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Crappy homes, lame love lives, getting passed over for a great job (again)–not what we expected for our adulthoods. Americans tell their children you can become anything! But let’s face it–most of us can’t.
Sure, some of our peers go on to become astronauts or billionaires. But most of us don’t. In Average Is the New Awesome, Samantha Matt offers encouragement to us regular humans. Full of hilarious stories and insightful advice, this is a manifesto for ordinary awesomeness–for the beauty that can be found when we acknowledge that good enough really is good enough, and that greatness is ours to define.
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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.
AVERAGE DOESN’T MEAN UNSUCCESSFUL
… and other thoughts about being mediocre at work and money
An Ode to Dime-a-Dozen Dreams
I stepped out of a yellow cab in the middle of Manhattan. Through the crowds in front of me, I saw the building I was looking for, in all its glory. A skyscraper so tall I couldn’t even crank my neck back enough to see the whole thing without pinching a nerve (I’ve always had the body of an eighty-year-old; it’s fine).
Closing my eyes and clenching my fists, I thought to myself, This is it. I had a feeling. I am going to get this job.
It was a job at a TV studio, the kind of job I’d dreamed of. I made my best I’ve got this! face and headed to the big glass doors.
My confidence wavered as soon as I stepped into the building. Hordes of people walked in front of me in every direction possible, making my walk to the front desk feel like a game of Pac-Man—me being Pac-Man and everyone else being the ghosts.
I started to wonder if this place was for me. By no means was I a small-town girl, but maybe I was a small-company girl. I had never been in such a big office before, with multiple sections of elevators organized by floors, each with its own security guard to check badges. My job experience thus far had consisted of four internships at small- to medium-sized offices. I had known or at least recognized most people in those offices every day, and people had known and recognized me. Was a gigantic place like this the best thing for me? Would this place eat me alive?
Eventually, I made my way through the elevator chambers, up to the office where my interview would be held. While I waited in the smartly appointed lounge, an employee came by, and we chatted a bit. After making small talk, I asked how long he’d been at the company.
His response: “Oh, I’ve been working here since I was in the company’s post-graduate program. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it. I’m actually surprised they’re interviewing outside candidates and not just hiring someone directly from that program. You’re lucky.”
My heart sunk.
I’d applied to that program—and I was rejected. I began to think, if I was too mediocre to get accepted into that program, why would I get offered this job? Panic set in as I wondered what I was even doing there in the first place.
Had I set the bar too high for my average self?
Were my dreams not realistic for someone as ordinary as myself?
Is that why they called them dreams—because they weren’t meant to happen in real life?
The interview happened. The executive asked questions.
I answered them. It all went perfectly fine. And then I went home.
No surprise, I didn’t get the job. A few weeks later, I woke up to an email from the company’s HR department. Like I did when I had arrived at the office on that chilly November day, I closed my eyes, clenched my fists, and thought to myself, This is it. I then clicked on the email, and there it was: the rejection I didn’t know I had been waiting for.
At first, I blamed myself. What if I’d been more impressive? Listed more internships on my resume? Been more willing to work for practically nothing?
If I wasn’t so goddamn ordinary, would I have gotten the job?
But then I realized—this was not my fault.
I didn’t get rejected because I was unimpressive. I got rejected because someone else was more impressive than I was. And being average wasn’t keeping me from my dreams. It was keeping me on track to go after my dreams—to pursue, and eventually achieve, what was meant to be.
Even though I didn’t get that particular job, I knew I was still allowed to have the dream. I also knew it didn’t mean I would be a horrible human if that dream never became a reality for me. At the very least, I was proud of actually getting that interview. No, I might not have gotten the job, but I was good enough, and I knew eventually someone would take a chance on average me.
But wait! That’s not where the story ends.
After a few years of working toward my dream of a career in television, I was doing exactly that: working in television! But—I wasn’t happy. I had achieved my dream, but it didn’t feel like it. The work wasn’t all that interesting, and the people didn’t make me want to rush to the office every morning, either. So, what was wrong?
I began to wonder why I was so focused on achieving this dream in the first place. Was it so I could prove my exceptionalism to people? Was it so I could showcase an impressive lifestyle? Was it so I could climb to “above average” status before my average peers? Whatever the case, this dream was not working out for me, and I needed to accept that.
