It’s Okay to Just Be “Okay” by Jen Petro-Roy
When I was a kid, I tried a lot of sports. In elementary school, I did ballet and gymnastics for a few years, like most of the other young girls in my suburban town. (I was…not the most graceful child.) I tried rec league soccer, softball, and basketball, and while I liked being on a team with my friends, coordinating with them on the court or the field definitely wasn’t the same as hanging out with them at someone’s house. I never knew where the ball was—what was this “court-sense” everyone was talking about? Why was I always a few yards behind everyone on the soccer field?
By the time I got to high school, it felt like everyone else had found their “thing.” My best friend was a ballerina. My other best friend was amazing at skiing. I…was simply okay at a lot of things, and even though by that point, I had found a love for swimming and joined the swim team, I was never a superstar. I swam in the first lane, where the slowest swimmers were. And even though I worked hard and even joined a competitive year-round swim team, but I never rose to that championship level.
I just didn’t. I couldn’t.
In the eyes of a lot of people, this “failure” would have been unacceptable. I mean, isn’t that the accepted course of action: work hard, make progress, and ultimately achieve? If I didn’t get there—if I wasn’t amazing at swimming—shouldn’t I have quit in order to find another place where I could truly thrive?
But what if that wasn’t the problem at all What if the problem is actually our definition of thriving—our definition of success.
As a parent, one of the things I’ve noticed is how children today are pushed—whether externally or internally—to succeed in one area. They start specializing in a sport at an early age and drop everything else so that they can hone their specialty. They take private lessons and hire coaches. They join travel teams and get injured at young ages. They work hard for championship trophies. They win awards. They’re nationally ranked.
Of course, if a kid is truly interested in these areas, then that’s amazing. There are phenoms out there, of course. Olympians. Prodigies.
I think the problem comes when we start to believe that everyone needs to be good at something. That awards are what we’re supposed to achieve. In my book Life in the Balance, Veronica has been raised to be a softball player. Her mom was. Her grandmother was. So far, she is, too. And now she’s finally old enough to try out for her town’s travel softball team. (With all of its accompanying games, practices, and pressure, of course.)
So what happens when a love of the game gets complicated? When Veronica’s mother has to enter rehab for her alcoholism and Veronica’s family may not be able to afford the travel team? When Veronica suddenly discovers a new love for singing that pulls her away from the game she’s always valued above everything else?
What are we when we’re not defined by our achievements—our mastery—anymore?
For me, this is one of the big questions of life. Because in the end, we are not what we do. We’re not the time it takes for us to run a mile or the number of home runs we hit in a season. We’re not our grades or our size or our appearance. We are more than everything we do.
We are who we are, and I want my readers to know that. That it’s okay to just be okay. It’s okay to be great, but it’s also okay to be average. That sometimes, life is found in the middle ground.
Life is found in the balance.
Jen Petro-Roy writes “honest books with heart,” about kids who are strong, determined, unsure, struggling to fit in, bubbly, shy, and everything in between. She is the author of P.S. I MISS YOU, GOOD ENOUGH, YOU ARE ENOUGH, and LIFE IN THE BALANCE (out February 2021), all from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.
When she isn’t writing, Jen can be found reading, playing board games, belting out songs in the car to embarrass her two daughters, and working as an eating disorder awareness advocate.
You can find Jen online at her website: www.jenpetroroy.com; on Twitter: @jpetroroy; and on Instagram: @jpetroroy.