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A Case for Fit Over Greatness

My character, Clara Poole is, if nothing else, an imperfect little girl. Like all young people, her story is about trying to understand how she fits into a big messy world, and how that fit connects her to an identity. She is not special, nor remarkably talented, nor does she have any superpowers for that matter. Instead, she is almost the personification of ordinary.

Factually speaking, Clara was perfectly average. So average in fact, that it gave her the ability to go virtually unnoticed anywhere she went. Whether at the mall, movies, grocery store, or school, 'I'm sorry, I didn't see you there,' was a comment she heard daily.

Her appearance was what people referred to as plain Jane. Her complexion was fair, though her face would freckle whenever she got anxious. She had brown eyes and brown hair cut in an unfussy bob. Never one for fashion or trends, Clara preferred clothes that were simple and didn't stand out—jeans and a hoodie being her standard go-to outfit. Even her size was average. Indeed, every time she went to the doctor for her annual check-up, she was the fiftieth percentile in height and fiftieth percentile in weight. Never was she anything more or less, never forty-ninth, never fifty-first, always fiftieth.

Because ordinary is what most people are.

I remember when James C. Collins' Good to Great was published, as well as Malcom Gladwell's Outliers, along with a host of other books which explored (and promoted) ideas of achieving greatness. All of them are wonderfully researched and written. All of them are fascinating. But in reading them, I couldn't help but feel our obsession with greatness is a false pursuit. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against achievement. Yet, in current society, reach for greatness is the path most people are told to follow. Few reach it, or really even want it, though too many of us face the very real anxiety that chasing greatness produced.

Clara Poole's story is not about becoming great. It's about becoming independent and become content with one's true self. While Clara suffers greatly, like the tragedy of witnessing a parent die, being struck by lightning, and the many near-death tests and trials during her adventure, all she wants is to find a place where she fits in and understands purpose, which is what kids (and adults) really want.

At a time when children are clobbered with messages to excel (sadly, most often from their bulldozer parents), I think we're overdue for a large amount of cultural reprogramming. After all, when a 4.0 grade average in school is just that — average — my question is what's the outcome we're striving for, and why?

So why not focus on fit for a change? That's what I'm telling my daughters.


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