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You don’t want to be typical

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School was easy for me most of the way through. I got A’s and I didn’t have to try. When I got a B, I was asked what’s wrong. The first time I got a C, I think a special parent-teacher conference was arranged.

Most of my friends were thrilled that they “passed”. Some of their parents gave them money for C’s and up.

I resented the double standard. I almost always did well, so why was I rewarded for that with increased scrutiny and disappointed faces?

A lot of times in my life I figured if I was doing better than average, better than typical, then I should be happy with my efforts and so should everyone else. If “typical” is good enough for the typical person, then hovering a little above “typical” should be more than enough, or else I must have entitlement issues.

It took me a long time to learn that typical is no good. There’s no reason to regard it as the “good enough” line. Typical health is pretty bad. A typical career is draining and unrelated to the worker’s real interests. Typical credit card debt is in the thousands. The typical level of fulfillment in a person’s life is far below where it could be with some self-examination and habit overhauls.

Having higher standards than what’s typical doesn’t mean you think you’re better than everyone else. It only means everyone is running way below their capability, and you want to make up some of the distance. It’s one of the most tragic yet also glorious truths of human beings: that we tend to live up to only a fraction of our potential, in virtually every area. There’s no reason to assume that on average people make use of 50% of their capabilities. Our species should win the “squandered potential” award.

But aren’t we the species that builds incredible buildings, writes brilliant literature, and achieves staggering technological innovations? Not really. It’s not our species that does those things. It’s always the work of individuals who are celebrated precisely because they are exceptional. All of the familiar symbols of high human achievement — the Gandhis, the Edisons, the Picassos and Gretzkys — were atypical. They had atypical standards for their work and for their conduct. They did not do what everyone else was doing. They didn’t find a comfortable place in the middle.

What keeps us all so lame? Conformity, for the most part. A fear of sticking out, screwing up, falling down. We are silently guided by an absent-minded belief that we shouldn’t do things other people aren’t doing. The safest thing is the old thing, the proven thing, the boring thing. The typical thing.

Don’t use what’s typical as your standard for yourself. Being a fear-driven person, I did for a long time in pretty much every area, and so I figured carrying a “manageable” Visa balance, for example, was okay. I thought spending $3000 a year on drinking was okay, that it was okay to leave dishes in the sink and clothes in my floor, that it was okay to eat crap food because it was apparently good enough for people around me.

We use what’s typical to calibrate our expectations for how much we ought to earn, how much time off is reasonable to insist on, how much frustration our relationships and obligations should create for us, the scale of our goals, and how happy we ought to be to be. Don’t do this.

Millions of people believe that when they finally make high five figures, have a home and kids and a faithful spouse, that they ought to be happy, even though they know they’re not. They know they meet society’s standard, but have never thought that society’s standard should have nothing to do with their own. 

Inside we all know that a lot of areas in which we are typical are areas where we are selling ourselves short. Typical is disappointing, regardless of what other people think of it, because almost everybody recognizes in themselves they are capable of a lot more than they’ve ever actually seen from themselves. Nobody dreams of being typical.

You do not want a typical job. You do not want typical credit card debt. You do not want typical health. You do not want to retire at the typical age. You do not want typical results. You do not want a typical level of fulfillment. Nobody does. Stop pretending.

We often defend habits that keep us mediocre because we reason that staying afloat is hard enough, so why should we need to add extra effort to that? But it doesn’t work that way. Staying afloat is harder than cruising, and even flying, in anything but the very-short-term.

What makes life hard is enduring a typical, draining line of work, suffering from typical finances and typical health, spending a typically low amount of time on creative pursuits, and putting off atypical ideas you have, like working for yourself or selling everything and traveling abroad.

Others will, typically, encourage you to be typical. It makes them feel better about their typicalness. Tell people you want to travel in the Middle East and they’ll tell you it’s dangerous. If you take a leave of absence to write a book they’ll tell you it’s a bad career move. If you say you intend to retire at 40 they’ll laugh. Refuse to eat meat, open up your relationship, or go Buddhist, and watch otherwise good-hearted people try and keep you typical.

Typical isn’t always inadequate or unfulfilling, but it usually is, and it should trip a red flag for the growth-oriented person. An area in which you don’t exceed typical is probably an area where you’re making a major compromise that keeps you from much higher levels of fulfillment and peace. Some part of you knows it.


Photo by e.t.

The Brisbane Accountant January 20, 2013 at 11:18 pm

“We often defend habits that keep us mediocre because we reason that staying afloat is hard enough, so why should we need to add extra effort to that? But it doesn’t work that way. Staying afloat is harder than cruising, and even flying, in anything but the very-short-term.
What makes life hard is enduring a typical, draining line of work, suffering from typical finances and typical health, spending a typically low amount of time on creative pursuits, and putting off atypical ideas you have, like working for yourself or selling everything and traveling abroad.”

THIS!!! Like a smack in the head with a tuna. Excellent.

Donna January 21, 2013 at 4:52 am

Thank you, David – reading this makes me feel braver, about life in general and about some very specific ‘atypical’ things I’m about to do…it feels somewhat magical that you have posted this piece now, like an encouraging smile from a loved one. And as always, a beautifully put together article.

Steve January 21, 2013 at 6:31 am

Hi David,
In my experience, I had to be “atypical” just to be typical, common and average. One of my favorate quotes is from Voltaire, “common sense is not so common.” My atypical experience is what kept me hungry during my education, career and into retirement, to do things that few people are remotely interested in and to do it no matter what. There is nothing wrong with being “common.” Do the atypical thing by cultivating its power for the good of all and celebrating it.
Happy MLK day,
Co-author of recently published book: “Late Bloomer Millionaires.”

Klarita April 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm

“Common sense is not so common.” That is the best thing I’ve heard in months. The article is of course pure gold :) Thank you David.

Fred January 21, 2013 at 6:34 am

This post is worthy of re-posting, so I did.

manisha January 21, 2013 at 7:07 am

Thnks david. Yet again a nudge from you to contemplate on moving out of our comfort zones and engage vth unknown devils, all for the cause of stretching d limits of our potential..

David January 21, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Nudge! NUDGE!

