Hooray! You’re Average!

Average. It’s a number that expresses the mean, or the sum of values in a set divided by the number of values. For our purposes, it might also stand for mediocre, not bad enough to do anything about, and not good enough to deserve any special accolades. It’s middle of the pack as measured on a Gaussian function (read, Bell Curve).

In grade school, I was an average student. At Catholic schools, I received a letter grade and a number grade. The letter grades were pretty much the same as public schools, but instead of A, B, C, we were assigned Excellent, Very Good, or Good (in some cases, I managed a Fair, the equivalent of a public-school D).

What made Catholic schools grading worse than public schools was the fact that the letter grade was accompanied by a number that indicated the student’s effort. My grades were almost always C4, an indication that I did as little work as possible to score a passing grade. I managed to eke out a C4 with great precision, never doing one iota more or less than was necessary.

My Mom was never mad at me for the C. She was apoplectic about the 4. Frustrated from having to tell me over and over again that she would accept a C1 or even a D1, but no grade should ever have any number lower than 1, or maybe a 2 (she’d hedge). Sadly, I disappointed her until I started college at 26 years of age.

What was true about me may right now be true about you. You might be putting up average results with work of average quality and receiving the average compensation for your perfect mediocrity. But if you were to grade yourself on your effort, with a score of 1 being “I turned myself inside out to produce these results” and a score of 4 being “not a finger was lifted to do any more than was necessary,” how would you grade yourself?

No one ever says, “Listen, make sure you put Jones on the big account. He is perfectly mediocre. They’ll love him!” Partly because they never even mention Jones, there being nothing much to talk about. The growth assignments go to those who score a 1 for effort, the person you can count on to go to the ends of the Earth to succeed.

If you are a leader, then you have a part in all of this, too. No one ever said, “Old Man Johnson was the best leader I ever served under. He recognized that I held little promise and helped me become the average performer you see here today.” The best leaders are the ones who see something in you that you don’t see in yourself—and push you to grow up to be the person that comes after the one you are now.

The rub here is this: If you score a 1 for effort, you can never, ever be average. Giving yourself over to something will pull you out of the pack, separating you from the field. Over time, that effort will be enough put you at the top of almost any stack ranking in which you might be measured.

What score will you give yourself today?

Filed under: Excellence

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