You're Not Average - How to Stop Trying So Hard to Be Average

Have you ever looked up an average and compared yourself to it?

We all have. As a researcher, I can spout off a lot of average statistics from memory. But I just finished a new book titled, "The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness," by Todd Rose. In it he argues that we have become a society of averagarians. We're constantly comparing ourselves and others to the 'average.' We compare average salaries, average age of marriage, averages on standardized tests, average levels of happiness - the list goes on and on.

You are not average and no one else is either.

Dr. Rose spells out both the history and mathematical equations behind averages. It is actually very, very rare to fit the average. That doesn't seem to make sense, does it? Averages are supposed to represent everyone. But really, they represent no one. Take the average body, for example. Maybe your height is the average for your age, but your weight is far from it. Many dimensions make up the 'average body' that are impossible to be average on every aspect.

And it isn't just about being a special snowflake.

At first this might sound like the now classic way we've been teaching children that they are all unique and everyone is a special snowflake!  But it's not. While we have been saying that for decades now, we haven't actually been living it. We love averages and comparing students based on rank order and sameness. As a society, we look at grade point averages to get into college and degrees completed to be hired. But instead of pretending to value uniqueness, Dr. Rose argues we need to truly embrace it and stop comparing ourselves to a non-existent average.

There are three principles to help you focus on your individuality.

First, recognize that you have a lot of talent that doesn't fit into little boxes (the "jaggedness principle"). Maybe you weren't an A student in school and that has led to you to think you're 'below average.' But being an A student wasn't all there was to school. What did you enjoy? What were you good at? Maybe you rocked one class and excelled in that. There were sports and friends and clubs too. Make a list of your talents - anything and everything.

Second, stop calling yourself titles that don't really exist (the "context principle"). We love to go around saying things like, "I'm an introvert." And that leads us to excluding ourselves from opportunities where we could strive. Are you truly always acting introverted in every situation? Probably not. A lot of what we do is context dependent. So it depends on the situation you are in. My students are great at this. They act one way in the classroom and if I see them walking across, talking to friends, they appear to be acting in a completely different way.  Of course! We all are different depending on the context. Don't let it limit you.

Third, stop believing in one path (the "pathways principle").  Too often I hear people say, "And so I'll go to college, graduate, get a good paying job, get married, buy a house..." The list goes on to follow some perfectly packaged path. But does anyone truly follow an average pathway? Nope. Todd Rose himself was a high school dropout who ended up with a Ph.D. from Harvard. That's definitely unique. You too have a unique story. Own it.

Using these principles will help you break free from trying to fit an average.

I know I need to work on remembering these principles after reading the book. I highly recommend the book or his TEDx Talk (if you have 20 minutes to spare, but not hours). Based on what I have said so far, what do you think? How can you use these principles in your own life? Share it in the comments! Let's hear your story!