I have recently come to realize and appreciate the great freedom that comes with being average. I’m sure you’re all thinking I have always been quite average, so what the heck am I going on about now, to which I say, first of all, how rude! But secondly, I know–you’re not wrong. The only person who should think I’m above average and maybe even amazing is the woman who carried me for nine months and then pushed me out of her uterus with the hopes that it would be worth it when I proved to be an above-average human. Everyone else is allowed to think otherwise. I mean, it would be nice if my dad felt that way too, but he didn’t have to physically bring me into this world, so he may have his reservations.
Regardless of all this, I am a newly average student and I am surprisingly finding great joy in this. I have always been an anxiety-ridden mess during the school year, preparing for essays that are weeks away, killing myself over every last word I’ve written, rereading my work dozens of times before submitting it, and even then still being crippled with fear that my professor would hate it and reward my hard work with a measly B. Usually, this laborious routine leaves me happy and satisfied with an A or, at the very worst, an A-. I got very used to this way of living and accepted it in all its anxiety-inducing, joy-stripping glory.
This year, however, I have the same professor for my two (very last ever!!!) English literature courses. I knew this could either go terribly wrong or exceptionally well, depending whether he appreciated my writing style and whatnot. I’m somehow both disappointed and overjoyed to inform you that it is not going very well. But it is not going terribly either. It is just going. Because of these two classes, I have become a B student. The first class is Shakespeare, a requirement I just have to knock off my list so I can graduate, so I’m not all too shocked I’m not landing the grades I’m used to. The other class, an upper-level English elective about narratives of trauma, sounded fascinating to me, and the syllabus was flooded with novels I would want to read on my own time. I mean, I got to read Tara Westover’s Educated–a book I had intended to read over the summer–in the name of education, ironically enough. I really thought I hit the jackpot with this one, and I was quite confident that my first essay about Westover’s memoir was solid and worthy of at least an A-. I thought wrong. I was given a 75–a B, a very OK grade, but not the grade I was going for.
At first, this number haunted me. I’ve written a blog post before about my destructive tendency to let my grades define me and my self-worth, and this instance was no exception. One of the main reasons I want to get above-average grades is because I am a quiet student who craves validation for ideas that are only ever shared in written assignments. I almost never miss class, I listen attentively without any technological distractions, and I jot down every important word that comes out of my professors’ mouths, but I rarely speak in class. I don’t mind talking to professors on my own time if I need to (though I seldom do that either), but to raise my hand and offer an opinion on a piece of literature is simply something I have never felt comfortable doing. All this is to say that for me, the only way to prove my intelligence to my professors is through my essays. Usually this works in my favour and I feel great knowing they know that the quiet student in the middle row whose voice they may never have even heard is, in fact, paying attention, doing the readings, and writing thoughtful and well-organized responses to whatever is going on in class. That is where I find my redemption; that is where I feel there is an unspoken smidgen of respect between myself and my professors. So when I lose that speck of value in my superiors’ eyes, I lose a massive chunk of value in my own.
Part of the problem is that I care way too much what my professors think of me. Is it really going to matter at all if a few of these English scholars think I’m an average student, or just don’t really think of me at all? Does it really matter if I’m not among the best students in the class? For whatever reason, these things seem to matter in my mind more than they should. Because of this, I have diagnosed myself with a non-existent condition that I call the Opposite of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). If anyone is unfamiliar with ODD, it is essentially a behavioural disorder where children act defiantly toward figures of authority, which is quite possibly the polar opposite of who I am at the very core of my being. Seriously, that may be the best way I can define myself: the absolute opposite of ODD. I have been this way my whole entire life–it just took me desperately wanting praise and appreciation from my professors to become fully aware of it and the detrimental impact it has on my self-confidence.
Growing up, I have seen every almost single authority figure as being super duper mega superior to me, which is not always a bad thing since it means I have always respected people with more life experience than me, but it becomes a bad thing when the opinions of such people directly shape the opinion I hold of myself. I hate to admit it, but I have given these outside opinions the power to mould the way I see myself for far too many years. I may think I’m good at something, but as soon as someone with more experience says I’m bad at it, I quietly accept that as my truth, and often without question. Now, as a university student, this same tendency holds true: if a professor doesn’t like my writing and thinks my ideas suck–to put it dramatically–then I will go home and cry, believing deep in my soul that I am a terrible writer and that my ideas do suck.
OK, I am being slightly dramatic here (as I tend to be in these silly blog posts–oops!), and I promise that no professor has ever uttered such harsh words to me. I guess that is obvious because if they had said anything even remotely similar to that, I would have entirely given up on obtaining a higher education by now. I also promise that with age and experience my confidence in myself is slowly but surely growing and becoming less reliant on the opinions of others. It is something I’m working on, but I think acknowledging it and reflecting on the immense amount of power I give others in defining who I am is a very important step in overcoming it.
So while it kind of sucks getting Bs, especially when you work hard and strive for As, there is a certain freedom that comes with it. There is a beautiful release of needing to achieve perfection, of needing to be the best, of craving this validation from others. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and I know my professors are not trying to tear me down so much as they are trying to build me up by showing me how I can do better, but it does leave a little pang of sadness and an unwarranted twinge of incompetence when something you spent many hours poring over turns out to be average in the eyes of the so-called experts. At the same time, I have learned what a relief it is to be imperfect. What a relief it is to sit comfortably in the middle, not failing, not soaring at the highest of highs, but just coasting through. I never knew it could feel so OK to get Bs. I never knew I could be an average student and still be a worthy human with skills and gifts and wonderful qualities that are not determined by a number on a page decided by one single human.
While I still want to do my best and achieve all that I am capable of, I do not need to be the greatest all the time. And that is OK. I encourage everyone who sometimes holds themselves to an unrealistic standard to realize that there is no need to exhaust yourself over the little things that truly won’t matter at the end of the day. It’s a tricky thing because you want to push yourself to be the best you can be, but you also want give yourself room to breathe and accept that not everything you do will be a masterpiece. And isn’t that just the beauty of life?? Waking up each day with an opportunity to be better than the day before, or even to take a step back and let yourself bask in the wonder of just being a normal, imperfect human! Sometimes it is very OK to be average. Sometimes it takes being average to realize your worth as a human being is not contingent on your academic success or career advancements, but rather that doing your best and just being brave enough to try in the first place is enough. It is more than enough.
So cheers to being average! We can’t all be Elon Musk or Steve Jobs or Mary Anne Moser (a superhuman in my own family who sure sets the bar high, but in the best way possible). I hope you all take a moment today to enjoy your coffee or tea or wine, or all of the above, and to accept how wonderful it is to just be alive. What’s the point in hustling all day if you don’t stop for a moment to enjoy life? Balance, my friends, it’s all about that damn balance. Here’s hoping we are all able to master it.