Average is the New Extraordinary

Merritt Benz, LCSW

When you read this fortune- how does the statement make you feel? This was a fortune I got in a fortune cookie (big surprise, right) and it stuck with me for some reason. I kept it and it’s been on my refrigerator for months and I couldn’t figure out why it I kept it, why it bothered me. It didn’t make me laugh but it also didn’t make me feel hopeful or that good fortune was coming my way, it made me feel…. blah. Average.

Then it hit me this morning why it stuck with me. We all want to feel extraordinary. We all want to feel special and that what we are doing or what is going to happen in our lives will be great. The idea that “our expectations are reasonable and will be met” is actually disappointing to us. This reality leaves us wanting more and to be “better than” meeting reasonable expectations.

I have a suspicion that I’m not the only one who feels this way and the danger in this line of thinking is not that it’s wrong to want more and to want to be special and extraordinary but that we have made being “better than” what is the normal expectation. Comparison and “high” self-esteem have become our foundation of self-worth and that’s a brutal game to play and we all play it. It’s a human condition to want to be and feel special and the truth is no matter how hard we try to not look around us and compare, we cannot unwire that part of us.

But that’s ok. There is a solid foundation that builds and grows over time that makes a substantial difference in our lives.

Self-compassion. Opting out of the self-esteem game for our self-worth.

If I gave a presentation and afterwards people said to me, “That was average and I had reasonable expectations and they were met” I would feel as though I didn’t do a great job. I would be disappointed because what I have been conditioned to hear to feel good about myself to have “high self-esteem” is, “Wow Merritt, that was amazing. It exceeded my expectations. Fantastic job.”

We are setting ourselves up for feeling as though we failed when we are not told we are extraordinary. Kristen Neff’s research on self-compassion, presents compelling research and practical steps one can take to opt of the self-esteem and comparison game being the basis of our self-worth.

So…. what’s the alternative script we should run instead?

1. Reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can and speaking kindly to ourselves as we would a dear friend (Self-kindness).

2. Allowing ourselves to feel emotion in the present moment and then let it go (Mindfulness).

3. Knowing that we are all in this thing together and I am not alone in my thoughts, feelings and experiences (Common Humanity).

So today, strive for excellence in all that you do and when you don’t feel special and instead feel “just average” simply remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and that’s enough…. always.

Your Story Matters Here


Merritt Benz, LCSW

What if pain, failure, hurt, loneliness, shame disappointment, doubt…. All those words, all those experiences were redefined – Given new meaning. They are real, these feelings and experiences are true but they are not where hope is found. Hope is not on “the other side” and being rid of them or being “over it” but what is hope is in the midst of it all – it’s scary but the hard stuff is there no matter what. We can’t escape it and when we avoid it we sink deeper into it.

We do this work as therapists not because of the pain but because of the good. The hope. The restoration. It’s as real as the hurt.

What if these experiences were not a sign that we are broken and need to be fixed but a sign that we are human and that is important because that means we are not alone? You are not alone. Maybe it’s not that you or your life needs to change maybe it means that you need to restore…and restoration needs community. We need each other to heal.

Healing, hope, love, belonging they are not ideals that we find when get “it” right. They are what we discover when we stop hustling and hiding and say, “I’m not ok and I don’t know where to start but I am tired and I need some help” That’s where we come in. That’s where your story matters because the characters and context will be different between us but the experience is one we all share. We are human and that means life is hard and sometimes it hurts, a lot, but it gets better.

None of us are called to do this work alone. That’s why all of us here became therapists and come to work with joy and gratitude each day. You do not have to do this alone. That’s why we’re here. There is good in the world and in each of us but it is gritty and hard, messy and confusing at times and that’s what makes us, all of us, and this life so beautiful.

Your story matters and we want to hear it. It matters not just to you but to us. It reminds us that we are all in this thing together, doing the best we can but we can’t (and shouldn’t) do it alone.

Restoring Water


Merritt Benz, LCSW

A client I met with today shared with me a beautiful experience he had. He was dropping off his best friend at the airport and knew it would be a year or longer before he saw him again and he felt sad. Really sad. He said that in the past he would try to avoid the sadness but this time as he looked at his daughter in the backseat, he realized how lucky he was to feel sad and how grateful he is to feel the permission to feel sadness because it does not mean that everything is wrong but that a lot of things are right.

 He described letting the feeling of sadness wash over him like, “drinking a glass of cool clean water he had been thirsty for, for a long time”.

Friends- this is why we do the work. This is why we turn into pain and into feeling. It’s like a glass of cool, clean water that restores us.

Growing Pains


Merritt Benz, LCSW

We often want change to happen in our lives in a linear, predictable way so that we can have some assurance and comfort that we are making “progress” and “getting better.” The reality however is that we all circle back to the same injuries and struggles and it hurts. It just plain hurts and we get tired of it all.

Circling. Looping. Zig Zagging through life is how we make progress because that is how life is…unpredictable, surprising and painful at times. What if your pain and hurt was not a sign of “two steps back” but the indicator of your strength and courage to stay in the ring, even when some of the punches land in very tender and familiar places?

If your pain has not yet taken you down–it won’t. If you are still feeling–then you are still in the game and that means you are not in the same place you were before.

Pain changes us and growth can hurt but hurting is not failure, it’s a sign that we’re alive.

Still here. Still feeling. Still in the ring. Growing stronger with each round.

Keep climbing.