The first time I remember receiving a genuine compliment, I was five years old. My neighbor told me I was really good at braiding hair (which I had been practicing for weeks on the heads of unsuspecting Barbie dolls). My neighbor was in no way related to me or otherwise obligated to bolster my kindergarten self-esteem. I knew that she meant what she said.
That’s the first time I remember thinking that I was really good at something. Something tangible. Something unique. Something that warranted honest compliments. I was a better-than-average braider of hair.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I’m slightly above average in a number of ways. I’m a pretty good stick-shift driver. I’m a gifted list-maker. I’m an expert orange peeler. But age has also brought with it a sense of inadequacy. There are days when I feel overwhelmingly average, when I wonder why I haven’t founded a non-profit yet or invested in the stock market. Days when I conclude that my life has no true direction. Days when I can sense my own anonymity, when I can feel my smallness, when I realize that despite my best efforts I am no more important than a speck of dust in this grand universe.
The truth of the matter is that I am exceptionally average. It’s not a statement of self-deprecation. It’s just a fact. There are seven billion people who live on this planet. To think that I am somehow above average would be to deny statistics altogether, to deny the greatness of thousands of millions of others that I will likely never meet.
I’m average. And there’s a pretty good chance you are too. You are also a speck of dust in this grand universe. That’s life. Part of being human is exercising imperfection, understanding that you can never be good at the summation of all talents, abilities, or skills. You are destined to be good at some things and bad at others. You will average out.
“Average”, however, is not to be confused with “inadequate”. Being average doesn’t make you a less gifted individual or a less productive member of society. It makes you flawed and it makes you interesting, but most importantly, it makes you human. You are one of seven billion other seemingly average souls, all of whom have strengths and weaknesses. I haven’t founded my own non-profit or invested in the stock market and my direction is lacking. But I can drive stick and make lists and peel oranges. I can braid hair. I can learn to accept the fact that there will be someone who is smarter than me or more charming than me or funnier than me. Because at the end of the day, they’re probably average too. And that’s life.
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