Thomas January 21, 2013 at 7:15 am

The following was observed when I lived in Delaware for short time. I will apologize to any offended Buddhists but the lesson stands. After a friend had taken me out with him to check his crab pots we returned with several buckets. I was told to leave them on the dock unattended while we were went to prepare for a feast. Thinking that we should take our valued catch with us so as to make sure they didn’t climb out of the very full buckets I asked, “Won’t they get away?” My friend told me to just watch them for minute and sure enough, every time one of the crabs got a leg over the edge and was about to make good his escape, one of the others would reach up, grab the one with a plan and pull him right back down into the group that would soon be lunch. Poignant and still quite tasty.

Kim or Lisa January 21, 2013 at 7:25 am

Thank you for this post, it is something I’ve been battling on a sub conscious level whereas part of me wants to do amazing things and step away from convention and being typical, but there is a sense of comfort and security in being typical. The other day during Spanish class the professor was going over the grading system and he spent more time telling us how to just pass as oppose to aiming at becoming fluent in the language. Or he encouraged us in using the easier way for telling time than the proper way. Why should we aim for the easy way out? Why aren’t we encouraged to push for exceptional?

David January 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Whenever I think about school, I can’t remember a time when learning something was actually my motivation. I didn’t want to learn anything until I was done school.

Kimolisa January 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Isn’t that funny that after you leave school you want to learn. Maybe it’s because now I can choose what I want to learn as opposed to being told what I have to learn. Veddy, veddy intewesting.

Lara March 19, 2013 at 2:20 am

Love this. Funny, I on the other hand learned to be atypical at school, simply because I was one of those very rare kids who genuinely loved school, hungered for learning every day, so much that it nearly got beaten out of me by exhausted teachers that don’t really have time to provide for incredibly inquisitive minds when they have 29 other kids that need to be prodded along.
I was very lucky that my last 2 years of school I went to a slightly left of centre public school where my english curriculum was basically your blog, and my maths teacher would bubble over with his passion for maths nearly every day (which totally inspired my love of numbers now).
It was starting work in the ‘real world’ where I first struggled with ‘typical’- the “ok you’ve had fun learning, now it’s time to settle, produce and conform-for.the.rest.of.your.life” pressure. I’m still steadily working my way out of that trap…

Jackson January 21, 2013 at 8:16 am

I agree, the whole bar of ‘typical’ needs to be raised. Or lowered, in the case of typical carbon footprint.

One thing you haven’t mentioned is the way people say that ‘the tallest blade of grass is the first to get cut’. At least, they say that here in Australia. Perhaps it isn’t true in North America ;-) My answer to that is, how about we quit mowing & let everything flower?

One way to be atypical in your career or vocation — but not, I suspect, what most people imagine when they read these blogs — is to consciously stop trying to outperform everyone else – to stop scrambling.

To really play devil’s advocate I could suggest that the *most* atypical person is the one who is genuinely perfectly happy with an everyday job, house and family, and doesn’t buy all this hype telling her she should be dissatisfied and looking for something more, haha! When I was leaving school I thought maybe instead of doing university I should just go work in a supermarket, because I would enjoy arranging the products, serving the customers and socialising with the other workers, and as long as the managers were okay I would enjoy my days. But I didn’t test this theory — I went to university as was expected of me.

David January 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Ah, tall poppy syndrome. Well I think that’s what is happening when other people discourage your eccentricities and weird interests. You stick out and so you get cut down.

To really play devil’s advocate I could suggest that the *most* atypical person is the one who is genuinely perfectly happy with an everyday job, house and family, and doesn’t buy all this hype telling her she should be dissatisfied and looking for something more, haha!

Yes, anybody who truly is happy with what they have should ignore anyone who tells them to change, including me. But I believe those people are relatively rare — they’re exceptional, not typical.

a regular reader of your blog January 21, 2013 at 8:34 am

nice. agree entirely.

who was it who’d said something like: often you read something insightful that some great writer’s written, and you think, hey, isn’t that exactly what i was myself thinking, only they’ve expressed it here, and expressed it so well. (something like that, expressed much better by that author.)

there’s a compliment for you there, d., by the way.

thanks for this article. one ought not really need external confirmation for all one does, but it does feel nice, at times, to receive confirmation of the rightness of one’s more wacky decisions in life, or at least of the principle behind them–even if impersonally, only in a book or a blog–especially when such confirmation is otherwise rare.


David January 21, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Reminds me of Emerson at the beginning of Self-Reliance:

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

Dragline January 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Yup, I thought of Self-Reliance when I read your essay. “A foolish consistency [here, efforts to be typical] is the hobgoblin of little minds . . .”

Gustavo January 21, 2013 at 8:55 am

The concept of typical arises from comparing ourselves against others, typically the society. What about just stop comparing at all? If possible, it would end with so much suffering in form of envy, jealousy, pettiness and many others.

David January 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm

That’s really what I’m saying. We gauge our progress against what’s typical (i.e. what others do). It should be irrelevant and out standards should be based on our own sense, not what’s normal.

Vilx- January 22, 2013 at 4:57 am

In the same vein, the concept of “full potential” is also a slippery slope. It’s an ideal, something that can never be achieved. Trying to measure yourself against that can lead to feelings of inadequacy.

On the other hand, dropping all standards (internal and external) and doing no comparisons at all can lead to… well, doing drugs, living under a bridge and being happy about it.

I’m not really sure what is the best way here…

Glynis Jolly February 9, 2013 at 8:28 am

Comparing is fine as long as you are comparing to yourself. Are you accomplishing more now than you were last month? You should strive to better yourself, but it’s idiotic to compare yourself to others in this process because you are not any of them.

Ivo January 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

This is a good one. Thanks, David

Collin Ferry January 21, 2013 at 9:42 am

As someone who recently sold everything, quit his job, and is currently in Guatemala with a brewing novel idea – thank you for defending the atypical ones.

David January 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm

You are awesome. But independent people like you need no defending!

averyl pinto January 21, 2013 at 9:51 am

Well said. I am always at the cusp of doing something more inclined to my interests and leaving mediocre, typical behind. I generally lack the courage. This post has nudged me just a little bit more in the right direction.
Thank you for that.

Vilx- January 21, 2013 at 10:16 am

“It’s one of the most tragic yet also glorious truths of human beings: that we tend to live up to only a fraction of our potential, in virtually every area.”

I wonder, how do you measure “potential”?

I too was one of the bright kids in my class. It has always puzzled me why people can’t grasp mathematics and programming as well as I do. I mean, come on, it’s so simple…

But apparently not. I’ve seen people struggle with elementary problems. Not because of lack of motivation, but genuinely because they “didn’t get it”. Everyone’s mind works in different ways.

