The joy of being average

When I asked the community whether we have the duty to live up to our potential, many of you balked at the notion of living up to anybody else's standards but your own. I read every single comment, and the general feeling is that society has unrealistic expectations of what one should do or should be. I agree with the general feedback. Screw society. Do what you want to do and don't let anybody stop you.

The only caveat I see with not living up to your potential is the feeling of regret. I never want to fail due to a lack of effort, and that's exactly what I did when I didn't try out for high school football. I can fail because I'm too stupid, the competition is too good or there was some uncontrollable, exogenous variable that negatively affected my chances. But when I know I'm not doing everything possible to succeed, then regret inevitably creeps in. You don't want to go through life wondering what could have been if you had tried just a little bit harder.

In this post, I'd like to discuss the joys of being average. Since college, I consistently tried to massacre my mind and body by studying and working like no other. In college, it was imperative to graduate at least magna cum laude to give myself the best chance at getting a good job. When I landed my first job, there was no question of getting in by 5:30 a.m. and leaving after 7:30 p.m. every day for the first two years because I knew nothing — and people who know nothing are easily disposable.

But after 13 short years, I was done. I no longer wanted to kill myself at the age of 35. So I left to make no money as a writer. Instead of getting up at 5:30 a.m., I let myself sleep in until 6:30 a.m. or even 7 a.m. — even though 6:30 a.m. is when the stock markets open on the West Coast. I no longer cared about reading everything possible to get an edge in my investments. I wanted to kick back and smell the pink jasmines that grew all around my deck. Now I spend a couple hours a day writing for various online publications and another hour or so over e-mail connecting with folks. It's such a far cry from the 14-hour days on The Street. I'm as average as can be, and it feels wonderful!

Three Benefits of Being Average

1) Lower expectations.

2) More safety.

3) More happiness.

Let's look at some examples to demonstrate what I mean.

Education: Imagine going to Harvard for $180,000 in tuition over four years and landing an average $40,000 a year job that anybody from any college could have gotten. What a disappointment when it comes to money, especially if your parents are not rich and you didn't get any grants. If more people thought about the financial implications of college, there would be less of a student loan crisis. I feared high expectations, so I decided to attend the College of William & Mary for $2,800 a year vs. $25,000 a year for a comparable private school back in the '90s. If I landed back in my old job at McDonald's, I would be disappointed — but at least I could cover all four years of tuition earning minimum wage. Unless you are rich, it's an inevitability you will be starting your career in a financial deficit.

Physical attributes: Imagine growing up as a beautiful and fit kid. All your life people treat you special because people are shallow that way. Then one day you discover the joys of eating. You put on the freshman 15 in college and never lose it. After you get a job, you realize working out is a luxury you don't have. You're now 31 years old and 30 pounds heavier than you once were. The 15-year high school reunion is coming up next year and you are stressed out of your mind! You're worried about your ex-classmates snickering behind your back for letting yourself go.

Instead, if you were average looking with an average body in school, people wouldn't care that you gained 30 pounds as a male or a female. Weight gain is an inevitable part of life in America.

Wealth: If you are wealthy in America, you are either idolized (e.g., the Kardashians for some reason) or assailed (e.g., the top 1 percent). Since it's easier to become wealthy than to become famous and wealthy, let's focus on the former. Politicians will arbitrarily determine an individual making over a certain amount is wealthy regardless of their educational background, occupation, or geographic location in order to engage in class warfare for votes. Even though you do make more than average, you feel excluded, which is an uncomfortable feeling any minority will understand. Unless you are an inventor, people will tend to look at you suspiciously regarding how you accumulated your wealth.

If you are of average wealth, there is no need to hide. You don't have to send your kids to private school, play tennis at a private club, obscure your home address, worry about kidnappers, or fear persecution by the government. The idea of Stealth Wealth makes no sense as you walk freely among the crowd.

Taxes: Paying taxes is fine if you know everybody else is paying a similar amount of taxes. But if you start paying a higher and higher percentage of your income in taxes along with a higher absolute dollar amount in taxes AND you get called greedy and evil, you might feel tremendous frustration. You may start to question why you are such the bad guy if you are paying the majority of this nation's taxes — even more so than your share of income.

Being average, you are able to fly under the government's radar by no longer being a target for tax increases. The frustration you have with government inefficiencies starts to dissipate. You're also more likely to become a beneficiary of tax increases, some of which goes to help fund public education and maintain our national parks. As someone who has spent the past two years out of Corporate America, I admit I feel a heightened appreciation for the government partly because I get to relax in the parks and utilize the library more often now. The return on my tax dollars has increased tremendously.

