Since I can remember, I always wanted to be the best. The most well-liked. The smartest. The prettiest. The list goes on. Looking back, I believe I wanted to prove I was needed; that I was someone special. That I was good enough.
And yet, I never did feel good enough. No matter how much praise and positive reinforcement I could draw, I always seemed to fall short of the ideal I held for myself. This need to be loved and praised cycled between extreme highs and lows that left me feeling utterly exhausted. In my darkest moments, I wondered if I was even worthy of living.
Thankfully, I learned the art of being Average.
A defining moment in my life came as I sat in a meeting with a family that had requested psychological testing for their son to see if he qualified for special education services. As an over-zealous, first-year school psychologist, I had conducted a slew of assessments based on the long list of concerns these parents had regarding their child. As it turned out, this student had an average IQ, average grades, was well-liked by teachers and had a great group of friends. By his own account, he was happy, except he felt he could never live up to expectations set by his parents. Yet even as I shared the results at the meeting, his mother wept. Average just wasn’t good enough.
I left that meeting reeling. This student had so much going for him, especially when compared to so many of the students I work with each day. The ones who truly struggle. The ones who would give anything to be Average. Why wasn’t Average good enough?
Then I realized I was the true hypocrite. How could I sit there and tell parents they should be grateful for Average when I myself felt unworthy with anything less than personal perfection. Thus began my journey to Average-hood.
While my ego and pride still get the best of me at times, I’ve learned that by allowing myself to be Average, I can invest my time and energy where it truly matters. I can focus on others rather than myself. All those years I spent focused on meeting my own expectations, I was missing out on opportunities to actually make a difference in the lives of those around me. While trying to prove to others why they should love me, I was driving them away with my perfectionism.
Such a weight has been lifted by allowing myself to make mistakes. To try something new and be completely terrible at it. Then to laugh it off, pick myself up and keep trying. I’ve noticed others treat me differently as well. I’ve become a safe person others can trust with their imperfections. Why? Because I’m Average.
So how does one become Average? The first step for me was to reprogram my thought patterns. Instead of thinking about how I might look trying something new, or what praise I might glean from a project, I began asking myself, “what can I do today to empower others?” Asking myself this simple question gave me the courage to say and do things I would have found terrifying before.
The next step was to completely own my emotional baggage. One of the most amazing things I have learned during the past few years is that most people in our lives have experienced and/or done some pretty messed up stuff. By tearing down the façade of perfection, people began trusting me with their stories. I believe I have become a more effective psychologist by owning my shortcomings, especially when working with kids and teens. It’s as if they can sense whether or not I am being authentic.
Another change was a commitment to try new things that may cause me to look foolish, or at least feel foolish. Once you take that first leap into messy imperfection, it seems easier to make a habit of it. Life is too short to say no to new experiences in an attempt to appear flawless. Instead, learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Take risks. Fail. Be human. Be Average.
Beth is a school psychologist in Berrien County, MI and Director of a summer day camp for elementary and middle school kids. She is married to her high school sweetheart and mother to two little girls.