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August 17, 2006


I am thrilled that my advice to "Be average" has had such positive results in your life. For us perfectionists it may be the single most important maxim. Thank you for blogging on this subject and for giving me credit and mentioning the book. I'm sure that your "average mom and average lawyer" are really top drawer. You have made my day!
Warm thanks,
Patricia Ryan Madson
author of Improv Wisdom

Perfectionism can equal paralysis. Sometimes there is so much pressure to excel, to be the best, or to be *your* best, that fear of failure to reach those lofty goals stifles any kind of progress. I am happy to read, from a lawyer no less ;-), that it's okay to be just okay sometimes. Maybe I am barely okay most of the time but I plod through and try to be happy with the rare times I am excellent (somebody has to show up and get the job done!) Being driven, and most of all driving our children to be excellent is really such a burden and sometimes takes all the joy out of life.

...and i meant to say that there are days when just showing up IS the best I have.

You raise an excellent point. I particularly appreciate that you invited the reader to step outside of their anxiety-ridden, egocentric brain and see it from another's perspective. I can think of several times over the course of my career that I wanted to impress with perfection so badly that I would spend much too long on a project. The result yielded was often one where the client receiving the project would not be as impressed as I had hoped, because the project was not prompt. In fact, when you look at it from a different angle, the project still was not perfect, because it was late! It is better to "average out" in all categories so that the overall project is "good" in every respect, rather than excellent in one area but lacking in another. Besides, the fact that the client is stewing over its lateness clouds their judgement anyway.

Accepting being average is quite possibly the worst advice I have ever heard. And people wonder why society in America is going down the drain? We allow "average." Do you think the Japanese accept average? How about China? India? No, these countries are churning out excellence in many different professions. And the "average" American wonders why we are losing respect from a world-wide perspective. Pretty easy to answer. Just showing up. Wow. If that is all someone has to do, we deserve what we get.

I can appreciate both views. I can see how one reader is "pissed off" if we continue to encourage our fellow Americans to be average. The picture often painted of an average American is that of an over-weight and lazy society. On the hand, I can see how we all can't all be Oprah. What if we agree to disagree and call ourselves, "happy to be just above average." Before you bight my head off, I am a Realtor/Mortgage Broker/Attorney. But, I am not the top dog in any of my field and that's okay!

In the words of the great Paul Harvey: "Everybody is always talking about the common man, the average man, do you realize what it means to be average? It means you’re the best of the lousiest or the lousiest of the best. Now if we demand more for producing less and less while the “have-not” nations encourage and inspire, and indeed require hard work and maximum effort – if we deify the common man while they encourage and reward the uncommon ones, well, the end result of such a lopsided race is that it is too obvious as to require elaboration."

Enough said.

Hey Rob, I've valued excellence all my life and I still do.

However, when excellence turns into perfectonism, it can be paralyzing.

In addition, it is not possible to be excellent at everything simultaneously. Therefore, we must choose those tasks that justify an all-out effort, and those that do not. It is perfectly OK to to an "average" job on some things that are less important. In fact, it is essential and unavoidable. If I am writing a legal brief with excellence, I am not going to simultaneously make my coffee with excellence, scrub the floor with excellence, and sort through my junk mail with excellence.

Even in doing a task with excellence, there are some aspects of the task where excellence pays off, and others where it has little value or is irrelevant. We should put our energy where it matters.

Finally, some days I will need to give myself a break because I am human. If I'm battling a flu, or if something amazing is happening in my life that warrants my attention as a well-rounded person (say, my child's wedding someday in the future), it would be a success just to do 15 minutes of work at all that day, if that. It would be a mistake to put my primary energy into my work that day.

Give "average" a break. I am well aware that many, many children and adults in America don't give excellence nearly enough attention. I suspect you are not one of those people. In your life, I hope you will be tolerant of "average" sometimes from yourself and those close to you. If you do not accept average -- sometimes -- you will not be as happy in life as you could. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is excellent all times at all things. It is liberating to accept "average" once in a while.

I love it! I found your blog by googling being average! I am a perfectionist and being average, loosens the noose around my neck and allows me to enjoy my life now!!! Thank you.

I'm so glad, Denise. Enjoy, and go create something average! Have a great day.

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