Sports: In 2012, my 4.5 level league tennis team won the San Francisco City Championship. Glory! We were the favorites to win again in 2013, but we didn't. We lost 2-3 in the final after our No. 1 singles player was up 4-1 in the third set and blew it. Although it is quite an accomplishment for any team to repeat back-to-back finals, we all felt extremely disappointed. If we were in the middle 4-6 teams out of 10, we'd be ecstatic to have just made the playoffs. Many of us decided to give up tennis for months because we were so depressed. A very similar situation happens with golf. As a 23 handicapper, golf is pretty fun due to the occasional money shot from 240 yards away that lands within 10 feet of the hole. As a 9 handicapper, every shot counts and if you don't par a hole you are disappointed. I enjoyed golf much more when I was a hacker.

Work: Most workers are average by definition. Only the bottom 10 percent really are at risk of being let go in any given year if there is no major structural change, e.g., closing down a department or going through a merger. So long as you are in the middle, you can happily go about doing your work and practicing the coveted work-life balance. It's a great feeling to punch out by 5 p.m. every day, enjoy your weekends, and schedule doctors appointments in the middle of the day. You'll get your raises and promotions no faster or slower than otherwise expected.

However, if you are in the top 10 percent, there is an expectation from your managers that you will always keep producing outstanding work. You can't be outstanding forever, and eventually you will revert back to average work. But your average work is much better than the work of your average peers. Unfortunately, in your manager's eyes, you are failing and will likely be punished as a result. I remember being admonished for going from the No. 2-ranked to No. 3-ranked, when just a year ago I was given high-fives for moving up from No. 10 to No. 8.

Intimacy: Let's say you are known for being a modern-day Casanova. Everybody knows you go on a different date once a week because women love you for your charm, physique, humor, and financial stability. You're getting older now and no longer want to play the field. You just want to settle down with one woman. The woman you fancy knows all about your playboy reputation but gives you a chance. You act on your best behavior, but when it comes time to get intimate, you can't perform due to extreme anxiety that you won't be the best she's ever had. You wish you had a blank slate where she had no expectations. The same type of anxiety and insecurity can be said for women, as the marketing industry so deftly manages to exploit.

Save the Ability to Under-Promise

The first thing a mentor told me when I graduated from college was to “under-promise and over-deliver.” If you are outstanding at everything you do, you don't leave yourself much upside to over-deliver. Keep some things back a little and slowly roll them out during appropriate times. Eventually, you will hit a wall where you just can't get better. If expectations are out of whack, you'll come across as a disappointment no matter how awesome your average is.

One of my biggest fears about leaving my job in 2012 was the raised expectation for writing good content on Financial Samurai. Since I would have 12 hours more a day on average to write, surely my articles would double in humor, double in insight, double in knowledge, and double in page views. The only thing I could control was doubling the length of each article from an average of 750 words to 1,500 words. Everything else was left up to the Internet gods.

Again, should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Thanks to the feedback from my previous post, it looks like the answer is “no.” Even though there are literally millions of people around the world who would give up everything to have the same opportunities we have in America, our potential is for us to decide and for us to waste. After all, the key to happiness is to be satisfied with exactly what we have.

So here's to being average! If you find any punctuations or spelling mistakes, please be kind. I'm not F. Scott Fitzgerald and this isn't the New York Times!

Do you enjoy being average? What are your thoughts on ever-increasing expectations? Is it more fun to be average or stellar?

Best,

Sam

More about...Psychology, Career

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Jon
Jon
6 years ago

Three cheers for the average man! Hip Hip Hooray!

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Jon

Congrats on your averageness my man! Cheers to you as well.

Nick
Nick
6 years ago

I don’t agree, we only get one shot at life and we should aim to reach our full potential. It’s like having a Ferrari car and keeping it under 30km/h to avoid accidents.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Nick

But what does it mean to reach one’s “full potential” anyway? People put down the idea of being average, but obsessing with living up to one’s full potential can be a self-centred way to live if taken too far. Expecting everyone else to live up to their full potential too is going to make things very challenging.

I think we really need to look at whose standards we feel we have to live up to and why.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Nick

I’ve always wondered what’s up with the Ferraris and Porches who drive at the speed limit on the high way. What a waste.

