Earlier this week, I was working at a local café when a woman in her late 60s (maybe early 70s) struck up a conversation with me about the necklace I was wearing. The next thing I knew, I was clearing my work off the table so this stranger could join me. She only had a few minutes to spare, but right away we found ourselves deep in a conversation about life and work. She talked about her husband, her children, her grandchildren, the work that she does and the passions that she has. Between bites of pastry and sips of tea, a lifetime of wisdom poured from this regal-looking woman. I sat there, in complete awe.
“Do you know what one thing we don’t celebrate enough in this world today?” she asked me.
I shook my head, curious about her thoughts.
“Being average.” she said.
Being average? I thought to myself. Of all the things I thought she was going to say, I could not have anticipated this. Before I could fully absorb what she meant, my new friend darted off to her meeting (but not before a warm hug) and I was left to make sense of our encounter.
In truth, I cringed when I first heard her utter the word ‘average.' After all, what good can come of a word whose synonyms are: run-of-the-mill, mediocre, so-so, ordinary, tolerable and common?
In a world that advocates giving 110% in everything we do, and living a life that is extraordinary, it is hard to imagine lowering the bar. And yet, here was this woman, filled with the wisdom of a long and full life, calling for us as a society to embrace and celebrate all that is average and ordinary.
Perhaps what she sees is a society so focused on what is exceptional and perfect that it has forgotten what gifts being ‘average’ can bring. After all, we have created a world where striving for perfection is not only celebrated, it has been normalized. The manipulation of images in magazines, the wait lists for plastic surgery, the size of the modern closet and the curated photo albums on Facebook, all reflect back at us the message that we are not good enough, that we are not measuring up and that somehow there are others out there who are beating us at this race called life.
So we work longer hours and we sleep less. We worry about our performance at work and we worry that our lives don't mean enough. We feel anxiety or depression deep in our bones but believe that a happy face is what we must share with the world. If we keep at it long enough, our pursuit for perfection and exceptionality can start to feel like a house of mirrors. The more we work to show our worth and value, the more disconnected and disoriented we can become.
This woman, in her vibrant red blazer, served as a powerful reminder to me that there is no race to win and that a search for perfection is often endless and empty. Real life, after all, happens in those average moments when we are unclear, disheveled and vulnerable. It is in these imperfect and exceedingly average instances that connection, laughter, understanding and joy can be found. Our imperfect relationships, our stumbles at work and our sometimes paralyzing fear that we are not good enough are precisely the things that make us human and alive.
Perhaps, being average is really just an opportunity to exhale; a liberation from those insane pressures we put on ourselves for the sake of some imagined ideal. By claiming the title of 'average', we are given an opportunity to stop trying so hard. Instead, we are able to make a conscious choice to take real pleasure in the sometimes mundane, often repetitive...yet exceedingly powerful moments that make up day-to-day life. After all, being average might just be the most extraordinary thing we can do.