Hello! I’m Samantha Matt, founder of this website, and below is an excerpt from my new book, Average is the New Awesome: A Manifesto for the Rest of Us that was released on January 7th. Fun fact: The name of the intro is what the book was originally titled. Enjoy!
Introduction: Help Me, I’m Average
My biggest accomplishment as a kid was showing up to dance class.
I’m not kidding.
High atop the white desk in my bedroom stood a shrine of trophies, medals, and ribbons, all awarded to me for simply showing up to class, competitions, and recitals.
“You must be, like, really good at dance,” friends would say upon seeing my collage of validation. Often, my mom would ask me not to bring friends upstairs to my messy bedroom when they were over, but I had to neglect her wishes. There was no Instagram yet for me to post this glorious sanctuary to, and people needed to know my worth. I was successful! I was victorious! I had been taking dance class for a few years, and I hadn’t yet quit!
Sure, these objects gave off the impression that I was an extremely talented dancer, but let’s look at the facts. I was on the mid-level dance team at my studio, and I was almost always in the back row for routines. And this wasn’t because I was tall. I’ve been 5′2″ since I can remember. It was because I wasn’t as good as everyone else. But—I wasn’t bad. I made the dance team somehow. I was just… average.
Average. I was average.
Average weight, meaning my doctor always spoke to me about my BMI being “overweight” and a couple snacks away from “obese.”
Average student, meaning my 3.2 high school GPA was good, but nothing worth writing home about.
Average looking, meaning one time in the eighth grade, a guy friend told me, “Some days, you look really pretty, and other days, not so much.”
Average relationship history, meaning I had a two-week relationship in the eighth grade, went alone to my junior prom, had someone else’s tongue in my mouth for the first time when I was seventeen, and found my first real boyfriend at nineteen.
Average social life, meaning I wasn’t part of the high school “in” crowd, by any means, but I did weasel my way into a few house parties, woods gatherings, and parking-lot drinking extravaganzas. Even Mean Girls didn’t acknowledge the table I sat at during at lunch, which was for girls not defined by being “cool,” “nerdy,” “athletic,” or “sexually active band geeks.” We were just a bunch of normal ladies living normal lives eating relatively normal lunches. Except for the year I decided it would be healthy to eat a bagel for lunch every day. Just a bagel. And a bottle of Strawberry Passion Fruitopia from the vending machine. Which did wonders for my BMI, I’m sure.
But I didn’t want to be average forever, and I didn’t think I would be. After all, I still thought, deep down, that I was special. My grandparents told me this all the time. “You’re so special! You’re so awesome!” It was a parade of compliments whenever I stepped foot in their house. Even at home, my dad would tell me every day, “You’re the prettiest girl in the world!” My mom, however, did not play into any of this. She didn’t want to inflate my ego. She didn’t want to set me up to be let down. Because of this, I knew what I had to do: get out there and prove to the people who thought I was awesome that I was, and prove to the people who weren’t convinced I was special that they were wrong.
And so began a long journey full of trying to find purpose through validation. I worked my ass off for years, until I found myself one day in the throes of adulthood, trophy-less and unsure of whether I would ever get to the places I wanted to go. The places I thought I was supposed to be.
What life did I think I was supposed to be living, though? Well, one that made my parents proud. One that made my peers envious. One that elicited applause in the form of likes and comments online. One in which I could check off all the boxes on the life timeline that society had ingrained in my head.
One day in my late twenties, I took a good look at my life. To me, it still seemed average. Years of school had led me to a good job at a good company, but I wasn’t making as much money as I thought I would be, and I wasn’t getting the recognition I thought I deserved. I was in a serious, long-term relationship with a good guy, but I wasn’t married and getting ready to have kids like I thought I would be at my age. I had friends I saw often but not as much as I thought I would, which made me constantly panic that “everyone is mad at me” and/or that “no one likes me anymore.” And, according to my BMI, I was still overweight, just slightly further from the obese side of the equation—but not where I thought I’d be after developing a healthier lifestyle.
But what was so wrong with my life? That I didn’t get recognized by Forbes’ “30 Under 30” as one of the brightest young stars in the world? That I wasn’t ready to have kids like I had told myself I would be by this age? That some stupid calculation factoring only weight and height was telling me I looked a certain way when I was actually quite fit, strong, and happy with the way I looked? That I was average?
Nothing was wrong with my life. I woke up in the morning, I went to work, I paid bills, I had friends, I had a love life. So fucking what if I wasn’t at the adult version of the “top of my class” when it came to these things? So fucking what if people weren’t telling me what a great job I was doing at life? I was doing good enough. I was doing awesome.
The notion that average is bad is something society has bestowed upon us. We think we’re special. We think we’re important. And when we don’t get remarkable recognition for our talents, we assume we have failed. We have no in-between here. It’s sensational success or distressing defeat.
A major part of this is the result of the narcissism epidemic, the problem in which people have unreasonably high expectations for their lives. It has been reported that while in the 1950s 12 percent of college students described themselves as important, by the 1980s that number had risen to 80 percent.* Not only do people—and their parents—think they are important and deserve only the best, but they simply cannot handle it when they don’t appear as impressive as their peers.
Some people go out of their way to make themselves stand out from the crowd by hiding the unexceptional parts of their lives around others and on social media. Many of them become depressed. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that social media is a cause of this. The researcher wrote, “When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”* And when people think that everyone else is doing better than they are, it is easy to decide they are lower than average, even though they thought they were supposed to be special.
This obsession with obtaining perfection has made people believe that average is an insult. That it is something that equates with failure. After all, when people believe they are important, they will be frustrated when the world does not treat them as such.
The problem is that people forgot there is a happy medium in life. That there is something in between failure and success. A little something I like to call average. And what’s so wrong with being those things?
Being average doesn’t mean you have failed. It doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved any success. It doesn’t mean you can’t still go after more success. It means you are like everyone else, and that you are doing just fine.
If living life were a test, and the teacher scaled the scores, the average would probably be close to a perfect score. That’s because most people feel average. And no shit, right? Especially for someone like me who grew up with participation trophies, words of validation, and, later, symbols of validation (hello, social media). When the awards for showing up stopped, I wondered if I’d failed. When the words of validation became less frequent, I felt discouraged. And when the symbols of validation weren’t enough, I deleted the posts. Because validation was not enough anymore. I needed more.
But fuck all of that. Being average is normal. Being average is awesome. And, hi, I’m Sam, and I’m going to explain to you why in this here book.
Consider this book as exactly what it is: a manifesto for the rest of us. A call to embrace average. A call to stop validating your existence through praise. A call to realize it’s okay if you’re not where you thought you’d be in life right now.
Now, this book does not suggest that you throw your dreams away or settle for wherever you are in life. But maybe if you start living life for you (you as in the person you are right now, and not the person you were years ago), you’ll realize you’re happy where you are. After all, you’re allowed to be happy on the journey to wherever life is taking you next.
This is an excerpt from Average is the New Awesome: A Manifesto for the Rest of Us by Samantha Matt (the founder of this website, Forever Twenty Somethings). Published by Seal Press/Hachette Book Group. Copyright @ 2019 by Samantha Matt.
* The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell (New York: Atria, 2009), as cited in Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, “The Upsides of Being Average,” Psychology Today, June 2, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mr-personality/201706/the-upsides-being-average.
*University of Pennsylvania. “Social Media Use Increases Depression and Loneliness, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181108164316.htm (accessed May 14, 2019).