Ain’t Nothing Wrong With Being Average

When I first arrived at university, I was quiet, naive, and completely unprepared. My first semester, I failed Calculus, struggled through Spanish, and was drowning in Donne, Locke, Kant, Descartes, and Nietzsche. College was much harder than I had expected.

My parents prioritized their children’s education over all else, so my siblings and I attended Catholic school our entire lives. While our public school friends played outside, we spent all evening doing homework.

Throughout my childhood, I was always in the gifted, honors, dual-enrollment, or advanced placement class. I consistently scored in top 3% of my class. I loved all subjects, and everything seemed to come easily to me. On road trips, I asked my family Brain Quest trivia questions and had a blast working through puzzles in my Mensa kids workbooks. I loved learning, and I loved problem-solving.

In elementary school, we had to take the torturous Iowa test every year. In the national standardized test, I scored in the 99th percentile for nearly every category year-after-year. I was either smart, determined, or some blend of the two. In high school, my teachers nominated me as “student of the year” in Math, Science, and English across my four years. Then I was recognized for scoring in the top 1% in the nation on a standardized math test filled with incredibly fun and challenging logic puzzles.

My entire life, I had unknowingly benefited from being one of the smartest kids in the room. That ended when I left home.

I attended a competitive college, so the dozens of students surrounding me in each classroom were all above average. We had all been the smartest kids in our high schools, and now the threshold for “average” in our university freshmen cohort had risen drastically. And I was in over my head. I was no longer better than the average.

That was one of the most challenging adjustments of my life, trumped only by chronic illness.

After a lifetime of others asking me for help, I now had to humble myself and admit that I didn’t understand. I had to learn to ask for help. For the first year or two, my pride got in the way. I studied late into the night, but refused to go to tutoring or study groups. I didn’t want others to think I was dumb, and I didn’t want to admit to myself that I still had much to learn.

I did well in college, graduated with above average grades and a worthless degree, and then went on to stumble into a decent career. The greatest lesson I learned in college — and it was a hard pill for me to swallow — was that it’s okay to be average, and it’s okay to ask for help.

When faced with chronic illness, this lesson came to light once more. I long ago accepted that I’m perhaps not cut out to be a neurosurgeon or astrophysicist, but how does one face the loss of the basic abilities, and perhaps even falling below average?

With time, I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with being ordinary or average. Go check out my post on the Heart of the Matter to join in on the conversation.

25 thoughts on “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With Being Average

Add yours

  1. I’m with you Erin, I’ve never been good about asking for help. I’m fine with putting my head down, putting in the hours of study, but simply raising my hand and asking for help, can be such a challenge. And you’re so right, it’s so important. We don’t talk about enough. Yes, it’s having realistic expectations, but it’s also saying to yourself, I can’t do this alone, who can help me. Lovely post Erin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s astonishing to me how hard is can be to ask for help, and I never had a lesson on “how to ask for help” or even the reassurance that it’s okay to not know something. It takes a lot to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and admit we could use help, doesn’t it? It’s really a valuable lesson once we arrive at a place where we can ask for what we need. Thanks, Brian!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your post…it’s a reminder that course corrections in life are just that…changes in the destination, maneuvering as we go. When I see folks compound their stress by being inflexible about the ‘what, when, where’…I’d love to give a healthy dose of the resolve you’re finding — to navigate anew! Love and hugs! 🥰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the visual of maneuvering as we go! I used to be embarrassingly rigid, but at some point we recognize that what we’re doing isn’t working… and we either continue to suffer or change. Hugs to you, Vicki! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, so true, LA. I’ve seen numerous studies over the years where (if I recall correctly) around 80-90% of people consider themselves to be “above-average” in whatever trait is being measured.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I had a discussion with a friend a few years back, when common core first appeared. The first year our kids took it, the results were a bell curve with most kids (80%) being a 3. It was 1 far below grade standard, 2 below grade standard, 3 at grade standard and 4 exceeds grade standard. People were mad saying test was unreasonable and I said the test was spot on because 80 percent of kids should be average. I reasoned that if 80% of kids got 4s, the standards were too low

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely! While I’m not familiar with common core, as I don’t have kids in my life, the purpose of standardization is to structure testing in such a way as to achieve that bell curve representation.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. When we’re a fish in a small fish bowl, it’s easy to think we’re better than we are, but when put into a tank with others on our level, we quickly see where we actually are. That’s not a bad thing as you point out, it just helps us to manage our expectations, even if we learn those lessons later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Tamara, you’re absolutely right about managing expectations. Going from the small pond to the ocean can be overwhelming at first, but there is so much to learn from the experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Your experience is like my son’s. He was 99th% percentile every year on all tests. In Mensa, top student of the county, etc. etc. Then his freshman year of college he aced his first quarter. He had an accident his second quarter and by the end of Spring quarter, he received a letter telling him his admission had been revoked. He was struggling with a broken hand and he missed tons of class taking the train home for doctor’s appointments. He was embarrassed to ask for help. However, he took on the challenge and got readmitted to the university and graduated. I think he learned something through that experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your son’s experience, E.A., though I’m glad that he was able to overcome the adversity. Sometimes those hard lessons are the ones that really stick with us and have an impact.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think he’s much better off having that experience. He’s not afraid to ask for help at work for example. He realized it’s okay to not be perfect or the smartest guy in the room.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think there’s some old adage out there about working hard rather than having everything handed to you or having things just fall into place easily…

    There’s really a lot to be said about being confronted with the realization that you aren’t the best at most everything. Hard and humbling definitely but also, I think anyway, the opportunity to find a degree of freedom from expectations placed by others and even more so by oneself.

    There’s a lot of good in not being the best… 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. While the initial shock was hard and humbling, I have come to recognize and appreciate!) the freedom from expectations. In high school, everyone seemed to expect me to do big things, and that’s a heavy weight to carry as an 18-year-old. Nowadays, I am happy and proud to be (probably?) quite average in most areas. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Your experience in college really resonated with me. I felt the same way after high school when you’re suddenly with the best students from their high schools. It truly is humbling experience.

    I know now to approach schooling and learning differently with my son. Still have standards and still challenge and support him but to focus more on the learning journey and individual growth, rather than the need to be the best out of the group but rather to be the best version of himself possible.

    And if that means being average of the group, so be it! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It reassuring to know I wasn’t alone in my experience. It really is humbling, and it was unexpected, at least for me.

      I can tell through your writing that you’re doing just that–challenging T to be the best version of himself and gently nudging him toward the edges of his abilities while guardrails and a safety net. You’ve doing him a service by working alongside him to face and overcome challenges, rather than make excuses. I know it’s hard work for all involved, but you’re doing such a great job setting your son up for success in life, whatever that may look like. 😊


  7. The challenge in life comes from family expectations, which don’t allow us to pursue what we might like to pursue. Then as you mention, being competitive with others and our own personal life circumstances that might challenge our first direction and make us move on a new path. We have to reach a point where we are striving for our own happiness and passions in whatever directions that takes us. It’s hard, but once we feel free of constraints and expectations, we can strive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make such a great point! I was fortunate that, personally, my family’s expectations were no outrageous. But it’s when we choose to pursue our own happiness, rather than work to satisfy others, there we can really thrive.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: