“Average. It was the worst, most disgusting word in the English language. Nothing meaningful or worthwhile ever came from that word.”
― Portia de Rossi, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

Today, I wasn’t feeling entirely well, and while I was resting and thinking about what today’s blog topic should be, I drew a blank. The only thing that popped into my head was the Sesame Street song from my childhood, “C Is For Cookie”.

It also got me to thinking how as a teenager, the same kids who learned along with that song would sing it in relationship to grades (since a C or above constituted a passing mark). It was, in a way, a song about accepting mediocrity and the realisation that sometimes, just squeaking by got you the same results as trying extremely hard.

Like many people in my generation, I suffer from a love-hate relationship with both laziness and perfectionism, which are often two sides of the same coin. Of course, sometimes laziness is just laziness–a lack of focus, a lack of discipline, not feeling like doing something because it’s hard and not that much fun. On the other hand, often laziness covers up the feelings that lurk behind laziness: You can’t fail if you don’t even try.

I think this is a common problem amongst people who describe themselves as lazy, ordinary, or not really that great at things. I know it always has been for me; all the auditions I never went to, the stories I never submitted, the books I never published, the jobs I never applied for, I tend to let people think didn’t work out because I’m a bit lazy, a bit disorganised, a bit immature. But the truth of the matter is, although I am a little bit of those things, I also consider myself an extremely ordinary person. There is always a voice in my head that says, “You aren’t special, and you’ll never be good enough.” I don’t know where the voice comes from. If anything, I spent most of my time until my early 20’s being an overachiever. If there was something I could do, I wanted to do it better than anyone else. If there was something I couldn’t do well–say, perhaps, playing volleyball or figuring out how to put furniture together– I tended to not try at all.If I didn’t even reasonably stand a chance at being the best at something, I didn’t do it at all.

This problem has followed me into adulthood, and left me with issues regarding laziness, procrastination, and a general lack of self-esteem. Recently, I had a dream in which I was attending an audition where all the other girls there were tall, beautiful, sexy, charismatic, and danced perfectly…and then there was me, kind of resembling Mary Catherine Gallagher from the infamous SNL “Superstar” skit.

Tonight, before I wrote this blog, The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I watched an episode of The Goldbergs, and in it, the teenage daughter–who is actually pretty, bright, popular, and talented—decides she wants to become a pop star, like most teenagers somewhere along the way. Most kids want to be an actor, a singer, a movie star, the President, anything but an ordinary person. There is this feeling of “If only I were special, life would be easier”, and for some of us, that doesn’t go away with age. In the show, her parents attempt to crush her unrealistic dreams, but what does that is realising that every girl her age thinks they are just as special, just as talented, just as likely to be famous someday. Everyone shows up to the rock concert with a homemade demo, hoping something wonderful will happen and someone will say, “Wow, you’re really special”.

But it doesn’t happen, because in reality, most people don’t have extraordinary gifts. And for people like me, who grew up with very high expectations and surrounded herself with high-achieving, way-more-perfect people all the way into adulthood, the hardest thing to come to terms with is “being ordinary”. If you happen to be able to do a whole lot of things averagely well, is anything about you special at all? Should you even bother doing those things, knowing that so few people will ever really notice? Should you bother to speak if nobody’s listening? If you’re in a group of people where everyone is more accomplished, better-looking, more intelligent, more charming, is it normal to feel so inadequate you wish you could disappear–and wonder if anyone sees you?

I don’t think it is, and “not being special” has held me back from doing a lot of things and taking a lot of chances. I’ve always waited for the “someday” when I was more perfect, and as karma and time would have it, you often become more damaged and less perfect as time goes on. I do not even want people to see me until I’m able to be the person I could and should be, because I can’t stand being the one in the group who isn’t good enough, whom everyone laughs at.

I don’t know why I am this way; the same quality that’s led me to have a larger-than-life personality and a unique appearance and a quirky way of looking at and experiencing the world hides a very deep insecurity, one that says “When I try to be like everyone else and accept being just an ordinary person, nobody knows I’m here”.

The “C Is For Cookie, And That’s Good Enough For Me” mentality was never one I could deal with…yet looking at myself realistically, as an adult, I’m a C kind of person, one who isn’t going to be famous or change the world or be the most interesting person in the room. I’ll usually be less interesting in a social setting than my prettier friend, less noticeable in intelligent conversation than my more accomplished friend, less everything in most situations.

And somewhere along the line, I know the trick is stop caring how other people see you–even if you agree with them—and to just be happy with the little things. It is important to just accept being you.

