The Beauty of Being Average

When life feels like a juggling act (Photo Credit Gabriel Rojas Hruska)

When life feels like a juggling act (Photo Credit Gabriel Rojas Hruska)

This week my friend and I did a vulnerable thing – we swapped recordings of one another’s singing voices. It was both fun and scary, because our voices were so different – she has a beautiful, sweet and clear pop/folk voice, and I have a voice that in the pop-range sounds like an over-earnest bespectacled twelve-year old choir girl. However, when I sing opera it’s transformed into a beautiful, pure spinning thing.

I was in a critical mood, though, and I was frustrated with my singing voice for being neither soprano nor alto, neither high nor low. I’m a mezzo-soprano, mezzo meaning ‘middle’ and sounding like ‘messy’, both of which I feel. 

 

In our culture, we are accustomed to disdaining the middle. The words ‘average’ and ‘mediocre’ sound insulting – we like the top, and even the bottom; we like the extremes, the specialisms. In this world, we believe we have to be the ‘expert’ to succeed – which means that we have to know a lot about one thing.

 

I am feeling this tension already with my boy. Whenever he takes up a hobby,  there is a temptation to attribute that hobby to his future career. He takes up ballet: ‘Hey, you could be that local boy who won a place to the royal ballet!’ If he later takes up an instrument, ‘Hey, you could be a concert pianist!’ It’s good for him to have role models, but there’s a temptation as a parent to attach too much importance or identity to transitory hobbies. (Did I mention that he’s four years’ old??)

 

The likelihood is that he will be neither a concert pianist nor a professional ballet dancer, but, like most people, he will be good at a number of things and then choose a career, or a number of careers, that surprise us both.

 

***

 

Today I want to celebrate the generalists, those who feel torn because they are good at a number of things. People will tell you that you need to specialise, pick an area and become an expert in that one area. I want to challenge that assertion.

 

  • Why not be a semi-expert in lots of different areas?
  • Why not be the person who knows a fair amount about many different things?
  • Why not be the person who stitches together a quilt of varying talents and skills?

 

This world needs experts, but it also needs generalists, those people in the middle who have a little of this, a little of that. There is a very good argument that our present medical system is flawed because the doctors are nearly all specialists. If you have something wrong with your heart, you see a cardiologist; if you have cancer, you see an oncologist; if there’s something wrong with your nervous system you see a neurologist. So far, so good.

 

But what if you have a multi-system disorder, like M.E.? What if a disease is autoimmune, and neurological, and possibly viral in nature? What if you have more than two or three illnesses, which may or may not connected? Everyone in the M.E. community knows the importance of someone who can see the patient as a whole, and not just focus on the body part they have a special interest in. We badly need a few more excellent generalists.

 

So if you also feel torn in different directions, or if you’re good at a few things but not outstanding in one, be heartened.

 

This is a call to mediocre generalists everywhere: the world needs you. 

 

So often I get frustrated with myself for not knowing what to concentrate on, and feeling like I’m not doing any one thing as well as others in the field. I get tempted to be critical on myself for being semi-good at opera singing, semi-good at writing, semi-good at editing, semi-good at coaching, semi-good at Bible teaching, semi-good at public speaking, semi-good at parenting, semi-good at counselling, semi-good at campaigning.

 

But when I asked my friend what she thought about my singing voice, she said this: “You have an amazing range.” While I had been berating myself for being neither high nor low, she had seen my strength: I am both.

 

Today I want to celebrate being ‘mezzo’:
  • Let’s reframe ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ as ‘multitalented.’
  • Let’s reframe ‘can’t settle on one thing’ as ‘eclectic interests’. 
  • Let’s reframe ‘not an expert’ as ‘sees the whole picture’.
  • Let’s reframe ‘neither one nor the other’ as ‘both’. 
I’m owning who I am: mezzo, and proud of it.

 

Tweetables: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over to you: 

  • Are a specialist or a generalist? How do you feel about it?
  • To what extent do you think society values the generalists and the middle-of-the-road?

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16 Responses to The Beauty of Being Average

  1. Gayl 8th May, 2015 at 3:25 pm #

    Tanya, I love this! So glad you wrote about being in the middle. This is so true: “This world needs experts, but it also needs generalists, those people in the middle who have a little of this, a little of that.” Sometimes I think there are too many specialists and not enough generalists, to use your terms. 🙂 Blessings to you, dear one. By the way, you are a brilliant writer. 🙂

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 11:06 am #

      Thank you for your encouragement, lovely Gayl!

  2. Margaret 6th May, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    I love this. Even though I’m not a mezzo I can completely relate!

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 11:04 am #

      Ah, Margaret, thanks for relating even though I think you are a super-talented non-generalist expert singer! *we are not worthy* <--- (that should be said in a Wayne's World style.)

  3. Anna Wood 4th May, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    On the contrary, I think you are very good at writing the types of things you write about – and your popularity attests to that. That is a hard thing to achieve for anyone, particularly hard with ME which leaves so little free energy for doing things. I find it hard to specialise in one thing – so i dabble – I write my blog every now and again, occasionally with successful posts. I sometimes do ME campaigning stuff, or write a letter, but I’m not well known in the ME world, as some are. I do bits and pieces of research and am slowly making a name for myself there, but will never have the energy to be at the expert level of others. So, thanks for your post – it is good to feel that generalists and those who spread their energies are appreciated in the world. I’ll keep doing bits and pieces, swapping from one to the other as the mood, will and need take me.
    Anna Wood recently posted…Pedagogical Research- Who, when, what why and how?My Profile

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 11:00 am #

      Thanks for your kind words! I think you are extraordinarily talented, and I think sometimes all we can do is dabble and potter, as our energy takes us.

  4. Rebecka 1st May, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Yes, this is me, I’m a generalist! I’m semi-good at a lot of things, but not excellent at anything! I would settle for being semi-good at singing though. I can’t sing at all.
    “So often I get frustrated with myself for not knowing what to concentrate on, and feeling like I’m not doing any one thing as well as others in the field.” That is exactly how I feel! From now on though, I’m am going to (try to) think of myself as multitalanted and celebrate being mezzo!

    P.s. I agree with Lulu, you’re brilliant! x

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 10:57 am #

      Rebecka – I always see you as being multitalented. Linguistics is a talent! Here’s to being mezzo. 🙂

  5. Becca 30th April, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    This is what I so desperately needed to hear today. I, too, am a generalist. I was a music major in college, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time beating myself up for not becoming a truly great musician. And when you add that to about a dozen other things that I do passably, it makes me an incredibly average person. This is particularly difficult when you’re looking for a job, when you’re trying to impress a guy, when you’re trying to stand out from the crowd. In a world where there’s more competition than ever to be brilliant, I wish more people would appreciate the ones who are average.
    Becca recently posted…Thoughts on Exporting a Culture WarMy Profile

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 10:56 am #

      Yay, Becca – I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s a generalist – I’m so glad this spoke to you. And respect for being a music major in college- I love musicians.

  6. lulu 30th April, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    First of all you are not semi good at writing you are brilliant! From wat E Ms told me and wat Ive read you are pretty amazing at bible teaching! I bet your great at singing and wat mediocre parent goes asking people wat pliers are so they can b more informed while playing with their boy! Mediocre parents wouldn’t care but u did!! U do!!! Tanya Marlow you are nothing short of brilliant and don’t you forget it!!!!!! Lots of love Lulu!

    • Tanya 21st June, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      Ahhh, lovely Lulu, you are most kind!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] The Beauty of Being Average by Tanya Marlow. I love conversations about being extraordinarily ordinary. I have always said that I am not excellent at anything, but I am mediocre at a lot of things, so I am thankful Tanya validates me in this post. Being average is indeed, beautiful. […]

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