“I raised you to be an extraordinary human being, so imagine my disappointment when I wake up after five years and discover that you are no more than… ordinary! What happened to you?!” – Ellis Grey, Mother to Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy Being ordinary, according to Meredith’s mom, was the bright flashing light signaling to the rest of the surgical world that she was basically a nobody: A nobody surgeon and a nobody human.

I’ve noticed how this view of ordinary has seeped deeply into the souls of many of us humans. In my personal life and my work as a counselor, I’ve witnessed in others, and I’ve most definitely felt in myself, the emotions that come when the state of your life tells the outside world that you simply aren’t checking enough “you’re doing a good job” boxes.

I wonder how many of us carry around an absorbed belief that to be accepted, to be approved of, to be lovable, or to live life fully, we must be exceptionally good… at all the things, all the time.

I wonder how long we can sustain living under that pressure.

The belief that ordinary was synonymous with mediocre, inferior, boring, average, and undistinguished had seeped deeply into my bones by age 20. I truly had no idea that ordinary, when defined, meant common, normal, or to-be-expected.

Ordinary truly wasn’t tragic, but I felt like it was.

Today, I see a lot of young people in my office struggling under the weight of their own desire for exceptional goodness, perfection, and success, and the weight of outside expectations absorbed through the words of media, coaches, influencers, parents, churches, etc.

I feel sad that the default button for so many of us is to judge ourselves for having common, normal, or to-be-expected human experiences and emotions.

In these moments, the words “it makes a lot of sense you feel like this” or “I’d expect someone who is going through what you are going through to feel this way” can be profoundly relieving. However, something I’ve noticed is that relief only comes if the receiver of these words can believe they are true for them.

Typically, for those who have pursued exceptional goodness, perfection, and success for as long as they can remember, accepting the invitation to be common or normal, takes time. Because while “common, normal, or to-be-expected” initially sound less threatening than “mediocre or inadequate” … they can still feel like a tragic failure to those who for various reasons feel they need to be above average.

I want to clarify; the reasons people have for wanting to outrun ordinary are typically good ones. The reasons themselves need to be explored with compassion. The messages we have picked up along the way are powerful. They tangle us up and trap us in.

I’ve been a witness to young people seeking help when the pressure they feel becomes too much. I’ve watched young people courageously express unpleasant, messy emotions, pausing multiple times for apologies, self-disgust, and minimizing due to the pressure they feel to have it all together. I’ve seen intake forms say: “I’m going to tell you what I think you want to hear and may not tell the truth, don’t let me do that”. I’ve listened closely as young people describe how alone they feel in their pursuit of exceptional goodness, perfection, and success.

Groups allow people to connect to other people who may share common experiences and struggles. In June of 2023, I’ll be offering a group called “Risk Ordinary”, for the 20-something year old woman who feels unable to keep up with checking all the boxes, is struggling under the pressure she feels to be exceptionally good/perfect/successful, and is scared to be ordinary (common, normal, to-be-expected) in a culture that doesn’t seem to value that. You truly aren’t alone. If you’re curious about finding people who understand, we’d love to have you this summer.