But I do understand why the same cars drive so slowly off the free way. So everybody can, “LOOK AT ME.”

ChinoF
ChinoF
6 years ago
Reply to  Nick

Why should potential be defined by a Ferrari? Can’t a more practical, more reliable car do better? Should “potential” have to be defined by the flashy and overcompensating?

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

First of all, I don’t think good writers are “average”. There are a lot more people who think they can write well than people who actually write well. I think “average” is a state of mind rather than a state of being. We’re all average in some areas but some people are okay with it and others will fight like heck to improve. Do I care if I’m above average at sports or calculus? Nope. I’m not exceptional in the looks department either, but there’s a limit to how much I’m going to fight to measure up to someone else’s… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Isn’t a good writer by definition, not average?

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Yeah, it was way too early in the morning 😉

I just meant that some people consider writing to be an “average” career. Those who do it well are anything but average!

Chase
Chase
6 years ago

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Short arms long pockets
Short arms long pockets
6 years ago
Reply to  Chase

I actually believe that “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing badly.” Trying anything and giviing it your best shot – even if you fail – or only perform in an “average” way, is far better than never trying at all. Fear of failure holds us back – but it’s better to try and mess up (or find out that you are just not very good at what you thought was going to be your life’s passion) than to live with the “what ifs?”.

Linda Vergon
6 years ago

I would offer an amendment to this comment to include “… and then trying to get better at it.” I think of the scene in The Last Samurai where Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) was learning to fight with the samurai and, having been beaten, got back up to continue the fight. Time and time again, he gets back up after having been beaten, astonishing his opponents who ultimately learn to respect him. Whether you’re average or not when you begin, it still takes a certain discipline to keep going back and continually trying to improve. Whether you end up… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Linda Vergon

Insightful and thematically relevant! Well done Linda! 🙂

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Linda Vergon

I love your perspective 🙂 I can’t remember how my mom used to phrase it, but her philosophy on doing something exceptional was that it’s part genes and part learned. Natural talent will only take you so far — honing your skills and practice are key.

As a teacher, I saw quite a few students worked really hard at something they’re not good at just to be “average”. Their work ethic and determination set them up for success in the areas where they do excel.

Rose
Rose
6 years ago

Great post, Sam. I also follow your Financial Samurai blog and appreciate your different take on things.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Rose

Cheers Rose! Nice to meet dual readers of both sites.

SavvyFinancialLatina
SavvyFinancialLatina
6 years ago

I go back and forth between wanting to be a successful stand out to just wanting to be average. Corporate america is rough and I can’t possibly see myself sticking around till I’m 65.
I’m still trying to figure out what I’m passionate for. You race through school developing the skills you are good at, but forget to figure out what your passionate about.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago

If you can already see yourself not wanting to, or not being able to stick around to 65, then you MUST be above average by saving like crazy, working like crazy, and doing something different from everyone else.

B/c if you do exactly what everyone else does, then you will receive exactly what everyone gets. Our system is designed to capture the majority of people.

Make the choice!

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I have to disagree with your point about physical attributes. First of all, maintaining your health is possibly the most important thing you can do. Secondly, gaining weight is not inevitable, in fact, your physical fitness is one of the few things you have 100% control over (unless you’re one of the very few people who has a thyroid issue or something comparable). Harnessing that control can be incredibly empowering in all aspects of your life.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

@Stephanie, you said it better than I could! Weight gain of course is inevitable if you eat crap and never exercise.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago

You sure about that?

I think you’ll enjoy this post: Proof Your Weight Is Almost Entirely Genetic And Not Your Fault

http://www.financialsamurai.com/proof-your-weight-is-almost-entirely-genetic/

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. Body types are genetic for sure and there can be a genetic predisposition to obesity (its on both sides of my family) but that doesn’t meant you can’t be a healthy weight and size. Not everyone is able to eat the Standard American Diet, even what is considered “healthy” by the FDA and remain at a healthy size. Its not even as simple as calories in, calories out. I’m not going to get too far off topic, but I think the last thing a lot of people need to hear is that they… Read more »

Shari
Shari
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I agree, the author of this article seems to provide as “evidence” only that some guy in prison didn’t lose weight even after 25 years of prison food. Obesity is common in my family….my grandparents and parents are all overweight, as well as several people in my generation. I am not overweight. I also happen to be the only member of my family who counts calories and exercises. I’m thinking that’s not a coincidence.

