In the career world, resumés are the yardstick with which we measure our progress. This metric is one of the few ways we can quantitatively size up our successes, and there’s something about having that standardized measurement of accomplishment that intimidates even the most exceptional overachiever.
It’s like a mirror that seems to add 20 pounds to your figure. Seeing every accomplishment, every job, all of the internships and volunteer work that you’ve ever had summed up into 12-point Times New Roman text that doesn’t even take up an entire page is discouraging, to say the least. Pondering your newfound inadequacy, you ask yourself, is this all I am? Am I really this average?
Yes. You really are that average. And that’s OK.
The Role of Social Media Plays in Feeling Subpar
It seems we have created a distorted view of being average, and consequently, we try to avoid it at all costs. A study done on averageness and how we perceive it shows just how skewed our perspective is on the notion. Participants overall tended to label their own abilities as above average—try drawing that bell curve out—but the study also found evidence that people consider “average” as being synonymous with having below-average abilities rather than interpreting the term as its literal definition.
It’s a sign of the times, and it’s also social comparison at work. With every scroll through social media, every new LinkedIn connection, we are reminded not of our own accomplishments, but the accomplishments of others (read: things you didn’t accomplish but somebody else did). Meanwhile, other social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook remind us of the cars we don't drive and the places we haven't been. The age of technology has opened our eyes to the lives we don’t have, and all of the sudden, each of ours seems lackluster in comparison. It’s like how every novel on the shelf at the bookstore is somehow a New York Times bestseller. How is that even possible? you ask yourself. But then you look down at the book you picked and see that it is the only one in the store without that shining medallion on the cover. Oh, and it’s also a collection of amateur poetry. A lot of times, we make ourselves feel like our life is that single, unlauded book on the shelf.
As the usage of platforms like LinkedIn continues to increase, we may increasingly feel subpar in relation to our peers. Imposter syndrome is a feeling that many people face within competitive environments, but even our social media has become a place of comparison that we now carry everywhere.
Young adults in the United States who are currently entering the job market find ourselves searching for a way to cope with achievement culture being at an all-time high. Told from infancy that we are unique, exceptional, and capable of doing whatever we set our minds to, we have reached territory where these affirmations no longer necessarily apply. The departure from adolescence has been difficult for every previous generation and will always continue to be so, but equipped with a new, digital metric for success, Generation Z must learn to adapt to its modern world and newfound adulthood.
Our Very Own Treadmill
The coping mechanisms of overachievers often involve, in this situation, taking on far too many responsibilities, roles, and emotional investments to carry, in hopes of overcoming the feeling of inadequacy. And for a little while, it works. The fear of the average leaves us alone. But then, we decide to add one more thing to the pile and everything goes south. It’s as if we each are sprinting on our very own treadmills, and we bump up the speed every so often because it seems possible to go a little bit faster. And the whole time we are running on this treadmill, this monster called averageness is chasing you, until you’re sprinting so hard you can’t keep up and fly off of the back of the treadmill. Still nursing your wounds, you climb back on the treadmill, turn the speed down a notch, and go back to sprinting away from this monster that forever nips at your heels.
We romanticize this mad, stupid sprint. Like martyrs, we sacrifice ourselves to this futile cause of making ourselves superhuman. Everyone dreams of being that person who does it all—balancing a career, a family, and a social life like it’s fine china, all while using the newest iPhone without a case on it and casually wafting an oh-so-abundant resumé in your direction. And so, we run.
It’s time to hit the brakes on our sprint and slow down. Far too often, we try to outpace our averageness, but switching our version of success from quantitative to qualitative is what will help us realize that being average is, in the end, a great life to live.
Often, when you look for something you’ve lost, you never find it; it’s when you stop looking that it reappears. If all we seek is high achievements or being the best, we will only find disappointment. Not only that, but we can no longer give our entire abilities to tasks at hand if there are too many to balance. In the end, we are not necessarily any less average than we were before balancing all of these responsibilities; we may simply be average at more things.
Slowing down and no longer buying into the quantitative mindset of success will allow us to pour our energy and time into what we prioritize, and we will be all the better because of it. Resumés and social media can capture breadth, but they often fail to capture depth. Yet depth is really where averageness is surpassed.
Surrendering to an average existence could be, paradoxically, how we find our better and happier selves. Studies suggest it's not simply the case that success leads to happiness; happiness itself may lead to greater success. So maybe, it’s time we reprioritize what’s worth sprinting for.