It’s Your Choice: Average or Exceptional


Stand Out

I want to make the most out of my life.  I’m always searching for ways to improve myself, find more time to travel and do awesome things.

I’m not the kind of person who wants to settle for an average life; I want it to be exceptional.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, than you probably feel the same way.

The Anatomy of Average

Being average is like getting straight C’s in school.  You’re right in the middle of the pack, grouped together with a lot of other people who have done the bare minimum.

You’re not falling behind, but you’re not excelling either.  This leads to a whole set of problems:

So we should all be trying to raise the bar and stop being average as much as possible, right?

There’s a problem with that line of thinking though.  It ignores a bigger question: what does it mean to be exceptional?

Aren’t we all exceptional to some degree?  Don’t we all have some qualities or skills that we do better than most other people?

The same goes for being average.  We all have something that makes us a little average.

It depends on the skill.

Even though I generally think I’m an exceptional person, I have to admit that there are many parts of myself that are average.

I have an average knowledge of auto mechanics.

I have an average musical talent.

Contrast this with the areas where I’m exceptional.

I’m exceptional at saving money to travel.  I’m also great at lifting weights and I’m very knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects.

Average Isn’t All Bad

When it comes to being average or being exceptional, it’s not as if you can pick one or the other and that’s the kind of life you get to live.  It’s more like you’re picking from a range of skills, abilities and knowledge.

The real focus should be on where you decide to be exceptional.

Look at the areas of your life you’re exceptional in.  Is your exceptional side the best area to really be great at?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about a quote from Star Trek: the Next Generation.  It was nerdy of me, but I’m glad I wrote about that side of my personality.  The truth is that I used to watch the show a lot and knew it really well.

You could say my knowledge of the topic was exceptional.

But was that knowledge helping my life at all?

The truth is that being exceptional in that area didn’t improve my life much.

At that time in my life, when I was learning about this subject, I let other important areas of my life become average.

I was really shy and introverted.  I had trouble meeting people, making friends and getting girlfriends.

It took several years before I finally worked on my social skills.  I read books about it and built up my confidence.  Soon I turned from a shy introvert into an outgoing personable extrovert.

I changed my social skills from average to exceptional.

Because of that switch, my life improved immensely.  I gained a lot of new friends, fantastic confidence and (many) girlfriends.

Choose Wisely Where to Be Exceptional

It pays to look at what area of your life you’re choosing to be exceptional in.  Look at your range of skills instead of who you are as a person overall.

We can only focus building a few areas of our life at any given time.  Look at where you’re putting most of your effort to be exceptional.

Currently I work hard on being an exceptional writer.  So I write almost every single day and track how many words I write closely.  It’s an important part of my life and I have many life goals associated with that skill.

I also work hard to be exceptional at working out and eating well.  Being healthy is important to me as I feel it impacts a large portion of my life such as my mind, concentration and interpersonal skills.

Focusing on making these skills better is improving my life.

Don’t be afraid to be average in areas of life that don’t matter as much.  I’m average with knowledge about celebrities.  I never seem to recognize anyone on the cover of celebrity magazines.

I also don’t know much about current TV shows and I’m not a foodie.  I would just rather put my energy and attention to other things.

In order to live an exceptional life, you have to focus on the areas of life that will give you the greatest return.

Exceptional social skills will pay off from all the new people you meet.

Exceptional confidence building pays off in almost every area of your life.

Exceptional writing skills will pay off for me when I finish my first book (which is coming soon).

Exceptional knowledge of how to find cheap flights will help you travel more.

It’s fine to know a few TV shows or video games really well.  After all, I still know Star Trek.  But if those are the only areas you focus on, other areas of your life will suffer.

