Few people make those top 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 lists. When I recently read an email from my alma mater requesting nominations for one of these elusive awards, I felt a bit triggered. Not everyone is recognized as a shining star at work, in their family or on a public stage. Many of us lead lives that are pretty good, but rarely honored with time-stamped awards.
Looking back, not winning the Most Likely to Succeed superlative in high school foreshadowed my future. Perhaps my peers held more wisdom at 17 than I thought. As I approach my mid-thirties, my life looks nothing like I thought it would- not necessarily better or worse, just different. I won’t bore you with a long list of all of my unmet goals, unseized opportunities, and half-assed attempts. But let’s just say my wandering nature has rendered me a Jackie of all trades, Master of few and GOAT of none.
This feeling is not unique to me. I know many lovely people who have worked hard to accomplish impressive achievements- graduate degrees, Fulbright awards, promotions, moves abroad and cross country, etc. More importantly, they are kind, generous and seeking ways to make the world better. And yet their lives have not turned out the way they had hoped. Sure, by some measures of success, they are doing okay. But in many ways they are not quite “there” yet- often feeling unfulfilled, undervalued and overlooked.
Growing up I was taught that if I was a good student, worked hard and followed the rules, I’d be rewarded with a good, stable life. Many other Millennials were spoon-fed this ‘Merican myth of meritocracy. Someone just forgot to tell us that it ultimately leads to mediocrity!
I’ve discussed this with other people, and they highlight the impact of several external, macro-level events. From the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the 2008 stock market crash and recession. This led many of us to take gap years or accumulate extra student debt by going to graduate school. Just when we began to gain some stability, 2020 unleashed a deadly global pandemic, a competitive housing market, and a complete overhaul of our work and social lives. I am not making excuses, but we’ve had our share of challenging world events.
Some people accomplish great things and are recognized publicly and financially for them. Others face a life of struggle and significant hardships. But most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Leading fairly average lives with sprinkles of wonder, joy, heartbreak and growth.
My personal definition of success is to live a fully human experience, feeling the nuance of life. So if mediocrity means being in the middle, this implies the average. Perhaps when we sum all of our experiences and divide them by the number of unique instances, we’d see that we probably lead a pretty good life. When I reframe things this way, not winning the Nobel or Pulitzer is not so bad. After all, it’s the norm not to!
So Suitie, how do you live an extraordinarily average life? Cheers to finding your sweet spot somewhere in the middle!