Roger Marolt: For whom the bell curve tolls
Average is underrated. I am certainly not the first person to recognize this, but I think on the whole it remains a continual surprise that most of us resist the call to be what the vast majority of us are. I think we need to embrace the call to average. It is a beautiful place where superiority goes to die.
I want to sell average like day-old doughnuts. It’s got to be cheap, because nobody trusts that it will be any good. A slightly stale doughnut is not the best, but usually way better than expected and you don’t have to wait in a line to get one. Afterward, you feel like you got a steal of a deal. It makes you feel luckier than others, but you can relax in the self-assurance that you’re not special; luck is only luck, after all. How cool is that? It is an example of excellence in mediocrity, which is what I am after.
I know this won’t be easy. We live in a world where 65% of our kids posses parentally assessed intelligence levels that crack the top 2% of the bell curve. “Gifted” is the label we crave. It is an icebreaker in making small talk sound big. Strangers and acquaintances alike are mesmerized by revelations of manufactured genius. If our kids are brilliant, then it is obvious that we must be, too. Who doesn’t appreciate a fellow parent’s imagination run wild. It gives license to let ours loose to give chase; if I am polite enough to listen to how great your prodigy is, you better have the decency to sit still and hear all about mine. Don’t worry, I’ll work it into the conversation, probably before you blink. We’ll all be home and in bed by 9.
Millions of parents spending tens of thousands of dollars and the best years of a kid’s life on sports camps and traveling teams in order to win elusive college athletic scholarships worth a fraction of what it cost to get them has become so average and fruitless that I may soon come to like the idea.
I tried so hard at one point in my life to become excellent at one single thing that I pretty much forgot why I wanted it so badly. I thought and thought and thought about it until I realized that I never actually knew why. Then I read “Atlas Shrugged” and laughed until my stomach hurt. Spoiler alert: a man with a great invention becomes bitter about the rest of us idiots.
Don’t get me wrong — if something comes easy, I want to do it to the best of my ability. I like challenges. I will beat my head against the wall to figure some things out, because sometimes it feels good to beat my head against the wall, kind of like scratching an itch. The key is to stop beating your head against the wall when the wall refuses to yield and your forehead starts to flatten. That is what the average person would do, and it doesn’t mean that what you produce will be average, either.
Average people do incredible things all the time. Most heroes are average folks just doing what’s right. Average people make the world go round. Without average people, the truly exceptional could accomplish nothing.
The sad thing about being average is that we by and large shun it. Nobody wants to be average. Study after study shows that most people believe they are smarter, funnier, better looking and more athletically skilled than they really are. The few who do not overestimate themselves usually turn out to be the ones who are actually exceptional. While the truly smart people are busy wondering, doubting, and double-checking themselves, everyone else is bragging and showing off.
All I want to do is my best, or maybe just a little bit less to be on the safe side. To prove it, I just deleted from this paragraph what was perhaps the best sentence I ever wrote. Who needs it?
Should I ever win another award, I will view it with great skepticism. If I ever am recognized for doing something spectacular that lands me in the elite 2% of any group, I swear I will spend the rest of my life trying to discover who or what to credit for that besides me.
Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity, but there is no mention of him being able to throw a baseball, much less catch one or hit a slider on the outside corner. Babe Ruth, on the other hand, started playing professional baseball at 19 after spending 12 years in reform school all the while showing no aptitude for even basic education. If you look at the whole packages, you see a couple of average guys who achieved spectacular results.
I think the more we see ourselves as average people, the more we relate to others. This self-realization that we are very likely not as great as we think we could be what leads us to recognize how incredible others are. It’s a bonding thing. The result might be a shared love for mankind, acceptance, humility and world peace. It’s a lofty goal, but I think the average person wants that.
Roger Marolt recognizes that the concept of “average” makes “Mean Girls” people you would enjoy hanging out with. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.