Toni
Toni
6 years ago

I’m guessing the people who argue with this post are NOT predisposed to being heavy. I was a plump toddler, a chunky kids, a “big” teenager, and a heavy (OK, obese) adult. I’ve spent literally half my life trying to lose weight. I’ve had some successes, but it’s HUGE amounts of work, and I have doubts I’ll ever get all the weight off. I eat well-balanced meals, attend weekly Weight Watchers meeting, and spend over an hour a day at the gym, but I’m still a good 50 pounds overweight. My sister has *not* stressed about dieting like I have,… Read more »

Shari
Shari
6 years ago
Reply to  Toni

I agree that there are people who have a natural tendency to be heavy, whether caused by a slow metabolism or something else. There are also medical conditions that can make it very difficult to lose weight. But I do not think that everyone who has family members who are overweight should just accept it and decide they can’t do anything about it. The guy in jail cited in this article most likely had some kind of medical condition. I just don’t think we have to accept weight gain as “inevitable”.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Toni

I am definitely predispositioned to being heavy. I was overweight in my early and mid 20s due to PCOS/insulin resistance. I must say my way of eating is unconventional but was able to keep the weight off for almost 8 years now.

In addition to that, I have a slow thyroid (related to another, more serious chronic illness) that I’m getting taken care of.

If I did nothing and eat what the average person eat, I would be obese now.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Toni

Toni – I’ve observed the same thing. Most who don’t think genetics has a majority to do with our weight band have never really struggled with weight. I do believe there is a combination of genetics and self-activity. I just think genetics is closer to 70% of the reason. There is a reason why my buddy who never works out has a four pack, and only have killing myself during high school could I match him. There’s a reason why a 400+ lbs man is obese while in prison. To not recognize genetics and a weight band is strange. I… Read more »

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

I think you should give your best effort in whatever you do. Even if it ends up being average!

Carol
Carol
6 years ago

You don’t have to be rich to avoid a financial deficit when starting a career. I had a scholarship for undergrad and a fellowship with a stipend for graduate school. I started my career with savings.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Carol

You are right. I need to add the word “almost” and inevitability to the sentence, ” Unless you are rich, it’s an inevitability you will be starting your career in a financial deficit.”

Can you share with us how you graduated with savings on your own?

Carol
Carol
6 years ago

I had good grades and great test scores in high school. I didn’t work during the school year, but did work during the summers after I turned 16. I went to a small, public university that was looking to reward good grades/high test scores with tuition and room/board scholarships. A National Merit scholarship and another outside scholarship covered books, and summer money covered incidentals. My parents didn’t charge me rent during the summer and I didn’t need a car to get to work. I went to grad school for science. Unlike some fields, many science programs pay your tuition and… Read more »

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago

Hmm.. I prefer to be the best I can be rather to just get by. That would also be awesome if other people stopped “just being average.” Maybe we’d have more people off government assistance that way.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Matt YLBody

I think the people you’re griping about are below average, not average. In terms of income, I mean. I know what the average household income is in Canada and I’m fairly certain people on assistance aren’t making anywhere near it.

Ironically, if everyone aims to be above average than the average ends up being higher. If you get a 90 in a course where everyone else is in the 85-95 range, then your class is doing well but you’re not exactly exceptional. I think we make the most gains when we’re distinctive.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

First define the potential you are trying to live up to. In a nutshell, for you it’s being the best at everything. It’s not even being best at what you do, that’s not enough. The idea that you could have been best at something you never even did, haunts you. Forget being the best at everything…you’ll never be able to even DO everything, so either way you’re setting yourself up to fail if that is your goal. Here’s a thought. I don’t think anyone is meant to live up to their potential. What a sad day it would be to… Read more »

Khadijah
Khadijah
6 years ago

I did enjoy being average for a while because I was burnt out from being overachieving and from striving for excellence all the time. I was always in the top 10 student in school. The country where I grew up, you were ranked based on merit and semester exams, ranked from 1 to last. Students would be streamed into classes ie the top 30 students all belong to 1 classroom, 31-60 in the next etc. We had national standardized test for ages 12, 15 and 17 (for college entrance), for every test you had the chance to ‘move up’ in… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Khadijah

Your story definitely describes the dangers of always trying to be the best: burnout.

I guess I was like you, and burnout out after 13 years of doing the same thing. Now I’m kinda like a vagabond, doing side jobs here and there, traveling, and wondering “is this it?” At least when I was in the system, every directive was kind of clear.

It does become a struggle to find your own way.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago

Trying to enjoy being average doesn’t work for me: nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/ambition/‎

Given the career path as “the founder of the Yakezie Network, the largest personal finance blog network on the web,” it doesn’t seem like it works for Financial Samurai either.

Patti
Patti
6 years ago

Nicole and Maggie– I got a 404 when I tried your link. 🙁

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
Reply to  Patti

It seems to work for me… maybe you need the http in front? http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/ambition/

Patti
Patti
6 years ago

Thanks!

Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
6 years ago

I think that being “average” by society’s standards is totally fine so long as we are continually taking risks and stretching ourselves by our OWN standards. We should measure ourselves by where we used to be rather than by where everybody else is. Personal growth is satisfying and addictive, whereas trying to meet everybody else’s standards is exhausting and overwhelming. My husband and I are about to embark on a big risk that some admire and others think is totally crazy (we are moving into a school bus with three kids on our own land), and as someone who is… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago

Wow! That sounds like a great adventure! I’d love to follow along and see how things go. Good luck!

Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
Sarah @ Little Bus on the Prairie
6 years ago

You are most welcome to 🙂 We move in on Saturday!

getagrip
getagrip
6 years ago

This is a double edged sword and I think another commentor got it right. We are below average, average, and above average in a variety of areas throughout our lives and those things can morph all the time. Do I expect to become a great investor or am I okay with investing in the average of the market with index funds? Do I become the best at a very defined area at work, or good at being a generalist? Do I make my vacations the best planned and executed events to be the envy of all others, or do I… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago

This is slightly OT but the author of this piece has brought this up twice as being very important to him. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS. His big regret in life so far is not playing high school football and he’s way past high school now. And he isn’t the only male I have heard regret that. At my 40th high school reunion there was a small turnout but most of the men who came had played on the sports teams, particularly football. They wanted to relive the times. I honestly don’t want to sound critical but I just don’t get it.… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Anne, haven’t you seen Al Bundy from Married With Children? HS football all the way!

I mention it again in this article as a writing technique to draw from the same beginning regret as the first article, and then move on to discuss different things. So, I think it only counts as one mention 🙂

getagrip
getagrip
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Just a point. Almost every kid I know who played high school football ended up with a significant to serious injury. Typically, broken hands or feet, torn up knees or shoulders. A number needed surgery. I’m not saying you can’t get injured in other sports, but it seems to be the norm in football and they act like it’s a badge of honor. So Sam, maybe you’re actually lucky not to have played, because the concussion you may have gotten could have caused your short term memory to mess up and that could have trashed multiple test scores for a… Read more »

slccom
slccom
6 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

The brain damage isn’t pretty, and is quite subtle in many cases. I agree that not playing football was a good decision.

One kid gave up football (and he was a really good young player) because, “I only have one brain.”

Patti
Patti
6 years ago

I would not agree that the College of William and Mary is average…

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Patti

Agree. In the context of this post, William & Mary is below average for cost of education.

Of course William & Mary is the #1 public university in the country for academics 🙂

AMW
AMW
6 years ago

I think we are all average in certain areas and outstanding in others. Unfortunately, some of the areas people excel in are not necessarily recognized by society when we talk about “living to our potential”. I think I am above average in my career but not necessarily top tier because I would rather spend my energy being an outstanding mom. I admire people who have cultivated their empathy, who go the extra mile for others, who develop a spirit of kindness, who can get out of their personal bubble, regardless their successes in other parts of their life. That is… Read more »

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl
6 years ago

I don’t think weight gain is “inevitable” as we get older. You just have to work harder than you did when you were younger to stay fit. I think genetics have more to do with it as well, and your genes dictate how easy or difficult it is to stay in shape. As for being average or above average, I will say that there is definitely more pressure on me to be successful, but that is because I was voted most likely to succeed. Without sounding like a narcissist, I am definitely more attractive and fit than my fellow peers.… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Golfing Girl

Staying in shape definitely takes a lot more work as we get older indeed!

Thanks for addressing my point about attraction.

Such shallow people, the world is! 🙂

Let me go do some situps and pushups now.

ChinoF
ChinoF
6 years ago

A good followup to the earlier article. I think all that self-help stuff has too much hype on that topic of “being the best.” We often hear the stuff “be the best you can be,” “strive for being the best.” But it doesn’t always work that way. We can’t always be “the best.” That saying “be the best you can be,” is actually a warning against mediocrity. I am sure Sam does not promote mediocrity. What he’s promoting is, you can’t always be the best as you want – there’s a place for the average! We all want to be… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
6 years ago

I wrestle with this constantly. I’ve always been a bright guy, so I try to live up to the brains God gave me. Also being a tall, white male is playing life on easy mode I hear, so why not take advantage of this and climb the ladder as high as you can? But does the amount of effort to claw to the 1% (by income I just made it to that last year for the first time, at 37) really bring happiness? I view the pursuit of happiness as my meaning of life for us humans, and I long… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Congrats on making it to the 1%!

Just keep it under wraps. You don’t want to wake up with a lot of people at your doorstep demanding you pay for your sins!

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

Did someone define the top 1%?

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Bill
Michael@Save-Invest-Grow
6 years ago

Even if we strive to be proficient in certain aspects of life, there are always going to be some that we’re not so great at. Balancing it all out, we’re essentially all average. I prefer to focus on a few key areas to improve that I know lead to more happiness. I believe in what you described as “stealth wealth” and I’m happy flying under the radar as long as I know I’m improving. I’m fine being “average” in the eyes of the rest of the world.

mirror
mirror
6 years ago

Oh God, I’ve wrestled with this my whole life. The part about how you can only be outstanding for so long, and then when you become an above-average worker, your boss is disappointed in you? Yeah, that’s my whole life– with the boss being either my parents, a sports coach, or a teacher. Growing up, I never really understood that this was happening, and the pressure and frustration were insane. So what happened? I became a procrastinator due to fear of failure and never really tried as hard as I could. I was also stuck in this frustrating limbo where… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  mirror

I feel you.

Life can get pretty damn frustrating when we are being compared to others or see others succeed or expect more from us.

I have the same issue w/ my father who always used to say, “Just not good enough.” It still annoys me when he’s overly critical when he hasn’t done anything successful that he’s criticizing me about. But, I just tell him to point out how i can do better and go with it now.

Edward
Edward
6 years ago

I’m not sure whether not feeling a social “duty” to live up to your 100% complete potential as being superhumanly better than anyone else at one thing equals a life of mediocrity. Does it? I certainly don’t have any burning desire to be outstanding or average at anything. …I just don’t care enough. No need to put myself on a scale or chart of success. Here’s an idea: have fun with the things you do and don’t regret the things you missed out on. The past is an easy story to tell–it’s already been written and you can read it… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Edward

Sometimes to see the middle, you must write in black or white.

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

Sam, I have just started reading some of your writings and this article confuses me a bit. First, I like your comments on the issue of those who are high earners always needing to feel “guilty” and “hide”. I would love to start a blog for the top earners in America, but they probably wouldn’t have time to read it and I would be fearful of being hunted down and stoned to death by the masses. I have been in every income spectrum and I would never want to go back to being just average or struggling to make ends… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris

Hi Chris, This article was in response to the majority of people in my first post who said we really don’t have to live up to anybody’s potential. (https://www.getrichslowly.org/do-we-have-a-duty-to-live-up-to-our-potential/) As a pretty fair-minded fella, I wanted to see the positives of not living up to your potential and being content with average. (This post). Is it possible that your daughter is being perfectly rational though? She’s happy, so isn’t that the bottom line? She also has you to fall back on in case she gets in a lot of trouble. Again, more rational thinking. It’s when people grow up with… Read more »

Adam
Adam
6 years ago

I think almost everyone associates potential with careers. If you’ve applied yourself, moved up the ladder at work, and made a lot of money than you’ve reached your full potential. But when you are so focused on your career than you may not be reaching your full potential in regards to spending time with family and friends, physical fitness, happiness, etc. Last year I moved to an easy low-stress job, with stable hours, and feel like I have lost some of my “career potential”. But I now have an extra 1.5 hours per day to do other things that make… Read more »

Bridget
Bridget
6 years ago

haha interesting perspective… not for me though, tad bit of an overachiever 😉

Kasia
Kasia
6 years ago

While you do make some good points from a different perspective, I think aiming for just average isn’t always good enough for the individual or for society. If we strove for just average we wouldn’t have many of the luxuries and developments we have today. This bit resonates with me, “I can fail because I’m too stupid, the competition is too good or there was some uncontrollable, exogenous variable that negatively affected my chances. But when I know I’m not doing everything possible to succeed, then regret inevitably creeps in. You don’t want to go through life wondering what could… Read more »

megan w
megan w
6 years ago

I went to a private college, graduated with $50k+ in school loans (would have cost $120 without scholarships), and couldn’t find a job because of the economic crash. So I enlisted in the military. I make less than $35k a year (admittedly with benefits it’s about $60k) so I guess I would count as a “disappointment” according to your Harvard example, but for the most part I like my job. Do I have moments where I wish I made more money? Do I sometimes wish that I had applied for a commission instead of enlisting? Yes to both, but I… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  megan w

