Seeking Average While Being Best at What's Important

By Shyama Parui

“Boy pushes BMW in river." “Ungrateful 22 year old." “Rich parents, spoiled son." Many more such headlines were recently in the news featuring a strange but true report on a young man named Akash from Haryana in Northern India. Apparently, Akash demanded a Jaguar from his parents on his birthday but lo and behold, his parents gifted him a BMW car instead. His angry reaction was to push the car into a river. Let me admit that I tried very hard to avoid judgment and used my imagination to come up with possible rational explanations. Maybe his parents' money was tainted, and the boy tried to drown the “black money". Maybe he was suffering from other emotional problems and that led to a disturbing turn of events. But who am I kidding? It is far more likely that this individual rejected the unfortunate BMW, because he felt entitled to a luxury car of his choice and, perhaps, he also thought he wouldn't face any negative consequences or notoriety for his ungrateful gesture. I wonder if Jaguar is considering donating a car to the “poor rich kid" for popularizing the notion that their cars are far more desirable than those of its competitors. The viral video capturing the drama might even make some Indians proudly say, “Beta Akash has successfully shattered the belief that poverty is still a major problem in India."

Nevertheless, this entire episode illustrates that the young man at the age of 22 was neither capable of purchasing his own car nor was he resourceful enough to trade in the BMW and find a way to independently acquire a car that he craved for. Did he even stop to think about why he wanted to possess a specific vehicle or any other materialistic product or service? Was it the quest for the “best" or “priciest" or because it screams “richest"? There seems to be a rejection of anything that is second to best or God forbid, “average". That word mistakenly symbolizes everything that is undesirable, unattractive and therefore completely avoidable.

Everybody cannot be the best

We have all quite naturally attempted to attain a superlative position. We often covet the best. We wish to be the best and we also compel our kids be the best at everything. There's nothing wrong with that, just one problem! By definition, everybody cannot be the best. We can be the best at one or two things but not at everything and certainly not at the same time. The aversion to being average can be attributed to our fast paced, competitive and consumeristic society as well as the expectations that emerge from it. We are inclined to compare ourselves to someone who is more successful rather than someone who is worse off. It's important to recognize that even the most revered role models of success such as Albert Einstein, Jeff Bezos, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams to name a few, are average at things outside of their profession.

Our quest to becoming or acquiring the cream of the crop can be unending, tantamount to chasing unicorns. One might even forget the purpose of the chase or sadly undermine the most important factors. A tragic example of this is the story of American gymnasts who were abused by Larry Nassar. The fact that it took so many years to put that unforgivable doctor behind bars demonstrates that protecting the well-being of young girls was given a lower priority than preserving the elevated status of the team's coaches and doctors. Medals came at a price that was not worth paying for and their gleam symbolizes the failure of our “winning culture". This scenario is more common than we would like to admit, not unlike colleges and universities that allow their top athletes to get away with bad behavior that would otherwise be considered unacceptable. The lure of victory and wealth enticing people to win the race to the top can often leave a toxic trail behind it.

So, should we aim to be average or merely aspire for mediocrity? After some introspection, I have concluded that it would be wise to look at my life as a whole. It would serve me well to assess my values and principles and then decide what are the most important aspects of my life in the grand scheme of things. In those areas it makes sense to strive to be at my finest. For others, I am going to allow myself to be good enough, okay, B+ or whatever you want to call it. All components of life needn't be competitive or stressful. In other words, seeking average is not meant to be a stigma. It could be just what you need.

---------

Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com