As a smart one it’s easy to talk that “everyone can become anything, you just need to want it”. I mean, it was easy for you, it should be easy for everyone, right? It’s like all the rich (in the sense of “having lots of money”) people claim that it’s easy to become rich and anyone can do it, just follow these 5 easy principles.

But what if it’s not so simple? What if most people are typical because, well, they *are* typical? What if they already *are* working at their full potential? After all – if everyone DID work at their full potential, the overall situation would still be the same as it is right now. A person working at “his full potential” would still be just “typical”. And the few kids blessed by Mother Nature with more potential than the rest of the world would still write articles like this.

So, how do you measure “potential”? Worse, what *is* potential?

David January 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm

You don’t need to measure potential. I think it is self-evident that each of us could do far more in virtually every area if we did not take cues from the norm. Not everybody has to do math, or anything else. All of the different areas in which we can excel ultimately serve only one purpose, which is fulfillment. However we get there, that is the one in which nearly every one of us has enormous space for improvement.

It Calls Me Onanon January 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm

“But what if it’s not so simple? What if most people are typical because, well, they *are* typical? What if they already *are* working at their full potential?”

You are asserting/assuming that there is a typical state that humans can reach and that’s a fallacy. There is no reasoning that says that you can’t think to the extraordinary extent Einstein did… unless you have a medical excuse. All humans set their own limitations unless it is proven to be a biological/physical limitation and similarly all humans have the same capacity to exceed their perceived limitations. For example, I’ve recently been thinking about how the education system in America leaves people’s minds impoverished because they fail to teach children *how* to think. This sets a limitation in the habitual way they DO think and it’s something that is very hard to get over.


It’s a good link that kind of goes over bits of what I’ve been reflecting on…

People set their own limitations because of how they were raised and other immediate circumstances but if they are taught *how* to think I firmly believe that they would never settle with what they’ve currently got and will opt to challenge status quo.

Thinking is a behavior/action that you can perform and it can be worked on until it is done faster and more thoroughly than others. That being said, (rhetorical question) what would you do if you were given all the mental faculties in your childhood to enable you to think? …you’d keep working on it to make it better (to develop it). It’s growth, yo.

Btw, wuddup David? ;P

Vilx- January 22, 2013 at 4:46 am

But that’s just it. We know so awfully little about human brain that we cannot make statements like this. And I don’t want to assert that there is a “typical” sate. On the contrary, all the people I know are different in one way or another. But there is an “average” state, and I believe that it follows the Normal Distribution (if you would measure it somehow). Things in nature always do.

What I want to say is – yes, people do set their own limitations. But the *willingness and ability to overcome those limitations* is another human trait, which should be taken into account when calculating “the full potential”.

I could become a Chess Grandmaster if I seriously played the game several hours a day for 20-30 years, always challenging myself to tougher problems. But I don’t care about chess. I never have and I doubt I ever will. So I think that my chess playing skills should not play a role in my “full potential”.

The point I’m arguing against is that “most people are not utilizing themselves to their full potential”. I believe that most people actually *are* pretty close to their “full potential”. But their “full potential” is different from yours or mine, so we look at them and think – “oh, wow, they could do so much more…”. Except that they really can’t. Or don’t want to, for some reason or another.

And by the way, Einstein’s brain was different from the rest of us: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein's_brain

It Calls Me Onanon January 22, 2013 at 10:45 pm

This is a nice break down of what just happened between Vilx and I.

I said:
“You are asserting/assuming that there is a typical state that humans can reach and that’s a fallacy.” (That there is a level cap at which human progress stops for some people)

Vilx said:
“I don’t want to assert that there is a “typical” sate. On the contrary, all the people I know are different in one way or another. But there is an “average” state…”
“I believe that most people actually *are* pretty close to their “full potential”. But their “full potential” is different from yours or mine, so we look at them and think – “oh, wow, they could do so much more…”. Except that they really can’t.”

**Notice how you contradict yourself by restating the same claim that I confronted. You are thus, logically, only superficially saying that you “don’t want to assert that there is a “typical” state” as a way of displacing the confrontation. You then go on to make this an issue of semantics, changing your wording to “average” while STILL making the same claim. This is a psychological maneuver you’ve developed to AVOID CONFRONTATION.

I said:
“There is no reasoning that says that you can’t think to the extraordinary extent Einstein did…”

Vilx said:
But that’s just it. We know so awfully little about human brain that we cannot make statements like this.
**Notice how you avoided addressing the statement that was actually made and instead opt for Appealing to Ignorance fallacy (“We don’t know so therefore what I say is true…”). I know that you are addressing this particular statement out of the ones I made because you go on to agree with me that people set their own limitations…

I said: “All humans set their own limitations unless it is proven to be a biological/physical limitation and similarly all humans have the same capacity to exceed their perceived limitations.”

Vilx said: “…yes, people do set their own limitations. But the *willingness and ability to overcome those limitations* is another human trait, which should be taken into account when calculating “the full potential”.”

****You only agree with what was said to disarm the validity of my argument, to AVOID ACONFRONTATION.
You go on to claim that “willingness and ability”, which are subjective self-imposed limitations people place on themselves, are the exceptions-to-the-rule which prevent full potential even though they themselves are self-imposed limitations.

I could become a Chess Grandmaster if I seriously played the game several hours a day for 20-30 years, always challenging myself to tougher problems. But I don’t care about chess. I never have and I doubt I ever will. So I think that my chess playing skills should not play a role in my “full potential”.

****You proceed to use an Anecdotal Logical Fallacy as reasoning for a subjectivity-based belief. This is not a coincidence since anecdotes are subjective. It is also highly predictable and within a structure that humans act in.

****All in all, you asserted your belief and tried to argue its validity even when it was challenged. This entire response only endeavored to avoid confrontation and consequential questioning-of-your-beliefs-through-contemplation.
I stick by my claim that if children were taught *how* to think at school they would be more inclined to question what they’ve already got and challenge status quo. That also includes their own beliefs.

Carlos January 22, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Onanon, if human beings were all intrinsically capable of achieving the exact same potential, then we’d all be a cookie-cutter species and there would neither be geniuses nor lower-than-average people. Physical and mental faculties aside, there is another factor that weighs in on what exactly every person is capable of, and that is the combination of desire and motivation.

No matter how strong or mentally capable someone is, if they have no desire or motivation to pursuit a certain field of skill or knowledge, truth is they’ll never manage anything out of it, much less excel in it. We’re all different people with different interests and that is a major contributing factor for diversity. Thus, it is perfectly logical to consider that we have a “typical state” for a myriad of areas, in particular those we bear no interest in. For all intents and purposes, we are already at the maximum personal potential in those areas (barring a sudden change of heart, I guess), as we’ll never grow further into them due to lacking desire/motivation. Forcing oneself just doesn’t work.

On the other hand, I do agree that the education system does not teach students how to think, nevermind properly thinking, and this isn’t true just for the USA. I’m from Portugal and feel the same way. We do learn about Philosophy in high school, but it is given such a low priority with such low standards that it hardly makes a difference. But, in truth, this is a problem with the system as a whole, and not just that particular subject; we’re still living under the religious memorization paradigm even if we won’t quite admit it, we just call it “rote learning”. Just because it looks like we’ve shifted onto a fully critical thinking way of teaching doesn’t mean we really have; teachers and textbooks still drive us towards memorization and repetition as the primary forms of “learning”, rather than actually understanding concepts, which is likely why there are so many under-achievers in the world today.

It Calls Me Onanon January 22, 2013 at 8:02 pm

“If human beings were all intrinsically capable of achieving the exact same potential, then we’d all be a cookie-cutter species and there would neither be geniuses nor lower-than-average people”

–First, that statement doesn’t hold any truth; it’s actually a very common fallacy people use when trying to argue non-factual dispositions. It’s what’s called a False Dilemma. Look it up.

–Secondly, you are addressing a statement that was never made—There was no mention of an “exact same potential” concept.

–What I did say was that humans possess the **same capability** to exceed their perceived limitations, not that the limitations or the potential are the same. It’s in the individual and how much time they put toward it, of course. The only exceptions being actual physical deformities in the way you function, i.e. you are blind and cannot exceed that limitation.

The reasoning used that “Einstein’s brain was different and therefore that was why he was a genius” is a claim that was actually highly refuted and it’s more likely that it is a **result** of his intense thinking. In other words, it is more likely that his brain became different over his life time **because** of his excess thinking–just because it was different does not definitely mean that that was the cause of his genius. I believe in the power of the individual.

–Desire and motivation are subjective. Humans have the capability to overcome anything subjective. It’s just harder to do that based on the way you were taught to function and most people avoid anything difficult. The rest of what you said was “blah, blah, blah … subjective rationalizations excusing ideological beliefs/fallacious assertions” to me, sorry. There were no facts.

Interesting to hear about Portugal, though.

It Calls Me Onanon January 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Skip to 7:40 of the video I linked (here I’ll link it to be super cool like that). It has an interesting study that seems like it backs up my thinking about the whole humans having the same capacity thing.


It Calls Me Onanon January 22, 2013 at 8:44 pm

You should be looking for this statement, if you’re confused.

“1, we all have this capacity, and 2 it mostly deteriorates. A lot of things have happened to these kids… One of the most important things that has happened is that by now they have become educated. They’ve spent 10 years at school being taught that there’s one answer and it’s at the back of the book.”

…Sound familiar?

MarkWallace January 23, 2013 at 4:12 am

Onanon, so you’ve admitted above that we don’t have the same “limitations and potential”, but we do have “the same capacity thing”. Does that mean we have “the same capacity thing” but not the same capacity? We each have some extra, unused “capacity” (which hardly anybody would disagree with), but it differs in its extent in each person. If so, you’re not really in disagreement with Vlix’s original post.

Vilx- January 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

Seems like we’re all going in circles here, trying to turn each other’s arguments upside down. And we can’t prove anything either, because none of our arguments have any research to back them up. I suggest we recognize this battle as a religious one, and call it quits. There are no winners in religious battles.

It Calls Me Onanon January 23, 2013 at 9:26 am

Don’t try to make what I said into two different concepts–sneaky psychological maneuver. Humans have the capacity, ability, capability and it is not a measurable external “thing” like you are trying to make it into. People are not excused because they are handicapped by their subjectivity.

A regular reader of this blog January 25, 2013 at 7:01 am

Heh …

I keep coming back to this blog because the articles are often very insightful … and ever so often–as now, the comments, too, are very readable too.

If I may chip in with my own “10 cents”: someone up there tried to dismiss what they consider an unprovable and therefore unresolvable discussion as a “religious argument”: to thus think of religion stems, I’m afraid, from a profound and near-total ignorance (although a common enough ignorance) about what religion really is all about!

It Calls Me Onanon January 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I agree.

The average person reacts to confrontation by following a structure because of pure habit. This particular psychology has developed around dismissal and displacement of confrontation and that last response used religion ignorantly as a means of dismissing confrontation.

I’ve found that confronting one’s actions instead of engaging in an argument that’s only useful in a “vacuum” of reality (basically any argument that involves subjectivity) results in an irrational “hang-up” behavior.

I often think these days that this must have been how Socrates felt when he mirrored people’s selves back to them…

It Calls Me Onanon January 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm

“Onanon, so you’ve admitted above that we don’t have the same “limitations and potential”, but we do have “the same capacity thing”. Does that mean we have “the same capacity thing” but not the same capacity? We each have some extra, unused “capacity” but it differs in its extent in each person.”

This statement mind-fucked me so I took some time to understand the particular way MarkWallace had to have read what I wrote for him to extrapolate the information he did…

Original statement I made was:
“What I did say was that humans possess the **same capability** to exceed their perceived limitations, not that the limitations or the potential are the same.”

That statement never, as MarkWallace put it, “admitted” to anything–it addressed an accusation previously made that asserted what concepts I was discussing.

It should have been understood something akin to this:

“Let me re-assert what my last statement was: It has been observed that humans are certainly able to get over the problems they think they have because it is evidenced by other humans in history that have triumphed and are triumphing over problems. Conversely, I did not make any statements about the specificity of limitations or potential, and certainly not that they were the exact same.”

To read it as an “admission” like MarkWallace did I had to preemptively think that the concepts “capability”, “capacity”, “limitations” and “potential” exist as measurable, objectified, concrete forms independent of a person’s psychology and that perceiving them this way is valid. I also had to disregard that Onanon (I’m writing in 3rd person here) already expressed that she doesn’t acknowledge those concepts as measurable, concrete forms—or “things.”

