Why Exceptionalism is Killing You
Updated: Mar 17
There’s this guy you know.
You know the one: he’s good at everything. He’s successful. He’s funny - really funny. He looks like he could be a a model for some swanky men's underwear brand. He’s witty and genuinely funny. Everyone likes him. He has the perfect family. The older he gets the better he looks. If he’s going to the Christmas party everyone else will go too.
There’s this woman you know.
You know the one: she’s perfect. She looks like a model. He’s always kind. Her style is impeccable. She’s an amazing hostess. Her house is always spotless. Yoga class, grocery shopping, and dry cleaning need to be done in the next 30 minutes?
These people really exist and we know their names. These are the Michael Jordan’s of the world. The Tom Brady’s, the Emily Ratajkowski’s, the Chris Hemsworth’s, the Elon Musk's, the Pablo Picasso’s, the Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
Rihanna has 83.1 million Twitter followers.
There is something exceptional about all of these people: pro athletes, brilliant artists, beautiful supermodels, gifted singers, talented actors, and the wildly wealthy. They’re household names around the world. Their influence is astonishing.
And that’s precisely the problem.
Some people think that they need to be that exceptional too. Their reasoning goes like this:
Average is boring.
I don’t want to be boring.
I need to be exceptional to avoid being average.
Therefore, I must be exceptional at something.
Despite all our efforts we’re not all exceptional. Deep down we know we aren’t THAT unique - not really. But we really want to be unique. And back and forth we go, tossed between extremes of idealization and devaluation. Thankfully, statistics can help us.
(I literally never thought I would say that.)
This is a standard bell curve. See the middle? That’s us. Statistically speaking, 95.2% of us are within 2 standard deviations of being average. Some of us are on the high side of average and some of us are on the low side of average, depending on what trait we’re measuring.
You might feel a little insulted that I called you average. Don't be.
Why do people resist being average? We resist the idea of being average because we think if we believe we’re average our lives won't really matter. If we're not extraordinary we'll never achieve anything great, we'll never be anyone extraordinary.
I mean, if you don't have a 1,000,000 followers on Tik Tok by tomorrow what’s the point of living?
If you're not married to a trophy wife, why go on?
If your husband doesn't make $200k why stay with him?
It’s this kind of thinking that's killing us.
Once you adopt the belief that life is only worth living if you can be part of 4.8% of the population, you are simultaneously adopting the belief that the other 95.2% of the population is, at some level, worthless.
That, my average friends, is a major predictor of suicide, anxiety, frustration, and depression.
While you may not be able to achieve the pinnacle of human greatness, you should strive for excellence. You shouldn’t strive for mediocrity, but you shouldn’t be discouraged if your best efforts find you somewhere in the middle of that bell curve. Don’t let this get you down, we’re all in this together - for every Dr. Phil, there are 10,000 counselors out there just like me.
In order to start stacking the deck in your favor ask:
'How good at _____ could I be if I really applied myself?'
Commit yourself to perpetual improvement and you'll be amazed at where you'll find yourself in a year. If you improved just 1% a day for a year where would you be?
Interestingly enough, many of the people we view as exceptional reject that label, and present a convincing case for their averageness. For example, many exceptional people believe the most valuable things in life are the most average.
Spending time with loved ones, reading a good book, going to dinner with friends, supporting a friend through a tough time, laughing together at a shared experience.
These things are only average in one sense of the term: they matter to all of us.
If these irreplaceable aspects of life matter so much to everyone, maybe we can all learn to recognize the priceless value of averageness.