Being average is perfectly fine

20 December 2022

Written as post two of #100DaysToOffload.

Disclaimer: This was written more for my benefit than anyone else’s, although it may be useful to some other ex-gifted kids.

I am a pretty average person.

I can do higher math in my sleep, but that’s because I went to school for twenty years. I know a lot of random facts, but most of those are from playing quizbowl for ten years and/or doing crosswords for most of my life. I can code my way out of a paper bag, but I’ve been mildly obsessed with it since high school. I’m a decent cook, but I’ve had to remove my fair share of smoke alarms and fire extinguisher pins.

I suffered a long time from the misapprehension that I was above average. I was a gifted kid, which is a meaningless term created by the American education system, so clearly I had to be special. I took articles that said otherwise as being mean just for the sake of it.

And some of them were.

To be clear, that article isn’t wrong. Life is hard and you need to provide value to have a fulfilling relationship with another person. It’s full of gasoline, written to set your soul on fire and get your ass in gear. And it is fantastically written.

Problem is it’s not written for children — imagine that scene from Glengarry Glen Ross with a bunch of kids instead of cynical real estate agents in their fifties — and I was a child with a soul full of toxic waste. I was Terence Tao or I was a waste of oxygen.

I won’t say that reading 6 Harsh Truths ignited the waste in my soul and vented the fumes into my brain, but I also won’t not say it. It gave my inner asshole a psychological AR-15: You have accomplished nothing, ergo you are nothing. You provide no value. You have no worth. You are an unlovable cipher. You could go missing tomorrow and everyone would pretend to mourn for a day and then carry on their lives with an attitude of quiet relief that you’re no longer around to bother them. I was thirteen, for fuck’s sake.

These thoughts are neither David Wong’s fault, nor the fault of my parents or my teachers or anyone. They just showed up in my head one day and refused to leave. They still keep in touch.

When I write Rust and the compiler generates a bunch of errors: You don’t even know how to code. Not really. You think so because you can write shitty, terrible code in a language that lets you do whatever you want. Impose some basic constraints and you fold entirely. No wonder you’re too scared to apply for jobs; you don’t deserve them! And don’t just pull down a crate to do this, write it yourself, you useless fuck!

When I work out: Do it right, you fat fuck. Accept the embarrassment that you’ve earned by using food as a coping mechanism for twenty years. You know nothing. Don’t act as if you know a single thing.

When I cook. When I write. When I can’t immediately solve a math problem that I happened across. When I can immediately solve that math problem (clearly it was too easy.) When the coffee I make is less than heavenly nectar.

I spent a lot of time trying different therapeutic modalities in an attempt to feel better: CBT, DBT, REBT, ACT, IFS. I learned a lot of important things from them, but it was something a lot simpler that finally caused a felt shift:

Being average is fine. It’s not good or bad. It’s acceptable. It’s okay.

(If this is something you need to hear, reading it will come as a surprise, with protestation.)

Pete Walker’s book on complex PTSD has become part of the depression canon, I think. He exhorts his readers to identify their inner critics and to get angry at them. This never worked for me. Anger and rage just cause me to spin my wheels. Instead I find that being aware of what exactly the critic is — a remnant of a time when I wanted desperately to be loved and the only thing that felt like love was perfection — is helpful. This perspective allows me to dissolve the critic through lovingkindness. There is dark joy in this: I am going to love you so hard you become love yourself.

As for the actual anger, I can just point it at the people who deserve it and wash my hands of it.