So, when I read Onanon’s original statement, I applied those observations as building blocks of the fundamental logic behind my perception and actually understood it more like this:

“There’s this magical, unidentifiable substance or thing that resides inside all of us called *capacity*–it acts like a ceiling that determines a finite amount of how much we can do in our lifetime–humans inherently have this thing inside them. There’s also this *capacity-thing* that exists as some sort of authority that we have no control over to govern what we are allowed or permitted to be capable of doing (you normies who believe in individual choice might call it will-power!). We all have a different magical super-state called a *potential* buried deep inside us that makes us all individual snowflakes but we must battle the *capacity-thing* that we have against the different *limitations* we are all victim to. Humans don’t ever use up the entirety of our unique and finite amount of *capacity* space because we just can’t control the *capacity-thing* and often the limitations are too much for us! We have to give up and consider this as a reality! We’re not just animals that are made out of the same hardware—What I believe is true, you just have to believe in it! I play video games and think of life as leveling up and humans as static robots that are programmed only to respond one way!”

I should note: I know this comment comes off as cynical and mocking to other people, but I’m using absurd and humorously caricatured language because it’s really the easiest way to communicate the subtle dynamics of what’s happening with the situation to a broad audience. Illustrating concepts ridiculously disproportionately to normal senses/context helps people identify where the subtle aspects of the actual statement made don’t fit back into reality.

Marcella January 21, 2013 at 10:19 am

This is an outstanding and succinct depiction of just why going against the grain is definitely worth it. In my TEDx talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn6voL8uphg), I go over 3 steps I took to live my own version of life — and I think you’re touching upon the first step here: granting yourself permission. Without your own permission, how far can you go to becoming atypical?

David January 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I will check it out Marcella, thank you

Russell January 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Is being average measurable? If snowflakes, or drops in the ocean are fixated on trying to be special, will they ever realize their full potential by association as a six inch snowfall, or an ocean? Is this relevant to the human experience?
We live our lives as individuals, struggle with our identity, spend the majority of time defending our individuality, regardless of what it might be. Yet most of the individuals I encounter in a day I’ve judged to be irrelevant in my pursuit of being special, and therefore of no value to me and my need for independence. My efforts to not be typical, to be more than average, regardless of my actual developmental progress, could be the very thing standing in the way of realizing the potential of the human spirit.
Perhaps trying to not be typical is typical. Perhaps the real struggle lies in the image we have cultivated of ourselves in the first place. An image that needs to be constantly nurtured and defined with questions such as these.
Does an individual, like a drop in the ocean, actually exist? And if so, is it possible to experience both the individual and collective paradigm in a single existence? Given that the full potential of human spirit or consciousness lies in the collective experiences of all humans, is it possible for an entity that believes itself to be an individual, typical or not, to gain access to this potential?
The answer just has to be yes, otherwise what’s the point to this exercise of life. What is it we are all here looking for. Perhaps we were never meant to ask these questions, it’s enough to be emotionally attached to the process of life, without the added burden of being self aware. But then would I really trade all these aspirations, confusions, and the perpetual pursuit of happiness in on experiencing life as a chimpanzee?
It wouldn’t be typical.

David January 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm

You may be overthinking this.

Brian January 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt. That’s the first thing they teach you. What’s the point of life? I’m slowly figuring it out for myself.

“First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Ghandi

A. Julie January 21, 2013 at 4:22 pm

One of my profs would call the people who encourage us to be typical “micro-fascists” …anybody trying to enforce the norm and status quo out of hand. It gets more nuanced than that; we were reading Felix Guattari’s “Soft Subversions” at the time, but “microfascist” is a great term to remember… Not because I want to be in tension with anyone but because it reminds me that just because someone’s knee-jerk reaction is to be like, why ya gotta rock the boat? and suppressive, or worse, oppressive (there are plenty of subtle forms of “how dare you be different”), that, before just going with the flow, it’s wise to look at where the flow is going.

Gina January 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Ah! That’s what I’ve come to enjoy about your posts. The swift, motivational, kick to the seat of my pants. Your words peel away the muck & exfoliate the mind.
Thank you, David.

Andrea McGilvray January 21, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Humans are anything but typical. We’ve just forgotten that we were created to find our purpose and our purpose will never be found by looking at the world or within one’s self. The world and we did not create us. Forgetting this Truth is typical.

tigerlyly January 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Like always love your post, but then again I am after a 10hr work day done with people in different time zones, and mostly in about two languages that are not native to me… so sorry about grammar.
In a world where mediocrity is pushed in your face every day, where as soon as you can talk or walk you are told you need to be like every body else (like your brother, sister, friend, etc.), where being an atypical woman would only made you that tall blade of grass that every body would like to mow as soon as they can (specially if you are not a long-legged 25 yrs old)… being atypical becomes a long fight with yourself.
After a day of trying to be typical, after you’ve been bombarded by all media about what typical stuff you need to buy in order to be as typical as your neighbor… you come home and there it is. A group of atypical misfits.

Thank you, I had this defeated thought in my mind when I started reading your post about not learning my lesson after a life of being atypical… Now I am going to pour a glass of wine , I want to tast to all the atypical spirits out there. Cheers!

Jonah Hirst January 21, 2013 at 7:18 pm

This article is very meaningful to me. I am a college student and have recently come out as transgender to my friends and family. To transition is an incredibly daunting task, and it is certainly atypical, which places me in danger of people that I love and admire not taking me seriously as a person. Moreover, I have chosen to forego graduate school indefinitely in favor of mastering my craft as a musician, traveling, and self-educating, a decision that no one seems to think is a good idea. I have chosen to be happy and to express myself fully and honestly over being typical, and although I am being fiercely battled, I know that it is worth the risk.

“We do not want a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation is bought by accepting the risk of dying of boredom.” -Raoul Vaneigem

David January 23, 2013 at 7:22 am

Good for you. Sounds like you’re on the path to liberation, and you know it.

Partha January 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

(There’s always a but in this world, seemingly. It’s just that I’d wanted to keep my comment, above, short and uni-directional.)
Thing is, atypicality swings both ways.

Hitler was atypical. On a meaner level, that weirdo who shot those little kids last month was atypical.

Typicality is mediocre. Atypicality CAN be brilliant: for good or for evil. And how does one really know which brand one’s atypicality represents?

