Study the Not So Average

7 May

Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge fan of these Ted Talks.

I saw this one today and thought I’d share.

Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc., researches and teaches about positive psychology.

Positive psychology… It seems to be a topic of great interest lately.

There are thousands of books teaching people things like how to be happy… how to make the best out of really crappy situations… that your attitude determines your success.

Well it does, but that’s not what I want to write about at the moment.

Achor makes many great points in his talk, but the one that I really loved was his emphasis on the fact that we need to stop focusing on the average (start the video at about 4 mins).

You see, when it comes to business and success, it’s no secret that some people and some companies are more successful than others.

When I think about what I want from life and what I want from my job, I realize that I want a lot. I want to be passionate about my work and I want to make a difference doing something that I love.

It bothers me, though, that when I express this, some people tell me that it’s unrealistic. They tell me that I’m an idealist, that work is work and that’s all it is.

And then I argue and I say it’s not true. I say that Steve Jobs was passionate about his work and a whole bunch of other crazy and successful people get paid to do what they love.

And then they say, fine, that may be true…but only a FEW people really get to do that. Those people are the exceptions. Those people are the outliers.

They then tell me that I’m NOT the exception and that I should therefore focus on finding a job that:

a. pays well

b. doesn’t make me feel like consuming a whole bottle of alcohol when I get home

That’s life and that’s what an average job is.

Well that’d be great… If I was okay with average.

The point that Achor makes in his talk is that rather than focusing on what is average, rather than encouraging everyone to live an average life, we should be learning from those people that HAVE been the exceptions. We should be studying them and figuring out what they did differently that made them so successful.

People like Steve Jobs and Oprah, yes, they’re probably the exceptions. I get that. But they OBVIOUSLY did something right. And so, if I choose to be passionate about my work, and if I desire to live a fulfilling life, I’m going to study people that achieved those goals. Because they’re my goals…those are the goals that I aspire to reach.

Think about it. If we only study the mediocre, what do we really learn? How to be mediocre? How lovely.

Achor makes it clear…

“If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.”

So let’s study the crazy ones. It’d be crazy for us not to.

30 Responses to “Study the Not So Average”

  1. joshdurso May 7, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    As people we study the mediocre because we learn from our mistakes. The mediocre are the ones making mistakes. The ones that are successful are celebrated. If being successful were as easy as simply, “doing what the super-successful do” then everyone would be on that super-successful playing field.

    It takes some vision to see the flaws in others, and figure out what their flaws were. Plus, I think the “top dogs” are doing a better job concealing what they know—than most people give them credit for. Sure, they’re praised throughout society for their charity work, or work as a company—but you don’t see the innovators giving away their secrets; nor do you see any of the innovators making their secrets easy to learn.

    Your idea is great, but how much is there to learn from someone that doesn’t want you to know what they do so well?

    It’s what keeps our competitive world functioning. “Learn from failures, and build on success.”

    Loved this post though, TED talks are a tool everyone should use. Personal, business, recreationally, and beyond.

    • Jody Bailey-Trujillo May 7, 2012 at 4:12 am #

      I think your hanging out on the wrong playground Josh. I am mentored by some of the richest people. They are so generous, successful, happy and willing to share their knowledge. If you want to hang out on my playground, I’ll introduce you to my playmates.

      • joshdurso May 7, 2012 at 4:44 am #

        Maybe it’s just my perspective. Personally, I don’t see the ideas of Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates being handed out like cotton candy at the state fair. That’s all I’m saying. Sure, they’re giving back to the communities, charities, and doing the right thing—in general—but the core ideas/fundamentals that built their empires’ are not being handed out, and they certainly aren’t being made readily, or easily available.

        That’s my only point.

        I’d love to be introduced to your “playmates” at your “playground.” I haven’t been near a playground in about 18 years though, so to answer your rhetorical question; I have no “playground.”

    • Caitlin Byrd May 8, 2012 at 2:35 am #

      Thanks for sharing! I’ve been feeling down at work recently as a new college grad, and I love Ted Talks like this that really make me think and, more importantly, rethink how I’m living my life. Appreciate it. Keep up the solid blogposts.

  2. Jody Bailey-Trujillo May 7, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    So call me crazy, but you are an entrepreneur dear. I have been called crazy by “employees”. That’s because I’m not one. Look who you follow. They’re not ones either. You should do what makes your heart sing. I have been following you long enough to know that you should have your own business. What that is, I don’t know. I wish someone had said that to me at your age. I finally stopped trying to be an “employee” and I’ve never been happier. In fact I got this testimonial today. I hope you don’t mind me sharing.

