Wednesday, February 16, 2011

assume you are average

Let's face it; we're human. We have this intrinsic gravitational pull to compare things together. We compare ourselves, our stuff, our achievements, etc with others. We love to compare.

But why?

It's because of our desire to fit in, to belong with a group. Maslow's third tier in his hierarchy of needs is dedicated to mankind's desire for love and acceptance. We want to be accepted. The next highest tier looks at man's need for self-esteem or confidence. We want others to perceive us a certain way. We want others to respect us, to look up to us.

And so we need a benchmark to measure ourselves against. We want to know what the norm is, so we can discern how we are doing in comparison with everyone else. If we excel at something, we only excel at something in relation to how others are faring. If we want to be better at something, we need to know how others are doing.

Sometimes, comparisons can be deadly, like eating disorders that many young women develop by constantly comparing themselves to how they believe beautiful women should look like. Or we get depressed because we feel like we can't measure up to society's standards of what a smart college student is, or even that we are a failure in our parents' eyes because we aren't a doctor or lawyer and we are Asian (or not).

But we can also use comparison for our advantage. Remember when I talked about the dangers of perfectionism? It's the same kind of concept here.

Just because you know that your job wasn't completed perfectly doesn't mean that everyone else does. Remember when your parents signed you up for piano lessons and your teacher would make you have recitals? Remember how you would cringe and feel like a failure every time you messed up a note, but when you talked to everyone afterward, you realized the only person who noticed was you? Yeah, that's pretty much how the rest of the world is, too.

When people pay you to fix stuff for them, they're not really paying you to do an amazing job (well kinda, but stick with me here); they're paying you to just do a better job than they could. People don't expect you to do things perfectly, just better than them.

This means that all the people you're intimidated by, aka all the bestselling authors, influential businessmen, etc aren't any different than you and I; they've just learned to do things better than everyone else.

So find the benchmark, and learn how to become one step above it. For 99% of things in life, this is good enough. Lower your expectations (counterproductive though this may seem), but the projects you'll complete will be good enough to get the job done well while still impressing others. How do I know this?

Because I am average, too. And I am very impressed by people who know how to do things I don't have any idea of how to do, like change the transmission of a car. Or write a software program. The average person has no idea how to do this stuff. If this is your field, major or interest, you can safely assume that a business will hire you to write a program for their company, and they have absolutely no idea what any of your technical jargon means.

No, I am not endorsing slacking off; I am encouraging productivity and a mindset of increased job satisfaction. Think of it as diminishing marginal utility. The more effort and time you put into problem solving, the better the solution becomes. But once you've solved all the main problems, all your left with is basically minutiae, whose results are not worth the amount of time you have to put in. I hope I am being clear here. Your goal is to add value, so do not waste your time on tedious details that do not provide much output for the amount of input you invest in it.

I landed a gig doing website maintenance for an engineering professor on campus. How? Honestly, I have no idea. I had never even used Dreamweaver before. I walked into the job with only basic HTML knowledge (and we're talking REALLY limited HTML here), but this professor is elderly and didn't really know anything about all. So I got by because I knew more than he did, and what's more, he is actually quite impressed by my technical knowledge. I knew enough to fix his website problems, and that was enough. But if I couldn't fix his problems, if I couldn't complete the task he hired me for, there would be no point in me taking the job, and it would certainly be unethical for me to charge him.

Comparisons are not inherently good or bad; they are merely a tool to help you understand which actions are bringing you value. Ever heard the phrase that 85% is good enough? Comparisons tell you where the 85% mark is.

1 comment:

  1. This was a very interesting read. I agree with what you said. my mom always said, "always expect other human beings to have exactly the same short-comings you do."
    Kristina J.