If you want to live an exceptional life, you have to be careful where you make that choice.
photo credit: Kent Baldner

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  1. Oliver Benson says:

    Hi Steve. Great post, I really liked all your personal anecdotes. As I was reading “…focus on the areas that will give you the greatest return” it made me think what that actually means and you seem to give a vague explanation of what it means. In sports, it is worthwhile being exceptional in a spcific area because you’ll get paid for it more. Take a look at people like Van Persie or Christiano Ronaldo. They were exceptional footballers because they were exceptional at scoring goals. But is making money the greatest return? No, I don’t think so, even if there’s plenty of people who would disagree. People would also say a great return is to be well known or famous due to your exceptional area. I disagree. I’d say helping or teaching other people is a great return, the same way you teach people about… things. To put it another way, I was watching a video about what would you do if money didn’t exist and it seemed to give the idea that happiness comes from helping other people. I think the greatest return is to be achieve a goal you like achieving or that you like doing. If you look at wrestlers for example, like The Rock or John Cena, both people are extremely famous. One of them also became a famous actor while the other has granted over 300 wishes for the Wish Foundation. Yet there’s also 10s of other wrestlers within the company, all exceptional in there related field.

    My question is this: in a piece of work, how or what do you decide to focus on to get the greatest return on?

    Sorry if I’ve rambled on.

    • Generally speaking, the activity giving the greatest return will depend on the person. We have to figure out what we want the most out of life and try and build up those skills that will help us reach it. It depends on what our goals are. For instance, I mentioned writing in my post. I’m writing a book right now and I want to write more after it’s finished. It’s an important skill for me. Others might not get as great a return on it as I do.

      Of course, there are some things are universally great to do such as building confidence or getting into good shape. There are also some things aren’t that great like watching bad TV.

      I think a good way to look at it is that if you’re not getting the results you want out of life, you might be spending too much time doing things aren’t improving your life much.

  2. You make some great points. Average in MOST things isn’t bad -it is average.

    IN this day an age there is so much to learn and do that specialization is key. If people can learn to be truly exceptional in a few things (and those are GOOD things that make life more fulfilling)it IS okay to be average in the bulk, because you will be exceptional in the things that matter to your life.


    • Yeah, focus on the things that make life more fulfilling. It’s tempting to try and excel in everything, but it’s often not necessary.

  3. It’s often a subconscious choice.. it’s hard to notice when you’re being complacent or settling. I focused too much on video games for a long time so I know how empty it starts to feel after a while… especially when you’re only an average player!(not that that’s the point)

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • I see what you’re saying. It’s easy to get complacent about what we do on a regular basis. It can make us lose track of other important things. It’s like when I let my social skills go and my life suffered as a result. That’s when it’s good to examine your life and see what you could be doing better.

  4. I disagree with your metaphor. I think being average is like getting A’s in school – being really good at doing what others want out of you. That’s no recipe for being exceptional!

    Being intentional about the areas of my life that I focus on has payed me huge HUGE huge dividends! For many things, it’s surprisingly easy to move from average to exceptional.

    • As a teacher, I can tell you that’s not true. The ones getting straight A’s are the ones who pushed themselves the hardest to learn the material. That’s why there are fewer students earning A’s as those earning C’s.

      Of course, that’s not to say that students earning C’s aren’t exceptional in other ways. For instance, I’ve met some C students who had amazing artistic sides.

  5. What an important message – choose carefully in what area you are of exceptional. We only have a finite number of years, days, minutes on this earth, so we’d better choose wisely and what works for us.

    Congratulations on your almost-finished book. I hope you’re enjoying the process!

    • Yes, I have been enjoying the process. It’s slow, but steady and different from writing posts week after week. I can’t wait to finally put it out there for everyone.

  6. I went on a 10 day meditation retreat recently and the biggest thing I learned about EVERYTHING in life – “it’s your choice”. Honestly, external factors are the apparent cause of problems, but it is always within.

    • There’s something about meditation that helps you focus on the big picture of life. At least that’s where my mind tends to go after I meditate.

  7. Great insights here, Steve. I used to be exceptional at finding the best burritos in Houston, but that did not serve me well. Now, I reallocate that effort to eating super nutritious foods and fitness. I spend hours practicing the guitar each day too. I am ok with my average or in many cases, below average skills in most areas. But if I did not have those few items that made me stand out, I’d feel like a total loser.

    Have a grand one!!!

    • That’s certainly a specialized skill. Finding the best burritos in Houston would be hard considering how many there must be. I’m glad you could switch it out for nutritious food though.

  8. As you were talking about your TNG skills, I was thinking of my above-average hula hooping skills, built in my childhood and retained through muscle memory. Besides the mental pat on the back for winning a contest, that skill really doesn’t bring much to my life.