I’m sure Hitler didn’t start out wanting to be a monster. What about Alexander? What about Chengiz Khan? What about the fellows responsible for Hiroshima? What about Churchill, the author of the Bengal famine? None of them went their atypical ways WANTING to be evil: yet they were. (Which takes us down another winding alleyway of thought: what, indeed, is evil? In all the examples I presented above, even posterity isn’t quite unanimous about their being evil: except for Hitler, and Hitler’s being evil has more to do with his defeat than with what he thought or did, even in Auschwitz: for the other names there did no more, or less, only they were more successful.)
Which thought makes one’s atypicality all the more difficult, one’s self-doubts more insidious, when one is breaking the mould (although breking it in less momentous ways).

Sometimes those self-doubts plague one throughout, but they are at their strongest when one has not yet proved oneself.
But let me catch one of those many threads there and ask, part rhetorically and part seeking an answer: Which is better? Both at an individual level, and for mankind as a whole: To seek a sedate, slow, plodding, safe, modest growth; or dramatic lunges which may take you up cliffs but may, equally, throw you down precipices (and which, aggregated, on average across time, does tend to cancel out)?

Does the possibility of extraordinary happiness justify the risk of extraordinary suffering? Indeed, on a related note, is the increase in happiness when we do something great even close to our suffering when something horrible is perpetrated?
These are very real issues that those of us who would be atypical must seek out answers for.

Chetan Sharma January 21, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Amazing eye-opener article! I just opened my mailbox in the office and this is the first thing I read. And there couldn’t have been better a way than starting my day with reading this.
I have always believed that being “Average”, is the saddest thing in the world which most people don’t realize. Average people think that it is ok to have things running as they are. If someone is bad at something, then it is a good thing because he will atleast start searching for something else and something greater in which he is good at. But the average person remains content in himself and doesn’t grow at all.

Well you used the term “typical” instead of average, but I guess it means the same thing!

Thanks David for giving us a reminder of “Grow out of the average life and become someone better!”

CC January 21, 2013 at 10:49 pm

This is so true. I used to think that I was “atypical,” but then realized that I was trying to be “atypical” because it was the “typical” thing in my community (coming from an extremely liberal region of the U.S.)! I used to be afraid of falling into stereotypes, because people in my community sometimes can judge you because of it. And then I realized that’s what’s really important is just to be myself and not worry about what others think of me. Thanks for writing this post to remind me of it!

Jana January 22, 2013 at 3:29 am

Your posts and the debate they spark (which I usually relish quietly) always provoke and nudge. I am thinking about the exceptional, atypical people we come to know as examples of greatness and I wonder what motivates them. Being exceptional? But I am also thinking about many of my friends and those I encounter on a typical work day, who embody the alternative in the most mundane, uncelebrated situations. Being connected to experience as it is happening, engaged with time passing with somatic awareness and not expecting to be validated is hard to measure or even acknowledge, but I think those unsettled joys and challenges we feel fully drive us to ‘achieve’ beyond the typical. The motivation is not in being validated, but to be in the flow of life. Perhaps the typical person you describe is always just a second from opening that door. Thanks for keeping it ajar.

Torstoise January 22, 2013 at 6:48 am

I posted a link to this blog post at the idle foundation and was met with a barrage of cynical and snarky antagonism. Some excerpts:

“Those guys are all the same, they all claim to be different from the rest – I’m different, cos I claim to be the same.” – Harpo

“Whenever my mind starts to puzzle on perceived differences between people I find myself realizing (after a longer of shorter period of puzzling) ‘there is no problem’.
It’s just mind games.
And many people seem to be needing these mind games to feel better about them selves.
And also lots of people make a living out of playing mind games.
I suppose that’s okay.'” – Alexilai

“Rather than striving to be original, I think it makes more sense to seek authenticity. Even if you don’t seem amazingly charismatic or original as a result, you won’t have to live with the fear of being unmasked and will save yourself a lot of mental strain.” – Redglass

When I was young I tried so very hard to be different, including permanently damaging my brain with substances that were a lot of fun at the time.
The more different I got the more normal I felt and the more extreme my attempts to be different became.” – Lin

“Like it or not,you are one of the masses,we all are.By separating yourself off in your head,you and the rest,the masses, you’re making assumptions about others,the great unwashed, that I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like to have assumed about you.” –

“For some reason humans want some of their number to be different so make a point of setting them aside as such.” – Mr.E.C.R.Lorac

Torstoise January 22, 2013 at 7:11 am

To Partha, yes Hitler was atypical. David isn’t saying being atypical is the be all end all goal that we should strive for. He is saying that many people engage in certain typical behaviors that are often detrimental to themselves and what is detrimental and typical within society have the potential to bring us down from our goal toward living up to higher standards that assist to live a better life. Again, don’t be different for the sake of being different. Be different because it helps you to better yourself.

Partha January 24, 2013 at 7:23 am


What I was wondering is: what exactly is “bettering” yourself? How do you decide? Hitler was trying to better himself, I’m sure. If you ask Chengiz Khan, he’d answer likewise.

One way of deciding what’s better is to look around and follow the general trend. That’s “being typical”. That rules out brilliance, but also rules out extraordinary evil. It’s, well, mediocre.

When you’re letting go that particular radar (of the general trend, of others’ opinion) you’re going free flow. So then it’s just you … you become, then, either good or evil, on a small scale or on a large scale. You’ll not remain mediocre, typical. Which can be good, but can also be bad.

That’s the risk I was talking of. Which is better, I was wondering, to be a hare or to be a “tortoise”.


Taku January 22, 2013 at 7:12 am

I totally agree. Although I demanded “the typical” all the time once before, I couldn’t get anything better but worse. I certainly could avoid getting bullied at middle school because I acted a typical man, but that was not what I wanted to be. I therefore tried new things at high school such as a school headquarter, studying abroad, and exploring thing I didn’t know; hence, now I’m getting ready to move to the US, which I couldn’t imagine 3 years ago. Everyone asked why I worked hard on English: that I just wanted to be different, special, being “me” not “a person.” I certainly agree with your opinion.

Torstoise January 22, 2013 at 9:19 am

I’d like to age like the typical Canadian. I swear the typical Canadian looks 10 to 15 years younger than their age. Random examples off the top of my head: Steve Paikin, that guy who hosts “Q”, that Greek dude Strombopolousous on that talk show (sp?), Martin Short and Entire cast of Kids in the Hall minus Dave Foley.

Carlos January 22, 2013 at 11:40 am

Longish comment, beware! :P

Being, like you, a student who achieved the highest scores with little to no effort, I too was treated by and puzzled with this double-standard. It bothered me how my classmates would rejoice with and often be rewarded for the bare minimum to pass, whereas my parents would feel greatly disappointed in me should I manage a B or, God forbid, a C.

