Claire M. Burnett
Nobody Wants to be "Average..."
Updated: Nov 25, 2018
Why Entitlement to Extraordinary could leave you Screwed.
There’s this girl. Political genius. Inventor and entrepreneur. Athletic, talented and gorgeous with an hourglass figure so perfect it looks like Aphrodite came down from Olympus and carved the crap-shoot herself. Oh wait, that's right. Her father is a Greek god.
This girls smile can melt the damn room. Her charm is so thick you can swim in it. Half of her friends were TIME’s “Woman of the Year.” And the ones who weren’t don’t care because they could buy the magazine if they wanted to. When this girl isn’t jet setting around the world or coming up with the latest artistic innovation to save the planet, she spends her time helping the weak and helpless.
This woman is, you guessed it, Diana Prince. Also known as Wonder Woman. And (spoiler alert) she doesn’t actually exist.
"Make more. Do more. Buy more."
It’s an interesting trait of human nature that we seem to have a need to come up with these sort of fictional heroes that embody everything we wish we could be. Every other human culture is armed with such dramatic stories and I don’t believe I’m exactly shaking up the field of psychology by stating, as humans, we have a need to conjure up these heroes to help us cope with our own feeling of powerlessness.
And then Gen X complains…
"See that's your problem. All of you millennial's think you're entitled to something" ranted my business mentor.
I stared at him blankly. Sizing up his frustration before preparing to drop the ugly reaction that had been developing in my dome:
"What else do you expect? We grew up receiving participation awards. You want to blame someone? Blame your paranoiac parenting skills that coddled us because you thought protecting us from the realities of the world would help us be flourishing adults"
His eyes glared back at me… unable to argue the affects generations tend to have on another.
"Well at some point, y'all have got to grow up" he responded.
"I agree," said stoically, "But 25-30 years of trained grooves in our brain aren't going to be rewired overnight."
There are over 8 billion people on this planet, and only about 1,000 of those have notable worldwide influence at any given time! That leaves the other 7,199,999,000 +/- of us to come to terms with the limited scope of our lives and the fact that the vast majority of what we do will likely not matter long after we’ve died. I'm not sure what you're thinking…but I'm thinking…that blows.
So this piece is in defense of us "average" folk. And largely because "gassing yourself up" has become way too commonplace. To be clear: I'm not arguing for pursuing mediocrity, because we should all try to do the best we possibly can — but rather, why accepting mediocrity when we end up there despite our best efforts is NOT failure.
The Psychological Stuff
Most psychological traits are normally distributed, which means that around 65 percent of people will have average intelligence, personality, memory, happiness, leadership potential, creativity, and so on. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean we are aware of it!!
Most of us rate ourselves as "above average" on any desirable trait — which, of course, is a statistical impossibility...but whatever. The problem is that calling someone “average” is now equivalent to an insult! Telling someone they're just like everyone else is akin to a death sentence. People would prefer to be unique in a bad way, than to be normal in a good way.
Want to hear some salty, uncomfortable, Claire "stop talking" news!?
This need for uniqueness is a common symptom of narcissism, which has been rising steadily during the past century, particularly in the U.S.! ::Cue every book about the Ennegram released in the last year:: Also, raising my hand because I'm guilty AF! We just have to know more and more about ourselves! There has been a drastic increase in people’s desire to be famous or special, or to stand out from the crowd.
But Average IS Good.
Contrary to popular belief, there are many advantages to being, and even feeling, average. Take avoiding most physical and psychological illnesses for example… being average is one of your best options!
But let's rationally think through this. Even desirable characteristics like ambition, confidence or conscientiousness can be problematic if they're taken to the extreme.
Anyone picturing the guy who loves to hear himself talk!?
Ambition can easily turn into greed; sociability into attention-seeking; confidence into arrogance; and conscientiousness into obsessive-compulsive behavior. Rob Kaiser has a principle called the "too much of a good thing effect" which suggests that very high scores on these desirable traits are just as inconvenient and counterproductive as very low scores.
To take it a step further, since you probably are average on most qualities anyway, feeling average will translate into high self-awareness, which is far better than the alternative — overconfident delusion.
But You're a Unicorn…
Yes. You are genetically different. Some of us are born with high aptitudes for academic learning. Others are born with great physical skills. Others are athletic. Others are artistic. In terms of skills and talents, humans are a wildly diverse group of smelly creatures. Sure, what we end up accomplishing in life ultimately depends on our practice and effort, but we are all born with different aptitudes and potentials. Your biology and subjective experience make you unique…not above average.
Here's another theory to ponder:
"The glorification of nonconformity and unconventionality is an effective decoy for making people feel special while they are nudged into doing, thinking, and buying like everyone else."
Are you really different if you're just doing what everyone else is doing?
A Culture of "Exceptionalism"
Having the internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube and access to 500+ channels of television is phenomenal. We have access to more information than any other time in history. All day, every day, we are bombarded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. Non-stop.
Our lives today are filled with information coming from the extremes, because in the media that’s what gets eyeballs and the EYEBALLS BRING DOLLARS. (10 year Marketer speaking!!) Yet the vast majority of life continues to reside in the messy middle.
Call me whatever you want but…maybe this flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that “exceptional” is the new normal?
And since all of us are rarely exceptional, we all feel pretty damn insecure and desperate to feel “exceptional” all the time. So we overcompensate. We're always trying to prove that we're special because we're not exposed to regular people.
Everyone Can't be "Extraordinary"
Sure. You're special. "Because Jesus said so." But here's a contradiction in that thinking. Somewhere along the lines
Mission and purpose became your god, even if you slapped Jesus' name on it.
If everyone was extraordinary, then by definition, no one would be extraordinary. If you accept the idea that a life is only worthwhile if it is truly notable and great, then you also prescribe to the idea that the human population sucks and is worthless.
Prescribing to something different is like eating your vegetables. Bland and mundane truths will taste bad at first. Very bad. You'll avoid eating it. But once ingested, your body will thank you. The pressure to wake up and be "the next big thing" will be lifted off your back.
You'll have a growing appreciation for life's basic experiences like having three close friends in your late twenties, helping a person in need, reading a good book or laughing with someone you care about.
Detour to a Dig...(you've been warned.)
The acceptance that our talents and motivation are much more realistic, and MAY NOT result in world-changing accomplishments, could reflect a healthier, more rational self-concept than illusions of fantasized talent — except when these delusions may help you persuade others that you are great (or that you can make America great again)…::nearly choked.::
In a world where it is increasingly difficult to judge other people’s talents with precision, overconfidence enables people to fool others into thinking that they are competent. It is always easier to deceive others when you've deceived yourself. HOWEVER, the personal benefits of self-deception come at a high price:
Nobody benefits when the incompetent people succeed (except the incompetent themselves).
All that to say…Don't be a Sucker!
All of this “you're entitled to a stage and above average” stuff is basically just jerking off your ego (and we know what the good book says about masturbation!) It’s the stuff sold to us to make us feel good for a few minutes and keep us from going crazy in our cubicles.
The message tastes good going down, but in reality, is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and bloated, the proverbial Whopper for your heart and your brain.
Mediocrity as a goal, sucks. But Mediocrity as a result, is OK!
Being average is not lame. Living your life chasing conditional applause is.
Let's start chasing CONTENTMENT. Gratitude that we got to wake up today, breathe, and have people who are freaking excited we did!
Got a question? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org