For too long, I tried to stand out and prove that I wasn’t average by putting pressure on myself to achieve dreams by certain times. I feared that being ordinary was hurting me in the job market and would continue to be a burden in my career if I did not prove myself immediately. What I should have been doing instead, though, was embracing my average-ness and figuring shit out along the way to finding happiness.
LUCKILY, AS ANY average person does, I had other dreams. Along with owning a summer oceanfront home in Cape Cod, having abs without having to work for them, and teleporting, I also dreamed of becoming a writer.
I had always loved writing. Was I good at writing? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t a prodigy. I was an average girl with average grades from an average suburban town with an average talent for writing papers on the No Fear Shakespeare books—you know, the ones where they translate his plays into modern English. How could someone as average as me go after the dream of becoming a writer?
When my dream of working in television didn’t work out, I said fuck it and started chasing my dream of writing. I knew I might be average at it, and I knew I had a lot to learn. And I knew success—whatever that looked like—wouldn’t happen overnight, if it was to happen at all. This was a dream, after all! Not all dreams are meant to happen. That’s why they are dreams. But because I was able to embrace the fact that I was ordinary, it made me work that much harder at my dream, and eventually I really did become a writer.
Average people are allowed to have dreams. We’re allowed to dream big, small, and medium-sized. We’re allowed to chase dreams, fail at dreams, and succeed at dreams. What we need to remember is that our worth is not defined by whether we achieve a dream. Our worth is defined by how happy we are while going after them. After all, without our dime-a-dozen dreams, we would have nothing in life to strive for. In that case, wouldn’t you prefer chasing dreams over succeeding at all of them, anyway? I know I would. Without my average dreams, I have nothing.
15 Things Ordinary People Embrace About the Working World
1. As mediocre people, we never take a job offer for granted.
Dozens, sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands of people apply to job listings. Job listings for which only one lucky person can receive the golden ticket. With resumes that are great but ordinary when compared to the other applicants, it can be a hard gig out there for average job applicants. Whenever you start to go down the dark path of hating your job (similar to how I often go down dark paths of hating all the clothes in my closet), just remember that your job chose you. Yes, average you out of all the other people out there. They could have chosen someone else, but they didn’t (which is great for me because with my job, I can always afford new clothes to replace the ones I randomly start to hate).
2. It’s perfectly normal to not get praised on the regular.
As children, many of us grew up hearing “You’re awesome!” after doing literally nothing worthy of praise and received trophies for simply participating in activities. Then, we got to the workplace, where no one applauds us for completing tasks, such as promptly responding to emails, hitting goals, and altogether doing the things listed in our job description. But why would we be praised for those things? We are literally doing what we’re supposed to be doing. If you ever find yourself down about the lack of recognition you’re getting at work, just remind yourself this is a good thing. If you’re not doing a good enough job, you’re going to hear about it—and it won’t be good at all. This is why average really is awesome in the workplace.
3. Sometimes it’s better to be good than great.
We’re not all going to be the best in our fields, and that’s okay. There’s only room for so many people at the top. You can still be a good lawyer, engineer, nurse, salesperson, marketer, or whatever occupation you are in without being on a list of the most impressive ones out there. It can be hard to remember this when you get zero praise at work and see top-notch employees publicly getting all the praise, but with great honor comes great expectations. Would you rather be held to a higher standard and be condemned for doing a good job, or would you rather be consistently good and lauded when you do great? Personally, I’m good with being good.
4. We don’t have to be exceptional to trust our instincts.
I used to always ask if it was okay to do certain things at work before doing them. I knew I was just okay at my job, and I got nervous about every little decision I needed to make. That is, until someone told me, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” After this, I began to trust my gut and started doing what I thought was right instead of annoying my boss every five seconds to find out. And guess what? I’ve been wrong many times, but I’ve never had to ask for forgiveness… at least not yet. Not to mention, those mistakes taught me more than I would have learned if I didn’t make them.
5. A good-enough attitude goes a long way.
You don’t have to be overly friendly to everyone and smile all the time, but you certainly should never be a dick, either. Maintaining that happy-medium attitude is essential in order for average people to excel at work. Mediocre people are replaceable, so if your attitude is shit, guess where you’re going?
6. Sometimes it’s best to aim for the happy medium.
When it comes down to it, work is just work for everyday employees. It’s not our lives—or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s just where we go for approximately forty hours a week and how we make money. Thus, as an average employee, you should never lose your shit over things that piss you off at work. You should either speak up with solutions of how things could be changed for the better, or forget it and move on. Complaining never makes a situation better.
