Why are we so scared of being average?

You know those banal motivational quotes that occasionally pop up on Instagram and make you want to stab yourself through the eyes? Last month, The Pool, which is usually above posting the kind of stuff that causes women to hate themselves, put THIS on its feed.

#TodayImChannelling Taylor Swift #totd #quotes #TaylorSwift

A photo posted by The Pool (@thepooluk) on


It’s January, and I’m still thinking about it. It seems timelier now, as thousands of us are embracing the concept of ‘new year, new you’. We’re setting #goals in our bullet journals, aiming to become ‘Lean in 2017’, fluent in French AND CEO of the company (by March). I’ve come to realise that our compulsion to better ourselves is probably driven by that fear of being average. Because average is code for ‘not really good enough’. Because being average means being one of the faceless people in the crowd, the people who aren’t special enough to deserve love or respect or admiration.

We have this weird double-standard going on: we’ll look around at other people and accept them for being who they are, whilst secretly believing that we ourselves need to live up to higher set of standards. We would never criticise a friend for not having visible abs or for failing to get on a ‘30 under 30’ list, but we’ll loathe ourselves for it. It’s half egotistical; half self-loathing. And it completely sucks.

I’ve already written about how trying to become a better person made me worse. I’m still trying to get away from the mindset that I’m not good enough unless I am phenomenally successful on all fronts. It’s a tough balance for me: I want to achieve things and move forwards in life, without letting the pursuit of goals possess me like that weird monster in Stranger Things.

Whilst I’m not sure that I’ve got that balance nailed yet; I’ve certainly had a lot of thoughts about what our fear of being average means. And the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it is. Here’s why:

‘Above average’ is a psychological trick we play on ourselves

Studies have shown that when asked to rate ourselves on our skills or personalities, we’ll give ourselves an above-average score – despite the fact that at least half of us are guaranteed to be average or below average. It’s called the illusory superiority bias, and it probably exists to protect our self-esteem. We delude ourselves that we are OK by comparing ourselves favourably to others. It’s a psychological boogeyman. It’s not real.

‘Average’ is just a statistical concept

You’ve heard the one about how the ‘average’ person has one breast and one testicle, right? Statistics, broadly speaking, is a mathematical way to try and describe properties of groups of people or things. The ‘average person’ doesn’t really exist in a living, breathing sense. So in actuality, fearing being average is a bit like having a phobia of unicorns. Completely pointless.

There are no actual league tables for people

That episode of Black Mirror where everyone has a public rating is, thankfully, just television. And it works because it brought that pressure to be above-average to life. In the real world, the ranking of people only ever occurs amongst immature teenagers or in crap magazines like FHM (which, may I remind you, was closed down due to being completely irrelevant).

So to sum up: you can’t defeat an enemy that isn’t real. By calling BS on ‘average’ and refusing to be scared of something that doesn’t exist, you free up your time to do things that you like, because they’re worth doing in themselves. To exercise because it makes you feel great; not because you want to be a Size 8. To take on challenges because they interest you, not because they look impressive on your CV. To live your life by experiencing it, not just Bullet Journaling about it.


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  1. I appreciate that this will sound like ‘not all men’ but both sexes suffer from this. I understand that women face greater trials in many things, but being ‘average’ is certainly not a female only experience.

    Please, hold yourself to the same standard you would hold any one else and write in an egalitarian fashion.

    1. Hello! I completely agree that this applies to both sexes – at no point did I write (or aim to imply) that it doesn’t. In the post, I made two references to things that are female-specific, but many more that were gender neutral. I’m a feminist who believes in gender equality for both sexes, but at the end of the day, my writing for this blog is informed by my personal experiences and all of the references I make are going to be influenced by the fact I’m a woman in her thirties, living in England and so on. Is it xenophobic for any international readers that I reference English media outlets or ageist that I referred to a ’30 under 30′ list?

      I appreciate that you took the time to comment, and I agree we should all strive for equality, but I think you have interpreted what I wrote in a way that doesn’t match the intention of how it was written.

  2. That’s not to say I don’t wholeheartedly agree with your viewpoint, but while my husband is expected to stand up for equality at every step (and does, happily), I’ve noticed that sometimes we can hold ourselves to less of an exacting standard.

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