Why Do We Fear Being Average?

When you look at the life you have created for yourself, how do you feel? Do you feel pride, satisfaction, or fulfillment?

Or do you feel frustration, disappointment, and a longing for more?

The chances are, you feel both. 

Being a human being means that you are destined to experience life in a way you didn’t expect. 

The truth is that, in many ways, your life is likely much more average than you had hoped it would be.

If you are a person who aspires to improve yourself or to live a great life, this might not be easy to admit. The idea of being average or living an average life is not appealing to a person who is an achiever.

In this article, I want to examine why we fear being average and how we must accept being average in some ways if we want to achieve great success in others.

The Fear of Being Average

Most ambitious people are driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. A lot of their motivation comes from wanting to achieve something specific. Still, another part of the motivation is to not be like everyone else.

The fear of being average is often driven by the need to feel important or recognized. We want to impact the world or leave a legacy simply because it makes us feel like our life means something.

Some ambitious people may feel like a failure if they look at their life as average. However, this is simply their view of their situation. To another person, we may appear very successful or significant, yet we may view our life as average. 

Personal Development Promises Everything

Since the age of 14, I have been a reader of personal development books and listened to audio tapes. People like Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy, Dennis Waitley, and many others helped to shape who I am today.

One of the biggest ideas that personal development has taught me is that you can become anything you want. You can change your life and who you want to be. All it takes is belief, the right attitude, and a lot of hard work.

But one of the big things that self-help overpromises is that we can have everything and be everything. 

According to the self-help gurus, we can be a rich, healthy, in love, famous, and successful person, leave a legacy, and be totally fulfilled. And we can have it all at the same time.

What I have learned is that this is just not reality. Whenever we work on one area of our lives to achieve above-average results, we forfeit the chance to achieve in another way.

The Rise of ‘Koinophobia’

The term ‘Koinophobia’ (pronounced Key-No-Phobia) was originally coined by actor, designer, and writer John Koenig in the Dictionary of Common Sorrows. 

He describes the experience of Koinophobia as reflecting on your mediocre life and judging it as not the one you hoped for. As he states in his poetic spoken word youtube video

“All you see is ordinary people assembled in their tiny classrooms and workspaces. Each of us moving around in little steps, like tokens on a gameboard.

Do a little work, take a little rest. Make a little friend, throw a little party. Feel a little boredom, have a little rebellion.”

This poignant phrasing denotes how a lot of us feel throughout most of our lives. Although we might wish to be more, have more, or do more, our results are less than we had hoped. 

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, a lot of our life is lived in the gray zone of being average and doing everyday, humdrum, little things. 

This is not necessarily bad, but we must learn to see the value in the life we live.

The Opportunity Cost of Success

When we devote time and energy to one part of our lives, it comes at a cost. It means that other parts of our lives will suffer. 

Awareness of the opportunity cost built into life makes it easier to balance the average parts of our lives. 

We simply can’t devote time to every single area of life and expect to create exceptional success. The reality is that opportunity cost means that some parts of our lives will be average.

The Idealized View Of Success

The world we live in today has a hyper-focus on achieving our individual goals and dreams.  

We look at celebrities, millionaires, athletes, and artists and assume that they somehow are living happier, more fulfilled lives than we are. 

But this idealized view of success may actually have a negative effect on our happiness.

The reality is that most of us find our greatest fulfillment in the ordinary parts of life: spending time with friends and family, experiencing nature, and working on something important to us. 

These are not peak experiences but normal, everyday things we do in ordinary life.

This misguided view that we have to be rich, famous, or accomplished in order to be happy is something we have to let go of. 

We are all Average in Some Ways

The truth is that even the most accomplished person is still average in some ways. You can’t have every aspect of your life completely dialed in. 

There just isn’t enough time or energy available to master every part of your life.

Look at anybody you admire, and there will be part of their life that is not very impressive or admirable. 

Any accomplished person you can think of still has something in their life that isn’t worth emulating.

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates, who have all been the richest person in the world, are also all divorced. The world might admire their accomplishments in business, but the truth is they are below average in relationships.

Meanwhile, some of the happiest people in relationships have a very low level of financial success.

Is it ok to be Average in Life?

It’s important to know that there is no scorecard or rule book in life and that whatever level of success you want for yourself is your choice.

Just because other people have (or haven’t) achieved something, that doesn’t mean that you have to live the same way. 

If you are an average or ordinary person by conventional standards, that is totally ok. 

As long as you are paying for yourself, treating other people well, and abiding by the rules of your society, then it is perfectly fine to be an average person.

The modern notion that everyone must achieve their potential also causes a great deal of discontent and over-comparison.

If you never amount to more than being average, you are still living life in your own unique way the best you can. So, go easy on yourself. 

As author and myth expert Joseph Campbell eloquently said “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

Letting Go of Pretensions

William James, the founding father of American psychology, had a formula for fulfillment in life. He suggested that our self-esteem was success divided by pretensions.

What this means is that if we can let go of our pretensions, it is much easier to feel good about ourselves.

Pretensions are the ideals and positive illusions that we believe about ourselves. We see ourselves in a certain way, and typically we view ourselves as above average.

These pretensions can give us motivation and make us seek greatness. But unchecked ambition can also cause us to feel like we never really measure up to our ideals. 

Often our ideals and pretensions have power over us only because we keep holding onto them. If we choose to let go, then we can feel better about whatever level of success we are able to achieve.

The truth is that a lot of our unhappiness comes from us not achieving the ideals we create for ourselves. 

Only we can decide what we should be, and sometimes we have to let go of unrealistic pretensions if we want our life experience to be fulfilling.

Finding The Value in Your Everyday Life

Both miracles and tragedies will happen to you (and for you). 

And all your expectations will help you make sense of whether the way you live is a ”good life” or not.

As John Koenig Eloquently put it: “”You may adore the life you have for what it is. You know it isn’t groundbreaking; you wouldn’t change a thing.”

The true joy of life isn’t in being an exceptional, outstanding, world-famous person. The true joy is in the small moments that you share with the people you love. Where you develop yourself, and you grow. 

And the more you lean into those things – average as they may be – the more you will feel rewarded internally and very profoundly.

One thought on “Why Do We Fear Being Average?

Leave a Reply