Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, In other's words, writing

Rabbit Trail: In Defense of Being Average

There are a few book reviews in draft for next week, including The Two-Income Trap, of which I offered a preview some time back.  In the meantime, I ran across this piece from Mark Manson that really struck a chord with me. Manson makes the case, complete with his characteristic smattering of colorful language, that our current cultural obsession with being exceptional has caused most people to lose sight of the glaringly obvious: most of us are average Janes and Joes. And that’s perfectly okay.

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re truly exceptional at one thing — say math, or jump rope, or making money off the black gun market — chances are you’re pretty average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.

We can then say that it is a complete statistical improbability that any single person can be an extraordinary performer in all areas of their life, or even many areas of their life. Bruce Wayne does not exist. It just doesn’t happen. Brilliant businessmen are often f*ck ups in their personal lives. Extraordinary athletes are often shallow and as dumb as a lobotomized rock. Most celebrities are probably just as clueless about life as the people who gawk at them and follow their every move.

We’re all, for the most part, pretty average people. It’s the extremes that get all of the publicity. We all kind of intuitively know this, but we rarely think and/or talk about it. The vast majority of us will never be truly exceptional at, well, anything. And that’s OK.

Which leads to an important point: that mediocrity, as a goal, sucks. But mediocrity, as a result, is OK.

Few of us get this. And fewer of us accept it. Because problems arise — serious, “My God, what’s the point of living” type problems — when we expect to be extraordinary. Or worse, we feel entitled to be extraordinary. When in reality, it’s just not viable or likely. For every Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, there are 10 million scrubs stumbling around parks playing pickup games… and losing. For every Picasso or DaVinci there have been about a billion drooling idiots eating Play-Doh and slapping around fingerpaints. And for every Leo {expletive] Tolstoy, there’s a lot of, well, me, scribbling and playing at writer.

That last bit gave me quite a chuckle, as an aspiring writer myself, but I know he’s right. Thankfully, I’m depending more on my message than the medium should I finish what I have begun to write. Nevertheless, Manson is spot on. We live under what could almost be described as the tyranny of exceptionalism:

So here’s the problem. I would argue that we have this expectation (or this entitlement) more today than any other time in history. And the reason is because of the nature of our technology and economic privilege.

Having the internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube and access to 500+ channels of television is amazing. We have access to more information than any other time in history.

But our attention is limited. There’s no way we can process the tidal waves of information flowing through the internet at any given time. Therefore the only ones that break through and catch our attention are the truly exceptional pieces of information. The 99.999th percentile.

All day, every day, we are flooded 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. The scariest threats. Non-stop.

Our lives today are filled with information coming from the extremes of the bell curve, because in the media that’s what gets eyeballs and the eyeballs bring dollars. That’s it. Yet the vast majority of life continues to reside in the middle.

You really should read the entire piece. The bell curves are informative, the graphics are entertaining, and the videos are funny.

I actually love my average life, as I have come to greatly appreciate a life filled with love, but there is one area where I am definitively on the right side of the bell curve: I’m 5 feet, 9 inches tall!

men_women_height

Y’all have a good weekend, and if your father is still with you, show him that he’s exceptional to you.

Happy Father’s Day to the dads who honor this little blog with your time and attention.

Content advisory: Manson drops the occasional f-bomb. If you hadn’t noticed.

 

8 thoughts on “Rabbit Trail: In Defense of Being Average”

  1. I think about this all the time! I feel like a pretty average person–and I don’t know why society seems to think that’s not okay. Average doen’t mean “terrible.” It means “most people.” So why is it seen as something to be ashamed of?

    Personally, I think chasing exceptionalism is exhausting and you have to realize that most people are never going to be exceptional. People who are exceptional have often made incredible sacrifices and, as the article notes, they are exceptional at only one thing.

    I always think about this when I see young people trying to do sports, for instance. I see a lot of students devoting all their time to sports instead of going to school or doing homework. But the odds of them going pro are very small (and, for some, like those in gymnastics, their career is over before it’s barely begun). It seems more important to me that you should focus on graduating. But I guess no one wants to be that person who tells someone not to pursue their dream.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting stuff. But don’t forget God’s bell-curve “equalizers”:

    1. Local knowledge. Everyone is top 1% of this.
    2. Skill-mixing: Each new skill multiplies talent to a unique top 1%.
    3. Unique family/history: mom/dad unique & thus top 1%.
    4. Sin rejects God’s finest gifts: 7+ kids top 1% (once the privilege of elite; now welfare moms do while elite go extinct).

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  3. Hi Krysta!

    Appreciate your comments, and I agree. To the extent that any of us can work to be our best selves in life, and particularly with regard to generously loving others, it won’t be too hard to be exceptional within our small spheres of influence. The world could use more light.

    The issue is that we’ve been conditioned to seek fame. To some degree the Internet has provided all of us platforms of influence where we have audiences and followers, most of whom don’t know us and we will never meet.

    It kind of feeds the beast.

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  4. @smk:

    Yes. We are all endowed with a certain amount of uniqueness; fearfully and wonderfully made!

    Of course, and I know you realize this, Mark Manson is referring to something quite different. See my reply to Krysta.

    Lastly, your data is out of date 😄. While few people are having more than five kids anymore, the caricature of the welfare Queen with tons of kids faded away from anything resembling a statistical reality in the 90s.

    Two parent families with 100k+ incomes, and the strictly religious (also two parent families) have the highest birth rates. By that I mean 3 or more children.

    Lots of kids are born to single moms, but most of them over the past 15-20 years only have ONE kid while single.

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  5. Lastly, your data is out of date

    You miss my point, which is that the top 1% re: family formation is now accessible to nearly everyone, not merely the right side of the bell curve elite as it was in the past. Now plenty of poor people have large families and plenty of elite 1% don’t. IOW, God threw a great banquet circa 2019 and few wanted to come on any side of the bell curve. Lk 14:16-24 seems timeless.

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  6. Thanks for clarifying, smk. Your original comment specifically said “welfare moms“, so I assumed you were leaving lower-income, religious two-parent families, out of your equation.

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  7. Yes, that’s how I see it. I can try to do good i my little corner. But I don’t need to save the world. That makes life seem so much more manageable. Just working in my little corner can be challenging, after all!

    Ah, yes. There is a lot of advertising and teaching to the effect of, “You all have a voice” and “You can change the world.” And it’s meant to be motivational, but it can also be overwhelming. And maybe a little deceptive. I try to remember I may have a voice, but I should try to use it only if I have something valuable to say. I try to stay out of conversations where I am aware I am very ignorant. But no one gives pep talks to the effect of, “You all have a voice! But maybe you should keep quiet sometimes, if you really think about it! You might be glad later that you did!”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. There is a lot of advertising and teaching to the effect of, “You all have a voice” and “You can change the world.” And it’s meant to be motivational, but it can also be overwhelming.

    Yes! And overwhelmingly deceptive, keeping us from tending our small plot of land which can have a huge impact on our immediate circle even if the world never knows our name.

    I always appreciate your thoughtful commentary, Krysta.

    Liked by 1 person

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