Average, Ordinary, Run of the Mill

In my favorite scene from the movie American Beauty, Mena Suvari, representative of a typical high school cheerleader—blonde and thin—spars with Wes Bentley’s character Ricky Fitts. Suvari’s character compares herself to Fitts’ girlfriend Jane:

Yeah? Well, at least I’m not ugly!

Yes, you are. And you’re boring, and you’re totally ordinary, and you know it.

Ordinary! Is there anything worse?

Not to me. Not in the 1990s and 2000s. An affliction that infects thirty-seven percent of the population in their fourth decade of life is thirty-itis. It’s a swelling of the brain, a misplaced superhuman assessment of ones’ own skills, knowledge and importance. Americans are more prone to this than any other population. We’ve already been taught from birth that we’re the greatest nation. We grow up with an inflated sense of self-worth. To suddenly realize you’re ordinary, either through introspection or hearing it from your best friend’s boyfriend, is a slap in the face.

My epiphany didn’t arrive until my mid-fifties. Nothing cures thirty-itis faster than teenage children, and mine weren’t born until my early forties. As teens they helpfully pointed out every failure, every instance where I made a bad decision or a mistake. Every misused slang word, all the times I forgot to flip on my turning signal, the bald spot on top of my head, the lack of suntan on my bird-thin legs. It piles up and beats you down.

I’ve rewritten my resume. All the places it used to say exceptional, I replaced with average. I’m comfortable with this. Being special is exhausting. After forty years in the professional workforce, my imposter syndrome has finally disappeared. I now know that I’m just as good as the next guy, if he isn’t all that great either.

Being ordinary suits my sense of humor. I’m self-deprecatory. This gets confusing when I just told you how superior I am. Now I’m consistent. I won’t bowl you over, and I tell you that from the start. It’s evident in the way I dress. At work, that’s a V-neck sweater and jeans. At home, I swap the sweater for a flannel shirt. I dress for comfort, not to make a statement. No one ever sees me and says ‘Whoa, look at that guy.” My guess is no one really looks at me at all.

As a young adult, I planned to tear up the world. I landed management jobs in innovative companies. I made a spreadsheet showing how I would become a millionaire in my forties. I envisioned a sixty-year-old retiree running marathons and writing long-read articles for Runners’ World.

That life never materialized. Instead, I work at the library. I spend my free time with my family, taking four-mile runs and hanging out in my home. At the end of the film Goodfellas, the main character Henry Hill sums up his life, his plummet from an A-List mafia player to a suburban schlep in witness-protection, coasting out his days in anonymity. “I’m an average nobody… get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

Yeah, me too, and I’m OK with that.

29 thoughts on “Average, Ordinary, Run of the Mill

  1. I am making my husband watch American Beauty tonight as punishment for football. lol. I never thought I would have an ordinary life or adore the ordinary life we have built. My husband is nearly 2 decades older than I am, he doesn’t understand why I am always in full hair and makeup. I chuckle why it takes him way longer to get dressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Talking about the myth of romantic love, Jungian writer Robert Johnson debunks the exceptional, the transcendent, the superlative. He writes instead about how long-term relationships survive by ‘stirring the oatmeal’.

    Enjoyed this, Jeff. Solid, grounded, honest. Not everything has to be exceptional.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yeah, I think being average is the way to go. At least in the eyes of the general public, and any Powers that be, Higher or otherwise.
    I seem to have attracted the eye of Mr Murphy, he of the Law or a “Trickster” of Native American tales.
    Flying under the radar as an “Average” person sounds pretty good!
    For the record, I think you have many traits and abilities that place you above average, but I’ll keep quiet and not blow your cover 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Recognize that you don’t know anything about me that I haven’t told you, so your impressions of my traits and abilities may be quite biased. You definitely don’t want the attention of the trickster. Make sure you travel only during the day. I’ve got a bit of Mr. Murphy in my blood stream too. Got referred today to an eye surgeon. Of course, the soonest appointment is March 9. Grrr,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the idea of the normalised CV. And imagine: you are at a sales conference and the motivational speaker tells the crowd to look into the mirror every morning and say quietly yet persuasively:
    ‘I am ordinary and I am proud’

    Thanks Mr C.
    Nice piece.
    DD
    PS I don’t have a flannel shirt and will drop a hint before it is too late to get one for Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ordinary will be the craze of 2023, Geoff. Our thirties, forties, and fifties, are a right of passage so we appreciate sixty onwards. I always wanted to work in a library and two weeks ago started volunteering in our local community library. I’m sure there is a Runner’s World article in you. Have a good weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My library is a mellow place to work, but I’m not a librarian, so I don’t get the same sort of work vibe as the customer facing people. I think come retirement, I’d like to work a circulation desk. It’s a cool job, and I’ll probably need the money.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It piles up and beats you down. Great line, very clean and to the point post, too. Love it, lots of comfort and truth embracing normalcy and sloughing off the other stuff, as it were.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t see it that way. I like it. I’m good with it. I think I have too much capitalist programming in me to achieve, is part of my conflict. Much happier as an “individual contributor.”

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t really know the film, but then, that’s not surprising as I’m not much of a movie buff. I think I prefer ordinary to extraordinary in a person. Ordinary, I can relate to so much better than anyone who thinks they’re above anyone else. I like you being ordinary, Jeff – much more friendly, I feel.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a CV, surprisingly. My first job was straight from college, and I ended up in two more jobs after that. Finally, I became a carer and home help, where a CV wasn’t required. Eventually, I had to stop working because of poor health.

    As for flannel shirts, what fabric is flannel over there? I’m puzzled as a flannel over here is a small piece of towelling for washing your face with.

    Are you intending to write over the holidays, or are you taking some time out? There seems to be a mix of opinions on that one. I’m going to try and write something to pass the time on Xmas Day as I’m on my own. Writing to connect with others, even if there’s an influx of Merry Xmas posts, will make the time go quicker. I hope, whether you’re planning to write, or not, that you and your family have a wonderful Xmas. 🎄

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    • Well, our Christmas plans are evolving right now. Susan just came down with Covid, So our get togethers are all cancelled. Being non-Christian, Xmas is more of a family holiday than a religious one. And now without get togethers, I have tons of time. I suspect I’ll be on wordpress as often as normal. I’ve already written my Christmas post, because it’s a response to a song lyric sunday prompt. I suspect I post two or three other times between now and new year. Reach out as needed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So sorry to hear Susan has Covid. That’s really bad luck so near to Xmas. What a shame to have to cancel your arrangements. Wish her well from me, although I know I don’t know her and she doesn’t know me. Just a kind thought, that’s all. I feel the same about Xmas being a family time. I just have to wait for Boxing Day for mine, but it’ll be worth the wait to have the children here to open all their presents. Good for you for writing your Xmas post already. I can rarely write in advance, so if I manage to produce something, it’ll be more likely on the spur of the moment. I’m glad you’ll be around here on WP this holiday. Thanks for your offer. That’s so kind of you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Re: my christmas post, this is highly unusual. The song lyric theme is ‘punk music’ so I wanted to be sure to participate. Usually, I can barely wait until I’m done editing before posting. I hate it when I run out of time and it needs to lapse over to the next day (although those tend to be better posts).

          Liked by 1 person

    • Hi kientlizzie. Welcome to the platform. There are a lot of great people here. I don’t really email with other bloggers. I and keep my conversations here in the post comments. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my page.

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