Whether it’s an actor, athlete, mogul, or musician, we all have idols we look up to. We marvel at their milestone-rich careers and sky-high net worth. We Google their California properties and European beach homes. We speculate the amount of money they earn for a single paid Instagram post. God, the food they must get to eat every day. What’s it like to live a life where money is never an issue? We daydream endlessly about what it must be like to have Kylie Jenner, Mark Zuckerberg, or Jennifer Aniston’s influence in their respective fields.
And then we think about ourselves—stuck in office jobs that pay the rent by the skin of our teeth, less than 1,000 Instagram followers, no designer clothes to our name, no amazing life story to do a TED Talk about. We are, for all intents and purposes, average. And we are reinforced with the message that average is unacceptable.
Society tells us that mediocrity is a death knell to a truly fulfilling life; that to feel truly successful, we need to stand out from at least thousands, if not millions, of our peers. Given that there are 7.53 billion people in the world, the pursuit of world-class excellence has never been a taller order.
Does that mean the rest of us are doing life wrong? Absolutely not.
If you think about it, at any given time only five to 10,000 people in the world are living their absolute best lives (the four horsemen: fame, money, power, influence). Does that mean the rest of us are doing life wrong? Absolutely not.
Now, this isn’t me saying it’s okay to settle for mediocrity. We must always strive to do better and live better. I’m saying that if you do end up on that spectrum despite trying your very best, it’s not as devastating as you think. Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, illustrates this helpfully in a bell curve:
The law of probability states that for every high-achiever out there (belonging on the rightmost side of the spectrum), there are thousands of low achievers, and there are millions who find themselves in the vast expanse of "average." And we’re damned if that ain’t the truth: you could be really, really great at one thing, but most humans are unexceptional at most things. Only very few are bestowed with the title of "champion" or "legend," because if it were that easy to be one, then they would no longer be impressive.
In the age of content, it’s hard to feel content.
Regrettably, it’s often extreme failures or extreme successes that make their way into our daily headlines, memes, and viral YouTube videos. Now more than ever, it’s difficult to avoid the deluge of awards shows, influencers breaking new follower records, and expensive travelogues. In the age of content, it’s hard to feel content.
It’s that one percent who get their spot in the Internet Hall of Fame—and we are constantly made to feel like we’re less than, just because we don’t measure up. “You have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyonce,” a popular Pinterest saying goes. “Make the most out of them.” But the fact is, Beyonce spent decades dedicating herself to music. We hyperfocus on the happy endings, failing to account for the years of struggle that precede anyone’s success. We forget that all humans are born into different levels of privilege, and how that privilege plays a huge role in their odds of making it. The Internet makes us forget a lot of things, including the inherent value of ourselves. And it’s up to us to not forget.
I was what people like to call a "gifted child." I learned to read at the age of one, and by the age of three, I was reading entire sentences from the newspaper, at the absolute disbelief of my family. An infant milk company tried to reach out to us so I could be one of those TV commercial kids. I started school early, skipped a grade, and went to high school at 11 and college at 15. Fast-forward to today, and I’d call myself...perfectly average. I have a career I’m proud of and a family I love, but my name’s not going to be on any headlines anytime soon. In many ways, that’s okay with me.
These days, they say the worst thing you can be is so-so. But the so-so make up the vast majority of our population. Plenty of us can carry a tune, for example, but how many singers actually make it to the big leagues? Happiness and fulfillment are often elusive concepts, but ironically enough, it’s once you embrace your average-ness that you give yourself the liberty to live life as you please. It’s the joyful acceptance of mediocrity that will push you to focus on your strengths, so you can find success at what you’re actually good at (instead of gawking at others whose skills you just don’t have). It’s what will keep you from needlessly comparing yourself to others, because in your own little world, what you have is more than enough.