Making Peace With Average

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Movie stars. World-famous scientists. President of the United States. Dreaming big is programmed into us as children. As we get older, the dreams shift a bit, according to our interests. In high school and college, I planned to be principal flutist of a major orchestra. These days, Christian and I joke about all the things we’ll do when I hit the bestseller list. You know. He’ll quit working. We’ll buy a house in the country. Take trips to France. Things like that.

But the vast majority of us will never be more than one among many in our endeavors. It’s a numbers game—only a few can reach the “elite” circle, and that means the rest of us, however good we are at what we do, will remain in solidly “average” territory.

It sounds depressing, but it occurs to me that this is not a bad thing. After all, it seems that whenever someone makes it big, scandal inevitably follows. To quote two recent examples, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson.

Do you ever think, What is the matter with these people? Nobody acts like that! I sure do. The only thing I can figure is that success goes to people’s head—that breathing that rarified air drugs people into thinking they’re somehow different, or that the rules don’t apply. Or perhaps, it simply shuts off the part of the brain that processes such questions.

One thing I know for sure: the journey to the top of many fields requires a focus that makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, to live a balanced life. Case in point: when my mother decided to enter politics, someone told her to give up on her marriage right then and there; marriages didn’t survive in politics. (Hello—could there be any better illustration of what’s wrong with our political system, if this is the kind of person who runs it?)

Either way, I am learning to appreciate the beauty of being “average.” The diversity of my interests is a strength, not a weakness. That doesn’t mean I’m settling for anything less than excellence. I will always strive to complete tasks to the best of my abilities. I will always dream of and work toward writing (and publicizing) a bestselling novel, of placing essays in the national glossies—but I choose not to let my success or failure define my self-worth. Because here in the middle, I have a lot of company. And commonality creates community. And community is what the human experience is based upon.

What were your dreams, and how have you made peace with the reality?

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