The shades of grey between being ridiculously successful or mediocre

Become your own measure of success. Pic by Patricia Serna.

I never trusted award shows. Maybe because I know the advertising industry too well.

Awards have a magical effect. They make awardees feel invincible, and turn others into losers overnight.

I witnessed many advertising creatives and executives doing anything to receive an award. From presenting fake work as real or exchange votes behind the curtains.

Awards are not the problem. What they say about our society is. We love to draw a line between people. Depending on which side you stand, you are either ridiculously successful or just mediocre.

Success gurus are feeding this in your brain too. They tell you to stop being average at anything, that you either smart or just average or that one simple behavior will help you cross the line and achieve success.

I feel pity for the victims of oversimplified mind scams.

The reality is a little bit more complex. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of us are going to be average. But that doesn’t mean you are not worthy of appreciation.

As this brilliant post explains, only 1,000 people out of the world population will have significant influence at any given time. That means that over 7,199,999,000 individuals won’t be considered ridiculously successful. In other words, almost every human would have to accept being unnoticed.

But, you know what?

You can be above average and still be extraordinary.

Defining your own measure of success takes courage. But that’s how you get started.

Who Has the Authority to Draw the Line?

“To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.”
― Albert Einstein

Hierarchy is the way human beings keep everything under control.

Back in 1860, the only way to break through as an artist was if your work was exhibited by the Paris Salon. Rejection was the norm. And artists would kill themselves (literally) when they weren’t accepted.

That’s the price you pay when you accept other people’s standards: you are either ‘one of the chosen few’ or you are mediocre.

Famous French painters that included Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and August-Renoir were all rejected by the Paris Salon. Luckily, they created their own definition of success.

The initiators of the ‘Impressionism’ movement set up a collective where they would rent building space to exhibit their paintings. By writing their own rules, they overcame the strict rules of the Salon and became art legends instead of dying of rejection.

When you stop expecting recognition, you become unstoppable.

In his brilliant essay “In Defense of Average,” Mark Manson uses the bell curve to illustrate this tension, stating that in any domain there are small populations of extremes.

In the middle is the rest of us — the average masses. Sure, we might be high performers in specific areas, but compared to the extremes (e.g., the Michael Jordans of basketball), we populate the wide middle section of the curve.

Source: https://markmanson.net/being-average

Not being as talented as Michael Jordan, does not make you a mediocre. But trying to copy him will.

Reframing Being Average

“The comparison of others leads to disappointment. The comparison of self leads to improvement.”
Avina Celeste

The problem with the “you were born original, don’t die average” mantra is that instead of motivating people it creates the opposite effect. Also, what does ‘average’ mean? Normal? You don’t need to become famous unless that’s what you want.

Your brain doesn’t benefit from experts telling you that the world is filled with two types of people: successful or average.

Labeling yourself as “average” won’t do you any good. Negative thoughts rewire your brain for the worse affecting your perception, learning and reasoning abilities.

The “average approach” is a trap to make you feel vulnerable and turn you into a prey. It’s a trap because it forces you to compare yourself to others. And comparisons only cause disappointment.

In mathematics, the average number is affected by extremely high values. Likewise, outliers — extremely successful people like Michael Jordan— dramatically change the result of what being an average person is. Meaning that, if you are “average,” you are probably in much better shape than most people.

The measure of life is to live without measure.

Looking at people who are much better than you will only make you feel intimidated or discouraged. Comparing yourself to those who are in worse shape will lower your bar.

Be your own benchmark. Aspire to be the best version of yourself. Regardless of where you rank compared to others.

Every time you up your game, you are playing above your average.

Become the Best Version of Yourself

“Winning isn’t everything — but wanting to win is.”
― Vince Lombardi Jr.

1. Define your own measure of success

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”

Dalai Lama

Our society portrays success as something that you achieve. That’s the line they draw to separate successful people from mediocre ones. But you don’t need to abide by those rules.

Achieving success is a destination, but being successful is a state of mind. It’s about appreciating what you have and what you are doing in the present. Being successful is about enjoying the journey.

It’s up to you to define how that state of mind should look like. Or how you want to experience and enjoy the journey.

2. Life is a moving target

“Live in this moment … for it is the only moment we have!”
― Stephen Richards

In his latest letter, Airbnb’s CEO announced that his organization is now an infinite company. Though the announcement felt cryptic to many, the intention behind it embraces how volatile life is.

Most organizations focus on winning in the short-term. They define time-constrained goals that, in most cases, are driven by individual financial gains, not what’s good for the company and stakeholders.

Airbnb is embracing long-term impact (being successful) rather than focusing on short-term achievements (winning).

Worry less about being successful or mediocre, focus on your long-term life purpose. One day at a time.

3. Avoid Comparing to others

“Comparison is the death of joy.”
― Mark Twain

When you compare to others, you stop looking inside. You stop realizing your own progress or if you are slowing down.

Even “number ones” become average when they compare to others.

Don’t build your reputation based on how you rank. Number ones come and go. Especially, in this era where every writer has an Amazon Best Seller in some strange category.

If you build your identity in being mediocre, it will be hard for you to improve. If you build your identity in being number, what will happen when someone overthrows you at your own game? Will you start referring to yourself as “former number one”?

Comparisons make you live in the past. You hold to your past glories or defeats rather than being open to new possibilities.

4. Embrace the multiple shades of grey

“For grey matter, there is no black and white. If you think in black and white, then you do not use enough brain functions.”
― Petek Kabakci

A right or wrong approach is what keeps most people stuck.

How will you ever become good at something if you don’t get started? To try new things you need to get comfortable with being ridiculized by others. Mediocrity is temporary.

When you stop fighting what you are not good at, that’s when you can improve your game.

Don’t let the black or white — successful or average — prevent you from doing what you want.

5. Don’t be perfect, be your very best

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
― Brené Brown

Perfectionism is the enemy of change, as I wrote here.

Looking for the perfect moment, solution, decision, you name it, can only get you paralyzed. At some point, you need to get started.

Avoid labeling yourself. Don’t allow others to label you either. You are who you are. You are unique. You don’t need to be defined as successful by others to feel confident about your potential.

We are all expected to be flawless. But we are not.

The moment you let go of external expectations, you will be free to live the life that you want, not the one that other people expect from you.

Aim for betterment, not for perfectionism. But play above your average.

Success is not about winning or earning or getting or achieving. Success is your legacy, the impact you create, what you leave behind.

You can behave like a mediocre even if you are successful through the eyes of others. Or you can become successful though you are not number one in what you do.

Your code of conduct says more about who you are than your ranking.

Celebrate being above your average. Celebrate being the best version of yourself every day. Celebrate being authentic worrying if people label you as mediocre or successful. Celebrate your life with no regrets about what you have or haven’t achieved or done.

Gustavo