I was an average student in school. Though I was surrounded by high achievers, and never questioned the importance of being extraordinary, I somehow never expected myself to rise to their levels. The most common remark I found in my annual report cards read something like this – “An obedient boy who can do better than average with more hard work.”
I knew I could not work any harder and rise above being average.
Anyways, I never had the credentials to get into the best college after school, there were no scholarships on offer for me, and no one in my family, including myself, expected me to become a star in life.
Life continued this way even when I got into doing my MBA, again from an average college in Mumbai. My first job profile was average too, and it paid an average salary that, in my father’s eyes, was below average.
Living in a costly city like Mumbai also meant I never had better than average savings for the first few years of my life, even though I was saving as much as possible.
More than twenty-five years have passed since I started considering myself as an average person with average capabilities and average ambitions in life. Somehow, being like this in the world where people are seeking alpha, keeps me happy and satisfied with myself.
In fact, when my kids asked me a choice of name for myself if I were a superhero, I could not think of anything else but “Average Man.”
Keeping my head down, working on things I love doing, spending time with people I love, and not worrying where the race is headed and where I stand in ‘alpha-dom,’ I think has kept me somewhat sane over the years.
This has helped me in my investing too, where not chasing “above-average” returns has helped me stay away from hot sectors and stocks for most of my investment career, and in turn achieve adequate returns that have helped me meet my goals so far without having to resort to any heroics.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not talking about not trying to be the best in your life and investing, or not being exceptional in things that matter the most to you.
All I am suggesting is that settling with just becoming a better version of yourself even if it is average and unexceptional as per the society’s standards, is all you need to live a contented, happy life.
Earning adequate returns on your investments that help you sleep peacefully at night, instead of chasing super-normal returns that the ‘rockstar’ investors surrounded by you are achieving by taking greater risks, is all you need to meet your financial goals.
The problem is that our society and culture values high achievement in every area of our lives. We want to become alpha men and women, have the brightest careers, accomplished children, ideal bodies, investment performances that beat everyone, and financial prosperity that leads us to possess more stuff than others.
Amidst this, being satisfied with having “enough” is considered shameful. Being unambitious is considered lazy. Thinking “I have enough” is a sin. “Average” is a dirty word.
I recently read an article written by one Krista O’Reilly, which echoed exactly what I have felt about being average all my life –
The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.
But what if I just don’t have it in me? What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?
Over the years, I have asked such questions to myself many times. Is there anything wrong with being average? And how do I balance this against my momentary instincts to succeed?
In the first few years of starting Safal Niveshak, I worked extremely hard to establish myself. I wrote endless blog posts and spent countless hours building the website and my profile on social media. I also worked hard on building and then deepening my investing skills. I tasted success, and I enjoyed it.
But life just went on. I achieved more than I could have ever dreamed of – both in my writing and investing careers – but somewhere still had this tingling feeling that there was still more to it, and that I was still inadequate in a crowd of people who were chasing and achieving higher grounds in life.
Over time, this feeling settled in well, and I went back to being satisfied with whatever I have already achieved so far.
There is so much more I could do with my career. Write and publish books, appear more on television, speak at big events, manage other people’s money, advise on investment portfolios, and make a lot more money doing all this. And then…?
Or I could just enjoy what I’m doing and be content and happy.
You see, I have nothing against high achievers who set the bar higher and higher for themselves and others. But that’s simply not a game I want to participate in, for high achievers are constantly looking forward, and are rarely, if ever, satisfied. That’s not a way of life that suits me.
Mark Manson has written a brilliant post in defense of being average, wherein he concludes –
The ticket to emotional health, like physical health, comes from eating your veggies — that is, through accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: a light salad of “you’re actually pretty average in the grand scheme of things” and some steamed broccoli of “the vast majority of your life will be mediocre.” This will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid eating it.
But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish with no judgments and no lofty expectations.
You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences. You will learn to measure yourself through a new, healthier means: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are average. But maybe they’re average for a reason. Because they are what actually matter.
In the end, know that while it’s fine to be a learning machine, you may never become the wisest person. You may like to write but that doesn’t mean you will become the greatest writer. You may work hard to pick your stocks but that doesn’t mean you will the best investor out there.
In great probability, you will just be average in most or all of these and other things which, by the way, is perfectly fine!
And like mine, you will have a slow, simple, quiet life. An average life. One, that I think, would be enough.