In retrospective, I guess I didn’t really expect a reward for my “typical” grades. I was, typically, a high-score student, and my grades, achieved easily, could hardly be considered an accomplishment. What really bothered me was being treated with such disappointment for being anything less than perfect.

The worst part was my parents didn’t even get upset or mad at me. Human beings have funny ways of working: when someone is mad at you, deep down it feels like they care. When they show passive disappointment, however, it feels as if they’ve given up, or as if they don’t care – kind of like being ignored -, and that is one of the worst feelings.

To this day, I still have acknowledgement issues. To this day, I still feel the constant need to make my parents proud of myself and feel utterly ashamed and guilty should I fail to do so. Why? I’m in this for myself, not for them, so why should I feel this way?

You wrote, quite a while ago, in another post, that when we fail at something, it’s not our fault personally, it’s simply that our methods aren’t quite the best approach for the given situation. The way parents nurture feelings of shame and guilt in their high-achieving children conveys and cultivates precisely the opposite idea. It’s no wonder we have so much trouble accepting this and why most of us probably wouldn’t even consider it until the thought is thrown our way, like you did here on Raptitude, much less embrace it.

There’s nothing wrong with being typical. Typical is the baseline. Typical is like a nest: you stay there for as long as you feel the need to, but someday you’ll spread your wings and fly. Someday you’ll move out of typical and find your real potential. Like everything in life, it doesn’t need to be rushed, and you shouldn’t feel the need to excel in everything ASAP, especially if you’re doing it for others rather than for yourself alone. Typical isn’t the finish line – it’s the starting one. The countdown lasts as long as you need it to.

What’s really wrong is the way we let shame, guilt and other negative feelings shape much of our lives, even today, and serve as models for ourselves and for the way we teach our children. There is no shame in being typical. Likewise, we should feel the need to strive for higher standards by ourselves and our own motivation and not because we fear our parents will be disappointed in and ashamed of us. It’s a shame our parents didn’t know any better, as they probably suffered the same treatment and/or learned it from their/others’ parents, but it’s a greater shame we still haven’t unlearned that.

Being a gamer, I’d say being typical is the “newbie protection” on the game of life. It keeps you safe while you’re getting the hang of things. But, as with every game, eventually you’ll be heading off into new, unknown territory, finding the world around you and yourself along the way. As for where exactly you’ll start improving from typical, that’s up to you to find out, and certainly not your parents.

Cara January 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Thanks, David, for once again trying to get us to be comfortable with uncomfortable. To feel the fear and do it anyway.

(written as she’s packing her bags in Montreal to move to Budapest for a writing gig….)

Jessica Goodenough January 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm

This is, yet again, a great article! Can I be invited into your mind? I have been preaching that uncool is the new cool for years and I am currently enjoying my life studying Sustainable Territorial Development and traveling, when my good grades would have allowed me to become a “rich” very-busy-financial-grey-suit-person-at-a-desk if I had wanted to. :)

Tobi January 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Part of it could be that no one can be atypical in EVERYTHING they do. And not being great at one thing they want to or think they should be good at can stifle confidence in doing something that you could say they were “meant” to be good at.

Val January 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm

An excellent and provocative post. I’ve been lurking for a while, and thought I’d step into the fray this time.

I’m currently reading Chris Guillebeau’s excellent book “The Art of Non-Conformity,” and this piece you wrote nicely dovetails with an important facet of his message. Being that we’re such social monkeys, conformity to group procedure is vitally important (to the monkey brain, concerned with survival). The fear of standing out is closely related to two others: the fear of failure and the fear of success. Success can be particularly freaky because it typically engenders some form of responsibility.

I truly do think that, as some others here have pointed out, many people are genuinely satisfied with leading normative lives that bear a strong resemblance to the lives of those around them. It’s got to do with a person’s values– which are frequently derived from the society around them– and the extent to which they believe they are measuring up to them. In Canada and particularly the US, an important social value is individualism. From an early age, we learn to uphold certain kinds of freedoms and are told to just be ourselves. (Well, to an extent.) The point is, we tend to take this kind of thinking for granted, that these values and beliefs are, in fact, inalienable. But really, the “cult of the individual” is a fairly recent development, a sociocultural construct of a particular time and place.

Unfortunately, since we’re simultaneously so inclined to abide in groups, we get a hell of a lot of cognitive dissonance. We often don’t quite know what to do because we’ve got conflicting messages and values to deal with and it can be paralyzing, sending us into an ecstasy of comfort seeking (pick your poison: booze, Starcraft, retail therapy…). I’m not disagreeing per se with the idea of being an individual; it’s a fact of our human experience that we can be differentiated from everyone around us and have a set of qualities and experiences that are uniquely our own. These things should be cultivated with great care and love. What isn’t so great is the inevitable dark side to an unquestioned veneration of the individual. For example, it’s helping to ruin the planet. There are definitely a lot of crappy things about the average human experience… but an average is an abstraction: something that doesn’t actually exist. There’s a ton of variability between people, even in a group that seems homogenous to an outsider. We’d be much better for cultivating our positive differences as well as our similarities, and accepting wherever we, as individuals, fall within that spectrum.

Heather Thorkelson January 23, 2013 at 8:33 am

David there are so many gems in this post, I don’t even know where to start. So I’m just going to share it with everyone I know and hope that it jumpstarts their spirits.

Michelle @ Find Your Balance January 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Oooh do I love this. Shared all over. Thank you!

Maia January 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thanks, really good post David. Definitely rings a bell, somewhere deep down, or perhaps not even that deep down, but where to start?

Eric January 25, 2013 at 9:25 am

Wow, that’s really impressive !
Remind me something that I almost forget day by day!

Marcy M January 26, 2013 at 4:06 am

I like your articles, I don’t believe that I been typical for nobody has walk in my shoes and I won’t walk in anybody’s else for that matter. For me typical is someone that goes by what other people’s opinions and not living their life to the fullest. If you want to be a garbage picker because that it what makes you happy then go and be happy, as long as you are doing what makes you happy then you are not typical. As long as you are living to your potential then that makes you extradonary no matter what level you are. I never learn anything usefull from school everything has come from my own research and readings. I divide people in two catogories people who are surviving and people that are living.
I’m thankfull that I have broken free from the mold and live to my own expectations. I still live an ordanary that would be consider “typical” but the way I see things is far beyond that. I enjoy the small pleasures in life that makes us human, a friendly smile, a sunset, when the winds and makes everything feel so alive, the moon and the stars.