Well, not quite. Given you spend $50K+loans, it sounds like it’s a worthwhile endeavor since you’re making $60K. That is the formula for how I believe one should value a college education. http://www.financialsamurai.com/how-to-value-a-college-education-to-help-an-abysmal-net-worth/

But if you spent $120,000 on tuition… then I think you would have regret. But maybe not. Just my opinion.

Untemplater
Untemplater
6 years ago

There are a lot of things I’m just average at and that doesn’t bother me. But I do try to be better than average in a variety of things. Even if my results don’t come out the way I hoped if I gave it a solid effort I’ll feel pretty good. “The race is long and in the end it’s only with yourself.”

Val
Val
6 years ago

“class warfare for votes” and claims that you are hurt so much by having to pay taxes.

And me pointing this out (because you don’t think money spent on taxes has more impact on your budget when you have a much smaller income, for reals?) is going to make you feel “assailed” I suppose. Oh well I ought to just roll my eyes at the martyr complex. If there’s class warfare going on, it’s certainly not being perpetuated by us ordinary people.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Val

I think it’s hard to understand if you’ve never been there. It’s kind of like it’s hard to understand what being a minority in America is like if you’re a majority.

But if you are commenting out of experience earning a top 1% income ($400,000+), then I think that’s great you never felt like you were assailed.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
6 years ago

Equating suffering racism and suffering the effects of “class warefare” because you are in the top 1% of wage earners is ridiculous. I can tell you stories about racism and its horrible effects. Money is power, and one of those two groups has money/power. Perkins made a similar argument about class warfare and compared it to the attacks against the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. No, not all within top 1% feel assailed. I have a lot of wealthy friends, but the only ones who make these type comments are all Republicans. Perhaps it’s a coincident, but I personally think… Read more »

C
C
6 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

I’ve noticed people who are not minorities always discredit how minorities feel, and people who are not in the 1% discredit how the 1% feel. Strange how people can discredit others without ever being in their shoes. Is there a chance you don’t make a top 1% income and you are not a minority? The problem with a lot of America is myopia. They don’t speak a second language, have never traveled abroad and simply don’t have perspective. I’d much rather trust a person who has been poor, middle class, and rich, than someone who has never been rich to… Read more »

No Nonsense Landlord
No Nonsense Landlord
6 years ago

Average is OK, but I am hoping for an above average retirement…

I never want to move into my own apartments.

ChinoF
ChinoF
6 years ago

Average in most things but good in others makes sense, though. That’s the theory of multiple intelligences. But still, it doesn’t guarantee that you can be the best in your field of expertise. Just competent. But just build upon your competence. It’s like being the best already.

lmoot
lmoot
6 years ago

I want to add that my strategy is to be at least slightly above average in the areas I care most about. But I do not see myself becoming an expert or professional anything because that’s not my style. I tend to get bored before I master something, or I’ll wake up and realize there would be little value in mastering this thing and my time would be of better use doing something else. Not to say it’s all a waste…like someone mentioned, there is much between average and superhuman. Also I’ve learned not to be fooled by the “average”… Read more »

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

This article lifts up the importance of tending to the constant tensions of life. I am a mentor for a middle school student and am striving to understand his purpose, goals and ambitions–which are not high. This article helped me see the importance of weighing two important purposes.

Embrace the tensions of life–work to achieve your best, and be grateful for what you have.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Fantastic of you to mentor a middle schooler! I’ve been a mentor before and it is not easy, but very rewarding when you see that your advice has helped.

Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey
Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey
6 years ago

I strongly agree. Being an average person is totally worth-living.

