Average is awesome!
Geniuses are great, but the vast majority of kids end up somewhere in the middle
“I want to be a champion when I grow up,” our 4-year-old daughter said recently. “A champion at what?” I asked. “I don’t care, I just want to be great,” she replied
Part of me thinks “bravo” at the idea. We want our children to be ambitious and hardworking. They have to be if they’re to excel and succeed at something … anything. But the truth is most won’t end up champions of the world. Or even their school.
Which, of course, is no reason for them not to try, or for us not to encourage our kids to strive for greatness. But we also have to find a way to let them know that ending up a good person, reasonably well adjusted, doing something they enjoy, with a nice life and a strong family may be as great as it gets, and that’s enough.
Average is what most of us really are, if we’re honest with ourselves. Statistically speaking, most of us are in the middle of the curve most all of the time, in almost everything we do. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Anyone who has read the biographies of the world’s most successful artists, athletes, inventors and world-changing entrepreneurs realizes they were broken in some way, and their obsession to be the best was born out of trying to fix the break.
Bad dads are often at the heart of great individual success, it seems to me. The father for whom good was never good enough; the taskmaster living vicariously through his children’s success; the emotionally unavailable dad who never praised or said “I love you.”
That’s a gross simplification, certainly. Many supremely successful people came from stable families and kind, caring fathers.
Earning great wealth or being a world-famous athlete doesn’t make you a good person. There are endless examples of brilliant businesspeople and generation-defining geniuses who were awful to their families and friends. And don’t forget the evil geniuses among us, those who were brilliant at being bad – dictators, autocrats and others whose success came at the expense of other people.
Perhaps it’s perfectly OK to be average if you’re doing something good in the world. And yet so much of our media focus on the exceptional. Televised sports, awards shows, YouTube videos of people doing remarkable things and the bios of youthful billionaires are so ubiquitous, it’s easy to feel like a failure if one is not incredibly accomplished by the age of 12. Or 20.
How do we as parents pass on the knowledge that we’re not all born to be geniuses or champions, and that hard work often triumphs over pure intelligence, looks and skill?
Praising the effort and not the innate, and taking on the difficult task of asking those around us to do the same is a good start. It’s hard to nip the “you’re so smart, you’re so cute” praising in the bud, especially when it comes from a loving relative or supportive friend. But numerous studies, and much personal experience, say we must.
Then there’s the conundrum of extracurricular activities: art classes, violin lessons and soccer leagues.
I’m going to admit to not looking forward to the next decade and a half of weekends spent at athletic fields and courts, or at recitals, rehearsals and such. Maybe I’m a bad dad, plus I’m sure the parental instinct will kick in, where every performance by our progeny will become important.
But we’ve also seen the disappointment of parents who spend some of the best weekends of their lives obsessing over their offspring’s activities only to have the kid quit, burn out or end their high school careers without so much as a scholarship offer to ease their parents’ pain and out-of-pocket expense.
As a father, I realize that we can’t raise kids who are lazy and unchallenged. It’s through rigor and hard work that we uncover our best selves. But we also want our kids to realize the tremendous accomplishment that comes from creating something, the pleasures of reading a good book, the importance of enjoying a close friendship and the joy of laughing with someone you love.
If we do well at raising kids who are whizzes at these aspects of life, we’ll grade our parenting as well-above average. If one or more of our children go on to obtain such financial success that they can help support this old dad in his dotage, well, all the better.