The Fallacy Of Greatness


You don’t have to be great.

That’s not saying you won’t be. This isn’t a crotchety millennial-bashing, selfie-warning apocalyptic screed by someone who just turned thirty-four. This is just something that I think you should hear. You can be average, if you want.

And maybe you should.

When we think of average, we imagine something diametrically opposed to ourselves; we picture  an imagined suburban strip mall so awful that we have to claw our way beyond its gravity. That’s because we can’t be average; we have to be special, and the cheapest way to do that is to push the average down. But when we do that, we don’t raise ourselves up; we cheapen humanity. If being just a regular human isn’t enough, than you sacrifice your very soul- the essence of humanity- just in the hope of avoiding the “regular” that precedes it.

An average person; we’ve been putting the emphasis on the adjective, not the noun; we’ve grown to hate the average so much that we hate the people that come after it, even, or perhaps especially, ourselves. We’re so obsessed with rankings and titles that we shunt aside our own inherent value for a ranking instead. When “average” becomes so loathsome, it forces us to be great heroes, transcendent successes, or, at the very least, perpetual aspirants, forever chasing validation from all corners of the internet.

Think of that pressure: both what it does to you and how readily you take it on yourself. Do you remember applying to colleges? Did you ever look at a book of college rankings? SAT scores?

Now, you’re a smart — dare I say, special — reader, so I know you know how arbitrary those things are. You rolled your eyes at quantifying intelligence, scoffed at “ranking” colleges, and that’s why, to send a message, you failed the SATs on purpose.

You didn’t? It’s okay. None of us did. We’re average, more or less, and that’s okay.

When you think you have to be great, the pressure wells up inside, especially when greatness is so hard to quantify. Without any real anchor for value, we move to the next best thing: attention. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; we all crave to be heard, to be validated, to be known, but when there’s a button that can give you a physical number of likes, no number can ever go high enough. And that means you’ll never be satisfied.

(Oh yeah, like this post: you’d want me to like yours. See, we’re average, you and I. Gotta look out for each other.)

In our quest to escape average — which we perceive as absolute failure rather than the static state of being — we fill ourselves with an existential dread. How are we all going to release best selling but critically acclaimed albums and novels this year? How are we going to find critics to even acclaim them? Because critics are average and we- shining stardust that we are- have to be great. And in that narcissistic pride is a real sad terror. We have to be great, we say, because the unspoken suffix is that we might as well die.

That’s the unspoken end to so many internet articles after all; “25 things to do 25 and if you don’t you are garbage” “10 places to visit before you die and if you don’t you’re dead already, because you are worthless and uncultured and look nothing like this stock photo.” When everything is a checklist, shared and compared against the pin board of the internet, life becomes a competition you have to record and measure against the shadows on your laptop.

The good news is the internet isn’t real. It’s an awesome, magical place where twelve-year olds on Xbox live claim to have had relations with your relatives. But it isn’t real. However, in the arms race, we’ve emperor’s new clothes’d ourselves into the bargain. If this is the world the internet expects of me, we think, then I have to live up to it.

Look: you’re fine as you are. Your basic humanity is enough to justify your existence. You don’t need to chase goals, but you can if you’d like. But if you feel some creeping dreadful angst following you as you peruse life-advice sites, maybe, just maybe, you should know that there’s only a certain level you can hit. We’re not all beautiful chef authors who sing and delight children and attractive strangers with our wit, charm, and six-figure job. We’re all just people, with hopes, talents, flaws, and the day to day value that gives us exceeds whatever milestone you think you need.

Sometimes you don’t have to be all that you can be. Sometimes, just be.

And that’s enough.

image – Spider Man 3