Lila
Lila
6 years ago

I disagree about the weight comment but other people have covered with why they disagree. You make other good points though. When I was a little girl I wanted to be wealthy. I wanted a mansion, a car collection, I wanted to own designer clothes and have a maid and a butler. Don’t laugh. I really did want these things. And then I grew up and I realized the things that people have to do to earn that kind of money. And that they often have to sacrifice family and friends for that. I also didn’t have any passion for… Read more »

budgetgirl
budgetgirl
6 years ago

This is a fascinating discussion. No matter what your view is on being average or excelling, I would say that BALANCE is what you’re ultimately after. Deciding the correct balance for you is what determines your decision to excel at one area of your life vs. another. I’m a mom and wife with a FT job and a side gig. If I chose to “excel” at one of these areas, the others will suffer. I’d say my personal scorecard looks like this: Mom – average: The kids are in daycare, but when they’re home at night and on weekends I… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  budgetgirl

I like the balance! And if you feel that you aren’t happy with being below average somewhere, then I’m sure you’d work to improve that situation. Everything is rational!

budgetgirl
budgetgirl
6 years ago

Thanks FS. Yes, exactly. “Above average” vs. “excel” have and will continue to change at different times in my life. At first, I had a really hard time downshifting my job. I felt I was giving up what I’d worked hard for. But I’m finding my reputation is unchanged and the people I work with consult with me on major changes and let me select projects that continue expand my skill set at a more measured pace. A few years back, I caught up with someone I knew in college. She sort of indirectly wondered why I wasn’t “living up… Read more »

I don't know
I don't know
6 years ago

This is the least inspiring work of literature that I have read this year. I rejct the advice that I should get fat, rest on my laurels, not try at life, accumulate debt for education, and other generally self-defeating comments.

Mr. Money Mustache would say that you suffer from a complainypants disease and that the only good cure is a punch in the face.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  I don't know

Before you punch all the readers and myself in the face, know that I tried to invigorate the first time around with the post (https://www.getrichslowly.org/do-we-have-a-duty-to-live-up-to-our-potential/), but failed. So I figured it might be best to try things a different way.

But I do understand that If I was making as much as MMM every month I might more freely punch people in the face too 🙂

Slinky
Slinky
6 years ago

I don’t want to constantly measure success by society’s standards, but neither do I want to be simply average. I want to be me and enjoy a life spent embracing exactly who I am. I want to be exceptional where it matters to me. Football mattered to you. That’s why it feels like failure. I could care less about sports, and feel no regret at all for never participating. That said, regrets are a part of life. There are always going to be choices, and sometimes choosing one means not choosing the other. The choices that you make all lead… Read more »

Claudine
Claudine
6 years ago

What a difference it would make if we could place the emphasis on reaching one’s potential to correlate with one’s values. Our culture seems to focus on career/income. Grading myself on that criteria, I’m below average. My qualifications, education, experience line up with an administrator. Instead, I chose to be an under-achiever – a admin assistant in a government agency. Why? Foremost, it is easy to be very good at my job. I’ve automated every aspect. My supervisors leave me alone as I’m over performing in my job requirements. I have no one to supervise, no travel, and definitely do… Read more »

Kirsten
Kirsten
6 years ago

Sheesh, way to capture the reason people “assail” the 1%. Whining about paying a higher absolute dollar amount in taxes when most of your income is probably taxed at the capital gains rate? Having to send your kid to private school in a cab? My heart just bleeds. GMAFB.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
6 years ago
Reply to  Kirsten

This is an excellent response!

It proves why it’s much better to be average than rich.

Thanks for sharing. Down with the rich!

sarah johnson
sarah johnson
6 years ago

Great article. I love the thought of striving to be average. Most people are right there. This choice is not a moral choice. Nothing good or bad about being average.

I embrace being average. I just hope people who settle for average take a fling or two at their passions. Being average does not mean one does not have passions. Average people are not duds I have met many “average” people who have followed their passions and have become very “above average”by doing this.

The author is young but wise. Thank you for this article.

ChinoF
ChinoF
6 years ago

Let me add, I think the problem is associating “potential” or success with money. For example, some will say, a person who can earn a million dollars a year, but is earning only $50,000 a year, but is satisfied and happy with it, is doing something wrong. This may be what being average is. No, for me, there is nothing wrong. A person knows how to be content in life with the right things, they don’t yearn for more than they need. It’s also associated with that prosperity gospel hogwash. For example, if you’re rich, you’re doing it right, but… Read more »

Average guy
Average guy
6 years ago

The joy of being average is in my opinion being able to lead a balanced life and enjoy a little bit of everything that life has to offer. Balanced life again like everything else is subjective as everyone would define it differently. I lead an average life and I am happy. I have almost always been average at slightly above. Time is all there is and there are various avenues in which you can strive to be better than most and while you pursue that, you lose time for other things. You can be good at something and still be… Read more »

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