Regular guy versus standing out
I remember watching a black and white western when a ranch hand felt his work was dead end and would just eventually wear him out and leave him helpless. He was good at breaking horses and this was his shot to break out, to reach for something more, “that more” being the rodeo.
In the big city, amidst the teeming masses, if you weren't regimented into a profession, or had a place in the counter culture, you would often feel the need to break out, to make it, somehow, to rise above the rats in the cage, or the institutionalized education mills. This is how it was when I was growing up.
In small blue collar towns dreams seemed to be centered on breaking out of a 9 to 5 clock in factory job. Early death from pollutants or just being worn down seemed to be the sentence if one didn't escape.
Of course, I’m being a little harsh with these examples, but you get the point. There is a valid need to break out of a rut, to be something more, to stand out.
On the other hand when visiting the Midwest city Cincinnati, Ohio, I was impressed by how just living and being and going along worked out well. One could be an average student, get along with peers, party, watch football, be a good fraternity brother and eventually land a corporate job, then own a home, eventually have a family and all was okay. You were a good regular guy, a community contributor, a concerned citizen. And you were a fair person and had little to hide. Nothing was wrong with this picture.
I played ping pong with a girlfriend from the Midwest one time and I complemented myself after a good shot by saying, “boy, I could have been good at this.” She countered with “stop getting off on yourself. Most men are able to play a good game of ping pong.” What was an out of the ordinary skill to me was standard behavior to her. Regular guys know ping pong. To me, that one good shot confirmed that I could have risen above all if I had the chance.
I was a city boy where to live one had to excel or dull oneself into conformity. She was a Midwestern girl where steady work was the norm. Hmmmm to it all. Well, to her America was built on the middle, citizenry, and contribution (these were her ethics). Europe had their monarchies and aristocracies and masses. The masses struggled and the only way out was through excelling in some way. New York had roots in this.
On the other hand the American norm has its good and bad. Often a strong middle class thwarts greatness. However the middle class provides stability. Yet even in America sometimes one has to break out to survive old world style.
So, this was another dichotomy with no single answer.