Imagine someone is describing a skill or project of yours as average. How does it feel to hear that?
For a lot of us, it’s uncomfortable, even painful. Most of us still use the same scale of judgement we encountered in school, where above average = the right place to be, below average = the wrong place to be. Even though average is bang in the middle, it’s not enough to be in the middle anymore. We feel to pressure to be excellent, stand-out, special.
So we avoid average like the plague.
We ditch that writing class we tried once—and secretly enjoyed—because “I just wasn’t very good at it.” We disown our desire to take our paintings to a local art fair because “There are going to be people there who are way better at this than me.” We squirrel away our big ideas, our rough drafts, and our creative lives until we can be sure they meet that magical standard of being “above average.”
Or, we kid ourselves. A few years ago, a study found that when it comes to driving, most people think they are above average drivers. But most people can’t be above average, that’s not how averages work! Sometimes, we’re so averse to being “just average,” we attempt to make the leap from zero to great without a) putting in the work and due diligence, or b) being open to and aware of feedback or evidence to the contrary. The unfortunate thing is when we do this, we don’t accept the reality of where we are and what we need to do to get to where we’d like to be. We’re so invested in proving we’re above average, we don’t give ourselves the space to do the work and make the improvements that are crucial to becoming so.
Average is just a stop on a long journey towards being good, great, even excellent—if you want to be those things. But you also don’t have to be good at something to justify doing it. If you like doing yoga once or twice a week and are perfectly happy sticking with the beginner’s class (even though you could move on), that’s A-OK! Just because you can push yourself doesn’t mean you should.
If you want to be good at something, that is 100% doable. But you need to embrace your averageness first.
Average isn’t a state of being, a final stamp of quality. It’s simply a stop we all pass through, whether we like it or not.
Mastery doesn’t just happen. Before we can be great at something, we need to be good. Before we can be good at something, we need to be average.
When we vilify being average, we turn it into something to be ashamed of. It becomes something we avoid, hide from, pretend doesn’t exist.
But even the people who are the best in the world at what they do didn’t start out that way. They started out at average, even below average, just like the rest of us.
So forget the stigma that comes with being “just” average. It might be where you are right now, but that’s an exciting, possibility-filled place to be.