Perhaps I was first introduced to the obsession of outstanding success and unique talents from children’s shows. In fact, the original Pokémon theme song started: “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was’’. Regardless of the source, the idea of being the best has tailed me for my whole life. I have always felt like I have to stand out as a student, an athlete, or even a citizen. Now, I would chalk this up to my own insecurities, but I suspect there is something larger at play here; in a culture dominated with a dogged obsession of rank and medals, the fierce competition to be at the top has claimed many lives, quite literally.
Of course where I live, the pursuit of unique stardom is not unusual in the slightest. Getting even a second in the spotlight requires some intense competition, and such a need to stand out is understandable. But even at large, this feeling of insecurity and a lowered sense of self worth is rampant. Many today feel like their lives aren’t worth living, or they should be doing more to justify their existence.
While I can not speak to the larger issue at hand, I can address what I have learned to accept in my own personal life: mediocrity is reality. While that may sound tremendously cynical, that’s only because it’s so contrary to modern pop culture’s messages. Every movie, every ad, every billboard flashes a golden life up in neon signs; and that makes sense: promising a star studded life where every day is faultless, and you, the viewer, are the most interesting person alive, sells. It’s a solid marketing strategy. The opposite, ‘You’re alright, I guess’ simply wouldn’t win any awards. But real life doesn’t adhere to the same principles.
Now, I know I sound like a mindless contrarian, espousing the exact opposite of the understood reality for attention, but I genuinely feel strongly about this. I feel like there is just a constant gnawing pressure to be and feel outstandingly well. Not only does this put an unnecessary burden on an already struggling society, but it also makes us question whether us or anything is even worth it. Ironically, tales of stupendous success have become so widespread that we have gotten used to them. And somewhere, subconsciously, we have accepted this as a norm, not as an anomaly. Expecting marvelous results is simply a standard now. When scientists develop a vaccine for a widespread disease, success rates of 88% are looked at with distrust, simply because they didn’t cross an imaginary threshold. Athletes who finish 5th or 6th in a competition that thousands didn’t even qualify for, are simply overlooked, treated as a blip. There is some unwritten rule that our success must be defined by specific numbers, depending on the field. If it’s rank-based, 1, 2, 3 matter, and the rest are to be entirely ignored. If it’s a percentage based system, anything below 90% can be discarded.
Somewhere along this line, comes the individual angle. We expect ourselves to be amazing, or be working towards something amazing all the time. Personally, any time I’m not devoting to studying, writing, or other academically aligned interests, I feel subpar. Not even terrible, but just normal. And somehow, normal has become an insult to me. Well, I think it bears repeating: mediocrity is reality. Very few moments will be amazing, and very few things we do will be incredible, or even unique. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Every life has value, whether it’s lived behind closed doors, or on the front page of newspapers. I believe embracing the thorough averageness of everyday life can reset our expectations of ourselves and of the world we live in. Perhaps that would also serve to define the truly spectacular for what it really is: a lifetime of hard work, or a mere coincidence.
This is by no means an excuse to not try, or settle. The effort to succeed is ultimately more useful than the fruits of the success itself. But what this is, is a call to recognize the unnecessary pressure to run in a rat race organized by former winners of previous rat races. There is nothing wrong with striving to achieve success, but if the source of that success was brought about by a false need to prove one’s self worth, or vague promises by motivated sources, chances are that the end result will be less enjoyable, or turn out to be entirely different. In other words, try to do the impossible if you want to, but don’t do it because you feel like you have to. The small victories that anyone can achieve are just as worthwhile pursuing. Uniqueness does not equal inherent value. Your life isn’t an antique thriftstore; simply being rare does not bring a higher market value, or happiness for that matter.
Perhaps it’s just me. As I write this, I keep questioning myself whether I’m simply projecting my feelings of inadequacy and a constant need to prove myself, and treating it as a topic worth writing and reading. Beyond that, such a topic is a minefield to write about, and even harder to write eloquently. But I will push those thoughts down for now, and end with this: in a world where your attention is the biggest currency, companies will try their very best to capture it. Tales of the sublime and sensational will never be hard to find, but they will be nearly impossible to recreate or match. And that’s okay. Being average, a regular person is an art unto itself.