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A Word to the Wise

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

It’s funny how our world works. If you’re not careful, you become dispensable, so we all desperately try to work towards over achieving and constantly presenting our “best selves”. Social media has made this true, ten fold. We cast a shadow of the person we want the world to perceive us as. But then you say, “I don’t use social media”. However, do you not get up each day and try to be the best version of yourself? At least, that’s what most self-help books tell you to do. Do you not purchase new clothing because it makes you feel good? For some, they truly believe that the purchasing of new attire will raise their social status and tell the world that they can not only afford this new attire, but they possess the newest fashion trend.

It was in a college English classroom where I was first asked the question and then introduced to the short story; The question and story revolved around the same idea. The question our teacher asked us was, “Who here just wants to be average?” Inevitably, in a classroom, with such a provocative question raised, we all scanned the room to observe who was daring enough to raise their hand and send a signal to their peers that they did not have the motivation to overachieve, to “make something of themself”. In the moment, we all froze and pondered the question. Many of us had either never been asked that before and therefore never invested any true thought into the matter, or we simply couldn’t comprehend what the question was truly asking. Nevertheless, I never forgot about the question, much like the protagonist in the short story “I Just Wanna Be Average” that we read immediately after this baffling question was asked.

The reason the question was so shocking was because it is something that completely goes against everything many of us are taught almost from birth. We are unwillingly born into an atmosphere of competition; An arena for the survival of the fittest. We idolize the successful and pity the poor. We are hardwired to believe that if you have not spent countless, sleepless nights bashing your head against a table trying to produce “scholarly” content, you are just trying to be average. If you have not worked towards something so hard you make yourself physically ill, you are not trying hard enough. We want to make our parents and our grandparents and our children proud. However, most importantly, we want to ensure that when we no longer walk the Earth, our names are still said aloud; we fantasize about it being said by many. But, is being average really so bad?

When Mike Rose wrote “I Just Wanna Be Average,” he was onto something. However, the short story was published in 1989 and with that being said, a lot has changed, my fear is that it has not changed for the better. With the rise of social medias, new medias and the job market diminishing, it’s a wonder how any adolescent breathes, let alone fights to be on top. Those who do not attempt to push themselves beyond their very own boundaries are labeled. The thought of an unsuccessful life is imagined as an unhappy one. Some travel the world not to put their curiosities at rest, but to demonstrate just how unaverage they are.

But who then will be content with life’s purposes that aren’t classified as “above average” purposes? What is the key? What is the secret to being content with being “just average”? What if we all realized that we are just average. The argument would be that they build monuments for those who denied the label of “average” and for those individuals who are content with the label, are forgotten. Well to paraphrase what I believe Mike Rose was attempting to propose as a conclusion: Some of us may never be more than average to the world. However, this should be the most insignificant aspect of your life. Be above average in your own mind.

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