It’s funny how the word “average” comes across as a less-than-favorable way to describe something.
When it comes to things we can’t control like height or skin tone, we describe ourselves in terms like “average height” or “average complexion.” But when it comes to things we can control, “average” isn’t usually something we strive for. Being called “average” almost comes across as an insult sometimes.
“You’re an average student.”
“Eh … the movie was average.”
“Your cooking is average.”
It’s like a seven-letter four-letter word.
It’s as if not being really good at something represents some sort of personal lack. Because, you know, if you’ve believed in yourself and have worked hard at something, you should experience above-average success. So, being average means you’ve fallen short, right?
I have a hunch that many twentysomethings today are disillusioned and jaded about life because they grew up with the expectation that they’d become incredibly successful or influential, simply because they were told they could be. And since that hasn’t happened for the vast majority of them, they felt like something went wrong.
But maybe the only thing that went wrong was their expectations. And they developed those expectations by being fed flawed ideas about how incredible every single kid should become (which is a very ironic notion on its own if you think about it), and being soaked in the desperately untrue idea that if you work really hard and believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.
We’ve really got to get over that one.
Here’s a trick: Change your expectations about life, and you’ll instantly change what disappoints you about it.
That’s not to say that you should just give up on your big dreams. You absolutely should not. But you also shouldn’t beat yourself up about achieving wild success right now. Not becoming amazing, ultra-achieving adults—as the world defines achievement—is what happens for virtually all of us. So, if you’re not living up to your wildest dreams of success, chill.
Unfortunately, in a well-meaning effort to instill a sense of self-esteem in an upcoming generation of adults, the self-esteem movement kind of flipped that inside out: it taught us that we’re all walking pods of amazingness with unlimited reservoirs of potential waiting to be unleashed if we only believe. Every child was supposed to feel like an unconditional success. You could become anything you want to become.
In his December 2011 Psychology Today article “The Gift of Failure,” Steve Baskin comments on the self-esteem movement:
“The self-esteem movement has done an entire generation a deep disservice. It started with the best intentions. In 1969, Nathaniel Brandon wrote a paper entitled “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” that suggested that “feelings of self-esteem were the key to success in life.” Hearing this, many people started to find ways to confer confidence upon our children. This resulted in competitions where everyone gets a trophy and no one actually wins. “New games” attempted to engage children without any winners or losers.
But self-esteem is not something conferred, it is earned through taking risks and developing skills. When children stretch themselves, they expand their sense of their own capability and then feel confident to tackle the next challenge. Confidence comes from competence—we do not bestow it as a “gift.”
So, the self-esteem movement got self-esteem wrong. We’re supposed to fail, supposed to earn success. But decoupling the expectation of unlimited personal greatness from the human experience is only the first step in figuring out how self-esteem should really work.
The great irony is, self-esteem doesn’t start with the self at all.
No human being will ever feel a resounding sense of meaning, purpose or triumph outside of a relationship with a power greater than us, the very power for which we were created to enjoy.
The term “self confidence” is a case in point: “Confidence” derives from the Latin “con” (with) and “fides” (faith); literally, it means “faith with.” Which means, having “faith with” one’s self is as viable as biting one’s own teeth. We’re made to have faith “with” something other and something greater, and that something is God the Creator. Self-confidence in only ourselves is perhaps sociology’s greatest illusion, and it can be the potent precursor, without a robust view of God, to all kinds of self-absorbed distortions.
Like being jaded that you’re not amazing.
There is such a thing as healthy confidence. The only difference is, it includes more than just the self.
Healthy self-confidence says, “I’m secure in who I am because I’m in the hands of my Creator, God.”
Unhealthy self-confidence says, “I’m secure in who I am because, well, I am.”
There’s only one person who can say that in truth, and He’s the one you should be putting your confidence in.
But even with the prospect of placing confidence in an almighty God, our sinful hearts will always bend back toward self-exaltation as effortlessly as hair bends toward disorder. We constantly need maintenance, especially in an unprecedented, unfathomably self-oriented culture, to turn our hearts toward the King of Kings, and to find our worth and identity in Him.
How do we do it?
We need to demolish the façade of our petty, life-eroding kingdoms of self.
We need to fight against and redefine pretty much everything we were told about self-esteem.
We need to crucify the incessant need for greatness.
We need to kill the need to feel important.
We need to embrace and not condemn the smallness of being human.
And we need to point to the Kingdom greater than our own, the Kingdom of Christ and His glory.
If you think self-esteem is what you need most, I’ll do you one better: If you’re in Christ, you’re in the best position you can be as a human being. You are a part of a glory and pleasure and certainty that cannot be improved upon. You are embodying everything it could possibly mean to be a human being living life to the fullest, and you don’t even know the half of it.
Even if you turn out to be “average.”