The other afternoon, I had the good fortune of chatting with a friend whom I have known for more than thirty years. During our discussion, he was lamenting his dissatisfaction with parents. Specifically, he was irritated by the number of parents who have children who merely strive to be average. My response to his parental annoyance – which you will find below – will most likely catch you off guard as I believe it initially did him.
First, I unequivocally agreed with him that not enough children possess the intrinsic and extrinsic drive to be anything more than average. In fact, today’s standards for behavior and accomplishment are so low that being average is often foolishly mistaken with excellence.
Second and perhaps more relevant, I reminded my friend that most children who strive to be average do so because of the behavior they adopted from their average parents. I tried to comfort him by reminding him that average people have always produced average children. Since the beginning of time, average parents producing average children has remained the norm.
The book of Matthew has two phenomenal parables that I find hugely appropriate when describing parents and children. There is Matthew 7:16 which states “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Then there is Matthew 12:33 which states “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”
One need not be a Christian or a Biblical scholar to see the wisdom in the aforementioned passages. Parents are the trees in these parable. Thus, if our children are recognized as average, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn – we (parents) too are average.
EXTRAORDINARY: THE ANTONYM FOR AVERAGE
If you’ve been waiting for the part of the conversation with my friend that was shocking, here it goes. I told my friend that he and his children are average. Having thought about what I just wrote a number of times, I recognize that it is highly likely that you might be thinking, “Nate, how dare you!”
No need to worry, our friendship remains intact – I’ve said worse. Most importantly, I can assure you that there was no animus in my words nor did I derive any pleasure from telling my friend the truth. In all honesty, reading those words is actually harsher than the truth embedded in those words.
Besides, the truth sets you free right? Now all parents, including my friend and me, have a starting point for raising extraordinary children. From this day forward, we can’t act like we didn’t know better nor can we pretend that we didn’t know the difference between average and extraordinary.
Extraordinary is the antonym for average. My friend’s exact words were “At some point in your life you have to strive to be more than average…. If you do average work you get average results…Parents don’t let your kids strive to be average.” My friend seems to be clamoring for a world – as am I – where children strive to be extraordinary. While his perspective is spot on, the application of his position requires deeper examination.
EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE
Average and its antonym cousin, extraordinary, are both relative words. Similar to blood relatives, the two words go a long way towards forming our reality. When the company we keep considers itself better than average – during those times when we are critiquing others – just as my friend did, we irresponsibly focus our greatest attention on those whom we consider as average to below average. Rarely, do we measure ourselves in the manner that promotes personal growth. Rarely, do we have the insight to measure ourselves against the extraordinary. Moreover, rarely are we inclined to make the effort to do anything uncommon or reach extraordinary levels.
Consider middle class Americans for a moment. Like my friend who is a middle-class American, most middle-class Americans are known by the following demographics:
- home ownership
- a car
- college education for their children
- health insurance
- retirement security
- occasional family vacations
My friend’s opinion and the masses like him is that those who strive for less are striving to be average. The omission in my friend’s position is that to a select group of others, the extraordinary, he and the company he keeps are striving for less. To others, to the extraordinary, my friend and the masses like him are the ones who are striving merely to be “average”.
AVERAGE IN ALL THINGS
Most parents are raising children in space inefficient homes that require us to spend an inordinate amount of our income just to maintain them. We are raising children in homes that are neither green nor sustainable – thus with each light switch we turn on we make the prospects of the future a little darker for our children and our children’s children. The vehicles that we transport our children in are like our homes: highly energy inefficient and responsible for an insidious carbon footprint wherever we go.
When we send our children to college, they go expecting and preparing merely to be an employee rather than an employer. When our children receive college degrees they do so having earned a degree that is unexceptional (average) and one that is very likely on the verge of employment extinction. After our children become an employee, they become as common as their parents – rarely if ever picking up a book despite the fact that learning remains the most valuable aspect of education – true enlightenment.
The golden years of parent’s won’t be that unique either. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight to obese. Thanks to the financial issues associated with poor health habits, many parents will be regulated to spending the bulk of our retirement savings on health care – while being held hostage in our unnecessary spaced and energy inefficient homes.
Speaking of retirement savings, there wouldn’t be much to live on anyway. Fewer and fewer companies offer pensions, only a small fraction of Americans are growing wealth through business ownership and even fewer Americans have the financial acumen to prepare themselves for the inevitable day when their employer no longer needs or wants them.
WHO ARE YOU CALLING AVERAGE
So just who is average? Who exactly is merely striving to be average? My response today is as it was when I spoke with my friend the other day – just about every last one of us is average including you and your children. Fortunately, we don’t have to be average nor do we have to remain average. Every parent has the opportunity to raise children who strive to be extraordinary.
However, in order to raise children who strive to be extraordinary, as parents we must raise our own individual expectations and behaviors. As the “parable” suggests, parents are the tree and how our children live, how our children approach life, and the prospects for our children’s future, is deeply rooted in our own intentions, plans and commitment to be more than average.
So what’s it going to be parents? Is this the point in your life where you make the decision to strive to be more than average? Will you choose to continue pointing fingers at others who you deem to be average? Or will you elevate your own life so that your fruit can be known as “extraordinary”?
What are you doing with your life that could be described as extraordinary? What is your child doing today and/or is planning for tomorrow that is extraordinary?