Average Jo Envy and Divergent Pride

I was talking to a client today about “Average Jo Envy”.

TL:DR – The most common group is the “average” group. Peer group pressure makes us feel like we have to conform. Not fitting in to the most common group triggers fears of rejection. Fatigue and a lack of guidance on how to fit in can trigger envy, which I call “Average Jo Envy”. It is important to acknowledge this natural feeling, then move on to becoming proud of yourself for your differences.

Your local society is set up for the average person who is using it; it’s more efficient to aim for the majority and let the minority sort themselves out. It’s a bit exclusive, but not intentionally so. That is, if you aren’t “average”, then society is set up for them (Average Jo’s), not against you.

Society has some excellent guidelines for how to be “a person in this world”, which is aimed at average people to do average things. If you are not in that group, or don’t want to do those things, then examples and guidelines are a bit sparse to non-existent. 

Instead of recognising and legitimising differences, there is a great deal of default pressure to be an Average Jo doing an Average Thing ™. This can leave us feeling lost and disincluded.

It is easy to start to feel envious of how easy it is for many people to do the average things they do, how easy it is for them to learn the skills that are taught in a default way, to feel welcomed by average people into their average groups, and feel a part of the average community.

It is important to recognise that this feeling is a normal response to feeling like an outsider; which can happen when you look different, feel different or are directly told “you can’t do that/join us because ‘reason’”.

Peer group pressure is often misrepresented. We are told in school that peer group pressure is your peers pushing you to do bad things, like drink alcohol, take drugs or do riskey actions. While this does happen, this is actually a fairly weak force for us. Peer group pressure is actually an internal process of conformity. Once you have identified enough with a group, we want to be included and welcomed by the group. A strong driver of inclusion is conforming to the average behaviours and appearance of the group, and that is achieved by mimicry. You mimic what you see, and whatever you aren’t mimicking feels like you are going to be judged badly and ostracised. We fear that look of either pity, or disgust as that is the prelude to rejection.

People who have a difference to the group will struggle to mimic effectively and feel genuine in themself. This can foster imposter syndrome – the feeling that you don’t really fit and the fear of being found out.

We can feel fatigued by the effort to force ourselves into someone else’s model, one that is hard for us and easy for them. We can feel like failures. We can feel rejected, mistaking their impatience and ignorance expressed via disgust and pity as evidence that we are disgusting, pitiful and a burden. We can hate ourselves. We can feel very alone.

In response to this, we can feel envious about how easy it is for average people to do average things. 

We forget, though, that we can do some amazing things that average people are envious of. There is envy in both directions. We forget that we can find people like ourselves and find our group that we just fit in with better, even easily. We forget that humanity is a huge diverse population, and being different is an awesome thing.

Divergent Pride is where you reclaim feeling proud about your difference.

It is important to separate the difference from the judgement about the difference. As an analogy, no tool is inherently good or bad, so judging a tool as a “morally good” or “morally bad” tool makes no sense. What defines the tool is how it is used. Similarly, no difference is inherently good or ill. Using the trait for ill can bring judgement about the use, and perhaps that can inspire shifting how you use this difference for good. 

Be proud of your difference, and how you can use this for good, instead of internalising that someone else has defined it as bad.

Once we start to be proud of our differences, we increase our ability to be our genuine self. Instead of trying to minimise ourselves, our differences, our traits and thus ourselves, we stand up tall and be strong, healthy versions of us.

It is far better to be your best self, than a half successful mimicry of someone else.

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