Working Moms
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Working Moms

Average, Ordinary, Typical

…and that’s just fine

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

The world is full of people struggling to follow their passion, find their calling, and discover their true purpose. If they work hard enough, take chances, and truly believe in themselves, they figure it out! Their hard work pays off and they happily live their lives, having found their bliss.

At least that’s how it happens in the movies anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a find-your-purpose story as much as the next nerd, but the way we are told it happens is false. It isn’t my experience of life. Come to think of it, that’s not the experience of anyone I know, either.

The fact is, most of us are ordinary. Most of us will go through life without being extraordinary. At anything.

I think we should celebrate that.

The Illusion

The world keeps telling us we all have a mission in life. “If you can only figure out what your passion is, what you’re meant to do, then you’ll spend the rest of your days blissed out…”

The problem is, most of us are pretty good at a couple of things, terrible at a lot of things, and average at the rest. I can’t think of one thing I do personally or professionally that someone I know can’t do better. Does that mean I’ve missed my calling? God, I hope not; I’m no spring chicken and I’d hate to think my life was wasted because I never found that one thing I was truly amazing at.

This type of fantasy thinking pervades parenting as well. I think the practice of having children try every instrument, sport, and activity, regardless of whether they want to is a disservice. It sends the message that they have to find something they are great at.

Often, that type of parenting is because mom and/or dad never found the thing they were amazing at and now desperately want their child to be extraordinary. Because honestly, how many of us will know what it’s like to write a best-seller or perform a killer concert to thousands of cheering fans? How many of us will solve a scientific mystery? Very few of us will and pretending we all can be extraordinary at something (but we just gotta find it!) causes so many issues for our children. And ourselves.

If a person is gifted in a specific area it will become apparent; they will be drawn to it. If it makes them happy, they’ll stick with it and develop it.

The pressure to be special, coupled with the growing realization that we are ordinary, forms a cycle that repeats ad nauseum. All because parents see through their children a second chance to be extraordinary.

This is a belief that is far too rampant in our society.

It starts with parents comparing milestones — “my son was crawling at 4 months, talking at 8 months, and discussing philosophy at 10 months!” and snowballs from there. Everyone wants to think their kid is the best student, the best athlete, the best looking. This isn’t realistic and it’s not healthy. Parents have no business living through their children, and no child should be put through that kind of pressure.

The reality is no one wants to be ordinary. Ordinary goes unnoticed at school, is passed over at work, and ignored in life. Being average at academics, sports, and music makes you invisible. No one wants to be invisible, and no one wants their kids to be invisible. Now imagine being the kid who tries all those things and is, at best, average at a few of them.

I get it. We all think our kids are truly the most amazing beings that have ever lived, and it’s easy to think that’s the way the rest of the world sees it too. And I love, love, love when parents are so smitten with their kids. This only becomes a problem when parents forget their bias. We are rarely objective when it comes to our kids, which is okay…we just need to remember that every kid in the world is special…to their parents.

As my kids grew up, I told them many times I thought they were the best, most amazing, wonderful, talented people in the world. I also told them that to everyone else they met in life they were just any Joe Schmo, and they’d have to prove themselves.

High school and college age kids spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what they should do with their lives. My kids got a lot of advice from well-meaning adults about following their heart and finding their passion. Most often that advice was given by those middle agers, trying to help young folks avoid becoming what they themselves became: average. They’d recount how they’d done a clarinet solo in a middle school band concert or had the lead in the high school production of Annie, and why didn’t they just stick with their passions?! Maybe now they’d be a famous musician or actor. They are convinced that they’d had a shot at being extraordinary and blew it.

The real tragedy is not these missed opportunities, but the fact that they don’t love the life they are living. All because they believed the lie that they must be special or extraordinary to really enjoy life.

I only know one person who felt they had a “calling” in life. A truly extraordinary talent they turned into a career. While that person loves what they do for a living, I’m not sure they are any happier or more satisfied with their life than I am with my plain Jane, ordinary life.

The Reality

We need to stop telling our kids they need to find their passion so they can be special, and we need to rethink how we perceive our own happiness. So, embrace being ordinary and see the advantages it affords.

For one, the pressure is off! If I don’t need to be amazing at the things I try, I’ll try more things. And I’ll stick with them until I figure out if I enjoy them enough to keep failing at them. I won’t stick with something only because I’m good at it…or quit something only because I’m bad at it. I won’t be caught up in the cycle of only liking things if I can be better at it than someone else.

I can be truly terrible at something, and it doesn’t matter. If I enjoy it, I’ll keep at it and find satisfaction in any small progress. My ego and self-worth aren’t wrapped up in my success. I can either walk away from it or keep at it if the activity is something I enjoy. I have found a crazy amount of satisfaction from marginally improving at something I kinda suck at, like crocheting or jiu jitsu! Again, the pressure is gone- if I suck but I enjoy it…there’s no place to go but up!

Here is the truth: we should strive to be better than who we were yesterday. Not focusing on anyone else but ourselves. That’s a healthier and more satisfying way to live. This approach ensures I spend time doing something I enjoy rather than searching for something I excel at. Sometimes those two things are connected, sometimes they’re not.

Feeling any sort of pressure or obligation to continue pursuing something one excels at but doesn’t enjoy is a terrible way to live.

Here’s another truth: it’s okay to be average. Chances are that’s the way most of us will spend our whole lives.

We need to be telling our kids to find things to enjoy and not be dissuaded if everyone is better at it. It’s the enjoyment of the thing that matters. While we’re at it, let’s tell them that a career just needs to pay their bills. It doesn’t have to be some “calling” they found, because a job is never a straight line of bliss. It’d be great if they don’t hate what they do, but they don’t need to feel obligated to have that job define them. Let’s tell them to find hobbies and activities that bring satisfaction instead, not what they should be doing simply because everyone else is doing them.

Life is beautiful and precious because it’s your one and only life. Don’t pursue something only because you’re good at it, pursue something because you love it. Quit chasing “dreams” and start living reality. Take a good look at what you have created in your life. Keep the things that are working for you and to hell with the rest. Stop judging your life on external grades, rankings, and trophies. Stop building pedestals, hoping to display your kids. Let them figure it out, your only job is to cheer them on.

Embrace your average, ordinary, beautiful life. It’s the only one you get, and there is a whole lot of room and life in the middle.

The irony is that being able to embrace your average, ordinary, typical life actually makes you extraordinary.

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Amy Torbenson

Amy Torbenson

Mom of two amazing sons and one amazing daughter, lifelong reader of anything and everything, (really) slow runner, and a terrible cook.