It was much easier when we were all kids and were willing to make fools of ourselves because we genuinely thought we were showing the world we were special. In reality, that confidence and courage is special, because most of us don’t have it as adults. Not even people like me, who wear glitter and fascinators and have loud voices, and “suck all the air out of the room”. Not even that guy or girl with the great job, the perfect hair, the “just came from the gym” body, and all the friends. Not the woman who has all the kids but manages to still do everything perfectly. We’re all kind of faking it, hoping the world will see something better than a C. So many times, we don’t try, because we’re afraid that the only thing worse than failing is being unremarkable.

Today, I wrote this blog. It was not a masterpiece, and it was perhaps not even very good. It is sitting on the internet, where people, many of whom are better writers than I am, might read it and laugh at it.

I’m learning to be OK with that, because C is for cookie, and at some point, that has to be good enough for me.

C is also for courage, and I sometimes like to think it takes a little of that to write about what everyone else is feeling, but would never tell you.

A lot of the time, I am afraid I am not good enough and there never will be anything remarkable about me. What gives me comfort is knowing I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this way.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating told me I could have a special surprise if I finished this blog before midnight, and I did. I’m going to laugh if it happens to be a cookie.

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    One Response

  • Chewbacca says...

    Hi Alayna,

    I think this article is exceptionally relatable. However, as children, I think we were relatively unique, in that somehow we knew that we definitely had talents that were well beyond the norm for most of our peers, and at least my parents fed into that to some degree.

    In my adult years, I’m finding that fear of failure is a huge factor towards not pursuing various activities. At some point, it became essential to preserve that identity of being “exceptional,” and any little thing that could somehow cast doubt to that could become quite troubling. Perhaps my breaking point happened during my University, when on odd confluence of forces all at once.

    At least growing up, there was one particular talent that seemed to outshine everything else. I remember as a young child, going to the local Target or piano stores, and playing around with the keyboards while my parents shopped. However, there’d be several occasions where my parents would intervene and “warn” me to only play those things that I knew well, because “you never know who’s watching.”

    Perhaps that was true; people did watch, but paradoxically, when somebody introduced themselves to actually turn the talent into anything that could lead to significant notoriety, they shied away. They wished to “mainstream” me to the largest extent possible, somehow expecting that to enhance my social skills (the jury’s still out on that one.)

    Thankfully, I didn’t turn out to become one of those sociopathic, narcissistic Ayn Rand acolytes, like several gifted people, somewhat justifiably, find alluring.

    Nonetheless, when I did compete at music competitions, 2nd Place was tantamount to failure, and oddly I felt worse than had I pulled off 3rd. Even a First Place finish was fleeting, as there was always *something else* just around the corner that required preparation.

    By University, my very same parents acted quite negatively to an internship opportunity I was awarded, and seriously advised me to turn it down. The exact words were, “Why not do something a little more ‘Down to Earth.'” (Darkly poetic, since it involved analyzing satellite imagery data from the stars.) I’m quite proud and grateful as I told my father to essentially “sod off” at this advice and successfully pursued it anyway, for I’d never get that opportunity again. They wanted me to s stay local, never leave my home town. While at one time they allegedly would have stopped at nothing to ensure myself, they were trying to convince me to live a life of mediocrity.

    Yet now, despite some interesting adventures, I fear I’ve fallen into the Mediocrity Trap myself. I don’t have a sexy job that interests anyone, while I’m financially stable and can enjoy an occasional comfort *knock on wood*, I’ll probably never have a luxury penthouse and fly first-class on a whim. However, I’m slowly coming to terms with that, because I can see how so many high-achieving and driven people drive themselves into the ground – that nothing is ever good enough. (Though, material wealth and possessions were never very high on my list anyway – I just wanted to avoid the pain of financial instability that my parents were often troubled by.)

    I don’t necessarily wish to keep up with the Joneses. In the future, I don’t want to compare my hypothetical child’s schooling prospects with that of my neighbours’. It’s a huge sign of insecurity.

    So yeah, I’m okay with the knowledge that I have certain skills, that when I apply them, I can achieve great things. However, I don’t need to live in the spotlight, nor see anything wrong with not always refining those skills to The Highest Purpose. What I’m sick of allowing, however, is allowing fear to dominate my decisions. Paradoxically, in the effort to avoid failure, one automatically fails by never trying.

    Ultimately, we’re all the captains of our own ships, and we’re the ones accountable whether we’re satisfied with the course we’ve charted after all. So, it’s okay to be a “C” at some things – Hell, even a lot of things – as long as you make an “A-effort” to nurture a life that brings you joy and contentment.