so many aspects of the University community, I think we’ve forgotten the beauty of being alright, decent or okay at things. 

For much of my childhood I operated under the assumption that the concept of average was objectively horrible and carried myself with the confidence of someone who could never be relegated to that horrible in-between category of “alrightness.” This confidence probably stemmed from a third grade reading test, where it was determined that I was an eight-year-old reading at the level of a high schooler — go me. I flaunted my status as a self-perceived prodigy by showing everyone how “advanced” and “cool” I was by sitting alone sometimes at recess and reading the latest “Harry Potter” book.

It really wasn’t until I made the fateful decision to join the middle school basketball team that I realized I could in fact be average — or in this case, well below average — at something. And this was a rough wakeup call for a nerd like me. I remember being so unaccustomed to criticism that I would come home crying after practice, sniffing because my coach did things like compare my style of moving around the court to that of a squirrel.

The team didn’t have any tryouts or cuts, and by some stroke of luck, my school’s team managed to be one of the best in the district — despite the fact that I was on it. Whenever we were up by about 20 points, my coach would put me in, at which point I would avoid excessive amounts of running by strategically standing under the basket. I would then proceed to shoot and miss every ball that was passed to me until the basketball gods would eventually take pity and allow me to score.

Here is where we introduce one of the perks of being average — when people don’t expect much from you, your successes seem to be inherently worth more and hence, a reason for celebration. Whenever any other girl made a basket it was the standard polite applause. But whenever I managed to nail down two points for the team, it was screams and whistles and standing-ovations. Hell yeah, I felt like a (very mediocre) superstar.

In high school, I considered myself to be well above your average teen, taking an absurd number of IB classes, letting my nerd flag fly at weekly book club meetings and not going to parties — mostly because there weren’t many parties at my high school, but also partly because I wasn’t invited. My GPA was awesome, I got into 10 universities and even though I wasn’t necessarily the best in my class, I felt that I was respectably “up there” in the nerdy big leagues. And this lured me into a false sense of security — I assumed that I’d be able to avoid that ostensibly toxic wasteland of averageness forever.

But here I am now, surrounded by the thousands of bright, interesting, well-traveled and objectively well-above-average students the University has brought together. And all of a sudden, the edge I had in high school is gone, and Bs seem to becoming increasingly more prevalent in my life.

And yet, I’m so much happier than I was back in highschool when I considered myself to be a top dog. I’m genuinely interested in (some of) my classes, I get to go out on the weekends and my social circle is way larger than it used to be.

Bhutan uses an economic tool called the “Gross National Happiness index” to measure the overall well-being of the country. And while this likely seems outlandish to most of us, I think refocusing ourselves to be a bit more in alignment with Bhutan’s emphasis on happiness as a priority could be majorly beneficial to us all. Ultimately, being a well-rounded, well-adjusted and happy human being is so much more important than being a 4.0 GPA.

Of course, there are those rare people who can manage to balance a perfect 4.0, a star-studded social life and several prestigious extracurriculars to round out their resume. But we can’t all be that person. And isn’t average more relatable anyways? Stories about minor failures always seem to be more funny and entertaining than stories of perfect successes. I have tons of them.  

So, to those of you who can manage to do it all and do it all perfectly — kudos to you. But for those of us who are scraping by with a somewhat respectable GPA and still managing to balance a decently lively social life, we deserve to be proud of ourselves too.

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