Life is full of choices. Sometimes, the choices are simple. But for important things, you must choose your hard.
Over human history, being different has meant being an outcast or outlier. And too often, that hasn’t been good.
Humans are hard-wired to notice differences. We learned to become suspicious of those outside our tribes because their intentions were unknown. Think about the plot of countless movies- A stranger comes to town.
Tall poppy syndrome is also a very real thing. When someone achieves success, others will criticize and or attempt to sabotage them. They try to cut down the tall poppy.
To boil it down further, we’ve all heard the saying, “Stick out like a sore thumb.” It’s telling us something is clearly different, or that something is wrong.
For animals, being different often spells death. Chickens have a pecking order, which is a fascinating hierarchical structure. They rarely exhibit any sign of weakness or illness. When they do, the other members of the flock will literally peck at them to drive them out, or eventually kill them. Pretty terrible, but remember; the group is only as strong as its weakest member. This behavior is a survival tactic. The elimination of the weakest member removes them from the gene pool, restricts the transmission of disease, and ensures their weakness won’t draw predators.
The result? We follow the crowd and go with the flow.
But what’s the best possible result of following the crowd? It’s being in the middle and living a normal life; an average life.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The paradox of average
- The tyranny of comfort
- Resignation or realization
- The pathology of average
- The way forward
Let’s get started.
The paradox of average
Are you an average person living an average life? I imagine reading that made you recoil. Of course you don’t think of yourself that way.
No one wants to be average. Few people think of themselves as average, yet most people are (or below).
We want to be above average, while avoiding the negative side effects that come with being above average (Tall poppy syndrome, etc).
The tyranny of comfort
Odds are, you haven’t always enjoyed the level of comfort you have today. I bet you had to work hard to get where you are. That effort moved you from being uncomfortable to being comfortable. Now that you’ve found it, being comfortable will keep you exactly where you are because you’re no longer driven to do the uncomfortable things required to continue progression and improving.
Human beings crave certainty and follow predictable patterns. I bet you do a lot of things the same way every time. Every day, you wake up and go to bed at the same time. Eat the same foods week in and week out. You go to the same places and see the same people. You’re comfortable.
Progression requires you to do difficult things. And difficult things are by their very nature uncomfortable.
Resignation or realization
We crave certainty, safety and comfort. Change is the opposite of that. We’re worried about what others think of us, and we avoid rejection. Change is also uncomfortable and scary. Those fears and concerns keep us stuck in the comfortable middle. It’s natural. And it’s a trap.
You have a choice; will you accept your current level of comfort and resign yourself to an average life?
Or will you realize that a fundamental tenet of the human condition is constant progress- and that average is heresy?
The pathology of average
“What we call normal in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it ordinarily.” – Abraham Maslow
Maslow is telling us that while being “normal” is socially acceptable, it’s pathological (meaning a sickness or disease). Maslow believed humans are designed to strive to achieve their highest potential- to self-actualize. To engage in constant self-improvement, rejecting the ordinary in the pursuit of the extraordinary.
And most of us do that; for a while. We move along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, steadily moving up. But then we reach a plateau. The climb has been arduous, and that plateau is comfortable. It’s got comfortable chairs, good food, and endless entertainment options. We sit in one of the chairs, eat some of the food, consume some of the entertainment. We decide to stay there for a bit.
We become comfortable. We become complacent. Complacency is the death of self-actualization. It guarantees average.
The way forward
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Are your current behaviors going to get you the life you want? For most people, the answer is no, but they’re ok with that. They’re ok keep on keeping on, staying the course, leaving well enough alone. They tell themselves things like, “It’s not what I want, but it’s ok.”
Besides, change is hard and scary. It requires doing things differently. It often requires eating different foods, making lifestyle choices, having different priorities. And for most, “different” is insurmountable.
Will you choose the path less traveled? Or will you blend into the crowd?
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