7. It’s okay to keep our work relationships on par with our job performance.
You don’t have to be best friends with your coworkers. Hell, you don’t need to even be friends with them. But to remain an average employee with a good enough attitude, you have to attend a healthy mix of “work things.” Whether it’s getting coffee together during the day or grabbing drinks at the bar around the corner at the end of the day, it’s important to bond with coworkers outside of the office. I know. Going places other than home after work is hard, especially when you have to go somewhere that involves the people you were just with all day, but you can’t always skip it. Go. Be social. Meet the people your coworkers are when they’re not in the office. It won’t hurt. In fact, it might make work easier when you find out everyone else is pretty unexceptional and ordinary, too.
8. Not taking all of our paid time off doesn’t make us more impressive.
If you are average at your job, going into the office more than you are supposed to isn’t going to change anything. You’re not a hero for working so much that you accidentally missed out on your allotted vacation days. Nor are you exceptional for working while supposedly taking those days off. Average people need time off—for being sick, for mental health, for family time, for just because. Unless you own your own business and have no one covering for you, as a mediocre person, you’re not that important. Stop pretending and go live your life. You’ll be happier, I promise!
9. Average people should help average people—we need each other.
Average people lift other average people up. Literally. There are only so many positions at a company. Because of this, you may see an average coworker who is a lot like you and think, I must do better than them in order to grow. But that’s not how it should be. If you work together, you can learn from each other as you climb the ladder together. Sure, you may be at different heights at some points, but that’s okay. It’s bound to happen, anyway. Wouldn’t you rather have a fellow average coworker who will reach down and help you up than have to climb alone?
10. No one expects us to be impressive at networking events anyway, so we might as well fucking talk to people.
Never have I ever left a networking event and been like YES, I am so proud of myself for awkwardly standing in the corner and nibbling on a piece of cheese with a glass of wine in my hand, continuously asking my friend, “Should we go up to anyone?” Well, self, yes, you should go up to people. That is the fucking point of networking events. It won’t be weird. Average people are the target demographic of these things. Impressive people are too busy living their extraordinary lives to have time for such events, unless they’re speaking at them or being paid to go. Ordinary commoners like us, though? We need to network and meet likeminded, everyday people. So don’t worry that no one will want to talk to you. Everyone there signed up for the awkwardness. Embrace it and try to talk to a stranger. You never know whom you’ll meet, and like I said before, average people lift other average people up. You could always use more of them in your life.
11. Average does not mean forgettable.
One of the worst things average people can do is not keep in touch with old coworkers because they assume everyone forgot about them. No matter how unexceptional you are, keeping in touch is really what makes you memorable.
12. Rejection can keep us in check—in a good way.
Named a best self-help book for 2020 by Parade MagazineFeatured as one of the Toronto Star's self-help books to get you motivated in 2020Named a book to watch by Porchlight Book Company
- "Matt's witty book cuts through the misleading 'perfection' promoted in the arts, the media, and in our social media feeds with this empowering, actionable manifesto."—BookRiot
- "Funny and strikingly honest, this book is one you'll hold close and relate to in every way you need to right now. Average is the New Awesome gives you an answer to that restless feeling you carry around with you, telling you that being average doesn't mean you have failed. Being average means you're doing just fine. Samantha Matt's advice, juxtaposed with hilarious personal stories, makes you feel like you're spending the afternoon with a close friend who is setting you straight and changing your life."—JEN GLANTZ, author of Always a Bridesmaid (For Hire) and When You Least Expect It
- "A heartfelt pep talk of a book. A true reminder that when you're feeling average, you might just be extraordinary."—MEREDITH GOLDSTEIN, author of Can't Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist
- "Samantha Matt nails the unique concoction of concerns that plague almost all of us -- and even better, her wise, witty, warm advice offers practical solutions."—HANNAH ORENSTEIN, author of Playing with Matches and Love at First Like
- "Samantha Matt's Average Is The New Awesome has struck a chord with me at exactly the right point in my life. It's clever and relatable -- which I guess makes me average. But you know what? After reading Samantha's book, I'm okay with it!"—CHARLEE FAM, author of Last Train to Babylon
- "A fun and refreshingly honest take on life for the social media generation. Holding yourself up to an impossible standard is so overrated, and Samantha Matt's always (thankfully) quick to remind us of that."
—SARAH SOLOMON, author of Guac Is Extra but So Am I
- On Sale
- Jan 7, 2020
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Seal Press