    You are so right that it is all about being selective in where we want to excel. I’m content being average in areas that don’t really matter to me, but in the things that I use as self-definers, I basically want to be the best “me” I can be.

    Great post, thanks!

    • Well, you won a contest because of hula hooping skills. That’s something. I remember learning that in gym when I grew up. I’m probably still pretty good at it too. I can tell you that knowing that skill isn’t doing me much good right now though.

  9. I have found a nice balance in my life and I have no problem being average at many things. Being about to accept being average at things is a great sign you are comfortable with yourself and know yourself imo.

    U speaking on average though made me think of my workout.

    I was working out and I was seeing decent results. Then I got on this website and this dude said ” doing 3 sets of 10 is what the average person does when they goto the gym. But if you want better results you can’t do the average set.”

    That was the first time I thought about it that way. Many people want to do better but they do what is average.

    Many people are exceptional at things that do not help them improve their life.

    • I think I do my sets in the gym different from other people. I just keep going until I can’t do any more. Muhammad Ali said something like he only starts counting his reps when they start hurting. This is a good mindset if you want to get better results.

      Being able to accept your average qualities probably does mean you’re more comfortable with yourself. I’m certainly comfortable that I’m average in auto mechanics. It doesn’t make me feel bad that I’m average there. Perhaps I’ve just learned to accept that side of myself and be ok with it.

  10. I agree with you, Steve, but maybe to a point. I love what you said about being exceptional in areas that do not serve us well – couldn’t agree more. But as far as what qualities as worth the effort to become exceptional or to have an exceptional life, doesn’t that kind of depend on the person? One person may not think it serves them well to be a great cook, but for another person, it may be the thing that defines them most. Or whatever the “thing” may be. I do think there are probably some objective ones out there – not sure it would serve anyone well to be an exceptional cheater or an exceptional liar, perhaps, but most of it is pretty subjective.

    In the end, I definitely think your message about striving for making choices to be exceptional in what you feel most defines you is great.

    • There are some universal qualities that we should all want when it comes to being exceptional. We should all want good speaking skills and confidence building skills. Being able to adapt well and empathy skills are qualities everyone should work on.

      On the other hand, some skills will be subjective. I’m not good at auto mechanics, but for some people, their lives will be enhanced with those skills. It depends on the person and what they want out of life.

      So many skills that will enhance our lives are universal, but there are some subjective ones too.

  11. Steve, I’m with you. Love this line: In order to live an exceptional life, you have to focus on the areas of life that will give you the greatest return.

    Before, I used to do so much and constantly keep myself busy. And tried to do everything well or better than average. But then I tried to narrow down my values in life and what was important to me (and realize what i was better at some things than others) So focused more on what I valued and what I was good at. And said “no” to many other things.

    I would say forget about being average in other areas of your life. Don’t even try (or show up) if it’s not an area of focus or importance for you:) Focus on your strengths, passion, values and areas of expertise.

    • Yeah, if it’s not important to you, don’t try and excel in it. Eventually you run into a marginal rate or return. The more you try to be good at, the more you spread yourself out. It’s ok to not be good at some things.

  12. Steve – I cannot think of anyone who would disagree with you.

    The illness of the overachiever is to try and excel at everything! When I look at grades at school, I excelled at the things I enjoyed. And those that I didn’t excel at, I had to put in a lot of concerted (read: I hated it) effort in order to achieve a decent level.

    There must be something connecting hormones and feelings of achievement when we excel at something.

    – Razwana

  13. As Seth Godin says the aim is Purple Cow – really standout and be truely remarkable.

  14. I love that your post made me think of the WAYS in which I wanted to be an exceptional human being. It has really helped me to step back and gained a different perspective.

    All too often we don’t pause the movie of our life, step back and take a moment to see where it’s heading.

    Great work Steve! Look forward to reading more of this!

    All the best

    • It’s good to sit back and get a little different perspective. I think it’s good to ask questions about where we’re heading. You might just make change course or change your life.

  15. Well, average just won’t cut it for me . . .

    Of course I stumble and fall now and again, and of course I do face disappointments,but I press on, sometimes pushing myself to the point of exhaustion.

    Thanks for making me think!


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