Maybe the Average Is Average for a Reason
What really makes life worth living
Today I realized I was wrong about everything.
Previously, I used to internalize the philosophy of, “Be obsessed — or be average.” I believed that an unnatural tenacity required someone to be a master at their craft.
I was also personally motivated due to wanting to beat some people I know. I thought, if I proved what I could do to these people who hurt me in the past, I could finally get over them.
I became obsessive about my projects to an unhealthy extent. I forced myself to keep working until late at night. This does not guarantee productivity. I was a workaholic to the point that it disrupted my sleep schedule so much, I couldn’t sleep without melatonin pills.
I kept on getting up from my bed whenever I had an idea I couldn’t let go of. Inspirations range from thinking of publications to pitch to or writing prompts — the thesis for this article came at 3:00 AM.
I became like this because the people around me also were doing the same. My best friend sleeps at midnight earliest and wouldn’t stop working on his laptop before then.
I soon hit a brick wall when I realized I was miserable living like this. It was like being a slave to a to-do list. I would never sleep calmly, knowing there was a bullet point left uncrossed.
When I did not accomplish everything I set out to do in the day, I couldn’t stop myself from ruminating about everything I did wrong in the day before I went to bed. As a result, I couldn’t sleep at all.
“Tomorrow,” I promised, “would be better.”
But even as I improved, the bar kept on getting raised, and the self-flagellation more frequent.
I didn’t realize at that time that paradoxically, the reason why I was “working so hard” — not to be confused with “being productive” — was because I wanted to secure a promising future that allows for financial freedom.
Strangely enough, in pursuit of that dream, I ended up giving up the freedom I had now to do the things that bring me bliss and to enjoy life in general.
My obsessiveness even ruined one of the most beautiful parts of life for me.
When I was younger, my only dream was to one day have a room with natural sunlight shining through the window and calming jazz music playing in the background. All while reading the lovable tome that happens to be my favorite book at the moment.
Now, I am blessed to have my own room and a bookcase filled with my beloved books. Yet when the curtain unveiled to greet the perfect scene — beautiful lighting, music, comfortable bed, ample amounts of alone time, I’d feel this guilt overshadowing the ataraxia.
The concept of opportunity cost plagues any experience of joy I might be lucky enough to encounter. “I should be doing something else more useful with my time,” the evil economist in my head reminds me.
Yesterday, I took my best friend’s suggestion to take a break. Funny, coming from a workaholic such as himself. I went to a nearby neighboring town with my family, and it was an ordinary, fun road trip day.
We drove on a highway that destroyed a forest. But instead of being upset about that, I was at least grateful I got to see vast swaths of forestry on the left and right sides of my window.
When we drove back, it was already getting dark, and fog thinly covered the forest. It was as if a giant spider spun a veil of its web over an ample space of greenery. The beauty of it muted all of the buzzing thoughts in my head — albeit for a brief moment.
I realized right then that these moments of beauty, moments of life, were the most meaningful. Those moments which shut your brain off of all its negative thoughts; those moments when, for a brief second, radio non-stop thinking stops transmitting.
Moments that take your breath away. Therapy via art. Seeing beautiful things that stop you from contemplating whatever it is from your head.
That is the most extraordinary liberation life can offer — to be free from your mental constraints. This torturous prison, a maelstrom of thoughts you wish would dissipate away. Your thoughts are always ever-present, like a mosquito buzzing in your ear that would never cease to end its noise.
Art, nature, romance — these things are lavender to the mosquito. I realize I do not need enormous amounts of wealth to be able to experience these moments. All you have to do is let yourself experience them.
I realize it is also pretty paradoxically silly to sacrifice the freedom you already have to get money for freedom. While I believe in delayed gratification, we should also beware of delaying enjoyment so much we couldn’t even experience happiness on our deathbed.
In Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the financially successful — but unhappy — Ivan Ilyich asked himself while dying, “Can it be that I have not lived as one ought? But how not so, when I’ve done everything as it should be done?”
In other words, how could he be miserable when everything he worked hard for in life is in preparation for a prosperous future?
Perhaps precisely because all of the impressive things he worked hard for ironically made him miserable. Perhaps had he been comfortable with being average, he would have lived a happy life.
He didn’t want to be average; he worked so hard to get money for his family, thinking that would make them love him. All this without considering that he should spend the majority of his time with his family.
Maybe the average is average for a reason. Average means it is something enjoyed by the majority of people — something not out of the ordinary.
Perhaps we should consider that there is a reason why certain methods of enjoying life are the most preferred.