Ditkin January 26, 2013 at 3:54 pm

It can definitely be comforting to cut oneself slack by conforming to “average” expectations, and I do this very often in my own life. The best way to rationalize conformism is that it’s easy, readily accessible to most people, and serves as comfort food for our egos. HOWEVER I don’t believe it’s necessary to exceed typicality in all aspects of one’s life! Setting one’s expectations above the norm can be HELPFUL in many aspects of life but if one begins to IDENTIFY with exceeding the norm, a slavish mentality forms.
The best way to deal with this problem is to maintain awareness of that comforting ‘settling’ sensation when it creeps up and become aware of it. This is the most effective PROVEN first step in eradicating its influence from your life. For example if you’re working out and you just completed 10 reps and are about to put the weight down, STOP for a second and GET IN TOUCH with yourself! Can you do one more? Can you do two more? How do you really FEEL about this situation. THAT is the key. Eradicating the influence of expectations from one’s life.

Andrés January 27, 2013 at 9:12 am

Great post, David. Your blog is always very inspiring and so well written. This post is definitely a push in the right direction for me :)

Hope January 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

This article really resonated with myself and added just a little more sunshine to my evening than San Diego is already offering today. I say to everyone: Follow your soul, wherever it may lead you. In that, you’re following the truth of who you really are and what you really want. Thank you for the read David. As Always:)

Johnniemarie January 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I mean this sincerely, Thank You.

Jeff January 31, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Did you consider using the word “average” instead of “typical”?

I fully support someone doing a “typical job” as long as they do “excellent work” rather than “average work”. There is no reason to degrade this.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Really? February 1, 2013 at 6:41 am

Nice, Jeff. Sounds great. But let’s think this through …

Can you think of any conceivable way how such a person, capable consistently of such intense and superlative attention and excellence, might actually spend their life (or a significant part of it) simply sweeping streets (or selling insurance or real estate), even if they started out in that capacity.

Yes there’s one way this can happen. But let’s ignore that rarest of rare possibility, the enlightened person: the master who “chops wood and fetches water”. Let’s ignore that particular outlier in our discussion.

If a person capable of such immense concentration, attention, conscientousness and excellence were to apply it, consistently, then he may well have started life in some humble and typical capacity (a sweeper, a clerk, a salesman, an engineer, a nurse, whatever), but then there is no way this person will not then rise to very remarkable heights, even as Michenangelo himself did (and so many other sculptor-jobbers didn’t)–or MLK himself did (and so many other protestor and strike monger types didn’t). And they wouldn’t then remain typical, no way, even where their outward circumstance is concerned.

Jeff February 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm

It sounds like you’re arguing with the MLK quote, not my original question.

Huh February 2, 2013 at 9:02 am

Huh, why is that?

I just re-read both your comment and mine, and, well, perhaps you could do the same. No point my repeating what I’ve already said?

Anyway, no “arguments” with you. Just taking the thought forward. Well, actually, perhaps yes, arguing gently. Whatever.

By the way, the MLK connection was that quote you’ve used.

Ben February 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm

This is by far the most inspiring thing I have ever read.

JC February 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

This is the kinda of silly stuff white people love to read/write.

“I fully support someone doing a “typical job” as long as they do “excellent work” rather than “average work”.”

This is such a stupid statement.

What is typical?

Your like the type of person that goes to Tanzania and says: “It’s amazing to see all these minorities running things for a change.”

To be specific… that would be a white guy going to an African nation and calling African people in their own country a minority.

Wake up… your reality is not everyone else’s reality.

Who are you to call anything “typical”?

You can’t compare your existence on earth to anyone anywhere… your circumstances are both unique to the conditions that you were born into and your perspective is certainly askewed as a white man.

Nobody lives a typical life.

There is no normal.

We are all just randomly trying to deal with the various mistakes our ancestors made which have shaped this earth into something a bit perverse.

Leslie February 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Thank you for this article. I used to have the motivation to be atypical and lost it along the way. I need periodical nudges to keep me on the path.

I was held to the same double standard in high school and college and wondered why I had to work so hard and be so good if none of my friends had to do the same. If I got a “B” I wasn’t praised, I was chastised but then when I tried to go away and do more with my life, it became “why do you want to do that?” Just stay here and go to college.

I acquiesced because it was expected. I worked too much and continued to make excellent grades in a field I ended up hating. I got burned out pretty fast and have done as little as possible since. I managed to make it out of a bad situation and am still young, so there’s time to get off my butt and start achieving, or at least failing gloriously again.

Kurt Gundersen November 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Wait, spending $3000 a year on wine is not okay? Damn! :-)

Kurt Gundersen November 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hmmm I think there’s an awful lot of suffering in this comment thread. Everyone trying so hard to figure out what they should be doing, how they should measure that, what it means to be typical, a-typical, at what level will I finally feel satisfied, etc. And as soon as you think you figured it out, the rug gets pulled out from under and you realize that wasn’t it either. Ego will jump through hoops to justify just about anything.

If we end up beating ourselves up because we haven’t been deemed better than the average/typical Joe, then I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I play the guitar. I’m pretty good, not great. Could be better if I wanted but why? If I’m happy with my level of guitar playing, why should I strive to be better than average? Maybe I’m already better than average, maybe not even close. I don’t even know and I don’t care. Reaching my full potential as a guitar player doesn’t equal happiness or make me a better person. Maybe I’m driven to be the best guitar player I can be. That’s fine too but that means the time spent doing that is going to result in my being average at a lot of other things because there are only so many hours in a day.

I think if we look to our level of ability at a variety of things to build up our ego and make ourselves feel good about ourselves, it’s just going to be a losing battle in the long run. Live a good life, be of use, help others as much as you can. Striving to be better at all you do all the time and thinking that’s going to lead to happiness or satisfaction is just a formula for achieving neither of those things; that striving will never end. Let our natural, healthy passion dictate what we excel at. If you love to sing and being great at it (or the best you can be) is your passion, go for that! But there are only so many hours in a day and driving ourselves into the ground to better ourselves (and outperform the average person) in as many things as possible will just lead to not a very happy life, always chasing after some ideal that only exists on a relative level that is constantly changing anyway.

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