Hallelujah, I'm super-average!

I had always been special. Born to parents who lived in the public eye, in a generation and community where the public eye was all that really mattered, I understood the importance of applause. Lucky for the small, special me, my older siblings did not buy into the pleasing-others scenario. Or if they did, they didn’t pull it off. Whatever the reason, I got centre stage as I wooed my way through years of extraordinary eisteddfods, exams, and badges. applause

Of course I was lonely and miserable.

The 5 minute piano performances, symbols on reports and 30 second award ceremony appearances didn’t quite weigh up to the silent hours in my room, when my peers had parties and did what ordinary teenagers did. Yet I never thought to question my performance-driven existence, although I became increasingly uncomfortable with achievements and public recognition. I think even then, something inside was rebelling against those values I internalised. But it would take decades to finally be unmasked. I kept at chasing my special existence, all through varsity and most of my adult life. Those moments of recognition for some kind of achievement remained the evidence of the obvious fact that I was special.

When we had children, they were special too. Whereas my career never moved into the special zone of being extraordinary – why not, I wondered? – at least the stage and actors had expanded with the additional family members. I could now also feel special when my children were performing. Here and there I achieved something, or they achieved something - small reminders of the belief that my life was indeed designed to be outstanding. 

Strangely, though, my self-worth kept shrinking. I knew, objectively, that things looked pretty good from the outside. But the things I sucked at were overwhelming. In those quiet, private moments, I knew without any doubt that I sucked at being a mother, I sucked at being a wife, I was incompetent at my job, and I had no real friendships. Because in none of these areas, I was doing anything extraordinary. I was measuring myself against my idea of what was outstanding. worthlessNone of the few therapists I hoped would guide me towards reaching my full, special potential really knew what to do with me. I worked harder at being a good parent, upskilled myself professionally, tried to be a better wife, and arranged dinner clubs and wine tasting evenings to be socially impressive.

And then, not long ago, I read something in a book by Mark Manson that rocked my world. I even remember exactly where I was when those words hit me, like we remember where we were when the first plane went into the Twin Towers. This was it:

You’re not special.

Those three words contradicted my entire world view. And it’s been the most liberating thing anyone could’ve told me, ever. On average, and statistically, Mark Manson explained, we are all pretty average. To expect of ourselves to be extraordinary, makes us miserable. Very few people in the world can ever be extraordinary, and those who are extraordinary in one area of life, probably suck in the rest. I knew instinctively that that was true. I’ve often thought about how Madiba was quite literally a hero and life saver for his people and his country, but that his own family life had been a mess. 

For me to be ordinary was a mind-blowing idea. Nothing in my life needed to change. I just needed to become okay with my average life. It was the desire for the extraordinariness that was making me feel worthless all the time. Until then, I had never even questioned my assumption that I should always be in some way, special. The attention I received as a young girl when I achieved something, made me believe that one’s entire life can be meaningful only if you kept on being special. Making peace with this ordinary life of mine, opened a whole world of joy for beautiful, everyday moments. 

As a registered psychologist, I never did a day’s therapy – it never appealed to me. My line of work is psychometric testing. The difference between a psychometrist and psychologist is a bit like a nurse and a doctor - the one just seems more special than the other. You can guess which title I used when asked what my job was! After my epiphany, the first thing I did, was to de-register as psychologist, and to embrace my actual profession for the first time ever. And what do you know: for the first time ever I felt happy to say what I do, and happy doing what I do, because it didn’t feel ‘lesser’ anymore. I did not want to make apologies for not being special enough anymore. I was good enough in something ordinary – and it felt amazing. 

I have an ordinary marriage. For the longest time, I fought and struggled and despaired because it hasn’t been special. I would construct the most extraordinary marriage from all the outstanding bits and pieces of other peoples’ relationships, measuring my own against it. It fell horribly short. Obviously. woman face divorce echtpaar marriage child support husband prenuptial agreement adultery png clipartNow, when my husband does something that upsets me, or we fail to connect, I’m not phoning around for alternative accommodation. After all, bad times and insensitive behaviour are to be expected in an ordinary marriage. Voila! There’s more joy, there’s more to laugh about, there’s lightness, in this new ordinary marriage of mine. 

I’ve been very careful about counting my words in person and on social media, making sure I only speak when necessary, saying only wise and mature things. I’d more often than not delete messages that I suddenly thought would not reflect how special I was. Now that I've come out of my ordinary closet, I feel okay with being the one who sent that stupid emoji, or the one who contributed one time too many, or the one whose foot is in her mouth. Because hey, we all do that, and I’m not special. How liberating. How normal. I can fly!

freedomI look differently at my children. I don’t want them to be special and to feel special. They are unique and amazing, but not extraordinary. Even if they do something outstanding, I want them to remember that it is but a moment in time, which doesn’t define them and doesn’t raise the bar for an entire life. And most importantly, it is not the reason why people love them. Love can never be earned by being special. Special is not sustainable. If they can be happy living an average life, they will find joy, beauty and love in abundance. 

It would be special to end this piece with a breath-taking punchline which will linger with you for days. But I don’t have one. So I’ll just end in an ordinary, non-special way. I hope you have an ordinary day and an average life, filled with ordinary sadness, loss, beauty and happiness.

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