She’s skinnier and more attractive than I am. He has a nicer car. Her child is so well-behaved while mine is a wailing banshee clamped beneath the clothing rack at the department store. That man far more intelligent and charismatic than I will ever be. They’ve really got it good…
Humans have a natural tendency towards social comparisons. People evaluate themselves by contrasting their own attributes and abilities with those of others. When we look at ourselves, we see every flaw; yet, when we examine others, we tend to notice the positives.
Two weeks ago I took the GRE–a standardize test required for admission to graduate school. I received my scores in the mail yesterday. I looked at where I fell in the percentile ranking and was devastated: average. I scored in the 57th percentile (higher than 57% of test-takers) for Verbal Reasoning, the 39th percentile for Quantitative Reasoning (mathematical word problems), and the 49th percentile for Analytical Writing. I’ve always scored in the 87th-99th percentile on standardized testing–always. What did I do wrong? How did everyone else do so well? I’m never going to get into graduate school with those scores. I guess I’m not that smart after all…
And I caught myself. Seeing this as some kind of failure would not be a good idea.
It’s been found that the most satisfied people are those who see events as circumstantial, rather than inherent and fixed. Doing poorly on a test is the result of lack of preparation, not stupidity. Mediocre scores after months of studying means that, perhaps, one’s true strengths lie elsewhere. Maybe finding other areas in which to excel could help balance the weight of this singular test in the admissions process. Or maybe this can serve as the perfect opportunity to explore other paths of interest.
Whenever I begin slipping, I hear a small voice, “Chin up, kid. It’s not the end of the world.”
In attempts to control, regulate, and understand, I’ve sketched out a rough outline of my future in permanent marker. Those tangible, yet improbable dreams are distressing. I don’t think trying to pin down some dream, any dream is the answer. When you start planning out your life, you begin to lose track of the present. Hopes and dreams then collapse under the weight of all those unfounded expectations.
I go about life in a very pragmatic way, yet I’m also given to capricious behavior. I love having a stable job with regular hours, but I equally long for the freedom to travel on a whim and live without long-term commitment to anything. It seem to me a bit of a dysfunctional combination.
Is it really, though?
Each of us is unique, strange, beautiful, and paradoxical in our own wonderful way.
Everyone has their strengths, their struggles, and an unrivaled combination of these traits. Thus, each individual has their own special super powers, an entirely novel perspective of the world, and dreams that only they can bring to fruition. Why do we strive for a boxed in average when there’s still so much possibility within ourselves? What is “normal” anyways?
At one month shy of 24, a growing number of my friends are married, engaged, and having kids. Others are in graduate school, starting their own businesses, and traveling the world. Some are lost and confused and trudging through the days and a handful are eternally stuck in the college party mode. Lately, I’ve been looking at individuals and extrapolating to the population–from housewife, to law student, to minimalist world traveler, I can’t help but wonder what my life might be like in any of those situations.
The more I think on it, the more I realize that I don’t want to live someone else’s life. Maybe I want stability, challenge, and adventure. But that doesn’t mean I have to go about it the same way as everyone else.
With our unique personalities, experiences, and dreams, each of us has the opportunity to carve our own special niche in this world. Maybe it’s time we get untangled from societal expectations and unrealistic perceptions and just start living in alignment with our personal dreams and values.
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
- Howard Thurman
Whatever I do in life, I want to feel alive. And I want to make a difference. I don’t believe that’s possible while striving to live up to the standard of average or pursuing the conquered and worn out dreams of someone else. Life your life your way.
Averages are for arithmetic. Just because you fall into someone else’s categorical norm that doesn’t mean you can be easily classified, that doesn’t mean that everyone else’s rules apply to you. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by averages, percentiles, and imposed numerical boundaries. Live your life in spite of those numbers. If you want to do something, than go out there and make it happen.
You are not average. Live your life in a way that will prove that.