    WOW! Who knew that writing and achieving goals could be fun! Have you ever gone to a presentation about goal writing and the first thing that happened was the toy box was passed around……I have!
    Jody is a powerful speaker, but what makes her a cut above the rest is that she is fun! We have all heard that we should write goals and go about achieving them. I have been to dozens of these presentations and have gained knowledge from some and intimidation from others. But, I have rarely done anything else.
    Jody made it fun and her book makes it easy and practical. Jody gives down to earth principals that are practical and fun. When are playing and learning it is just so much easier to take the action. I have actually already started achieving what was started at my play time. Thanks Jody. Can I come play again? Can I, can I, please, please, please…..
    Pearl Cook

    So again, call me crazy, but I am going to stick with my kind of crazy. Life is good.

    You are a rebel for a reason. Follow your heart.

  3. rdopping May 7, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Kayla, you need to get the heck away from those people as fast as you can. The ones that use the words “outliers” and “exceptions”. Quite literally, F**K them. Those people think that others including themselves cannot achieve what they want in life because they think they actually have limitations in their abilities or intelligence. In fact, these types of people are afraid and they hide from the world by telling themselves “it’s ok” when they decide they can only be who they are.

    They have not even tried to learn and grow. The idea is that you want to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you and that you can learn from.

    If you do one thing today go out to the nearest bookstore (i.e. Amazon) and by the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. It will change how you think. You already have the right attitude and this book will show you how to stretch yourself. Your abilities and intelligence is NOT fixed. You have no reason to trust me but you should.

    Anyone that tells you that you that you cannot be the exception is just simply wrong.

    • Kayla Cruz May 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      What’s that saying? If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room…

      I don’t think that people should be discouraging others from aspiring to achieve great things. How dumb is that?

      Thanks for your thoughts, and definitely! I’ll be buying that book for my Kindle, which I love 😀

  4. Aparna May 7, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Thanks for reminding me about this Kayla. 😀

  5. Steve Borek May 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I learn something from everyone. The average, the underachievers, the overachievers, and ones born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

    I learn the most from those that got kicked in their ass. The ones that were at the end of the rope yet had the fire in their belly to get it done.

    I want to talk with the people that scraped their knees and elbows. I want to learn and study those that did everything right yet somehow everything went wrong. What would they do different.

    As Thomas Friedman wrote a few months ago and I later blogged about, Average Is Over. For many things I agree. Though you can still learn lots from “Average.”

    • Kayla Cruz May 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

      Great points, Steve. Yes, there is definitely much to learn from everyone! That’s one of the points I try to make through my writing of generational differences. But the problem is that some people try to tell us to not learn from the super successful because we’re never going to get there.

      That kind of thinking bothers me. Yes, if we’re smart, we’re learning from others’ successes AND failures. But we should never be discouraged from wanting more than what is just average.

  6. Dan McNair (@coachdanmcnair) May 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks Kayla – great topic! Sadly it seems human nature at times to tear down others who are more successful because it poses a threat, a constant reminder of our own shortcomings and “couldhavebeens”. (Are you familiar with the monkey study that illustrates this?)

    I have to agree with Jody that there is plenty of information out there authored by those who have “made it”, each with very different success stories and challenges overcome, but all with one common theme. The “secret” Josh is alluding, too, is in fact quite well-known and rdopping hit on it (Mindset). Although I haven’t read THAT book, I’ve scores of others and they all say the same thing, which I more or less sum up with the words of N. Hill – “if your mind can conceive it, you can achieve it.”

    So, thanks for the reminder to choose our friends wisely, avoid negative people and to protect our thoughts, as they become words, then actions, then habits. And those habits define us.

  7. Rhonda May 7, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    What jumps out at me Kayla…is that the persons we (or society) view as “exceptional” are no such thing. They are tenacious and driven and have learned that “nothing” comes from nothing. If one is not willing to pick themselves up and begin at the beginning time and time again (because they will be knocked down), then they will settle for average. I have no doubt you are such that you will not stay down, which is great! Just make sure you see the knock downs for what they are…an opportunity! Much success in your journey.

  8. Tammy Davis May 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    I have always harbored the belief that there is a job out there for everyone that leaves the person saying, “Wow! I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.” The key is getting to know yourself well enough to really understand your passion–and that’s a hard thing to do when you’re choosing a major in your late teens or making career choices in your early 20s. At 40+, I now realize that the place you land is only part of the equation. Understanding who you are and what drives you are just as important to finding that sweet spot.

  9. Lisa Holden Rovers May 7, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Kayla, I love your post. Too often society aims to pull us down versus bring us up. When I first started my business, people used to ask me “How are you doing?” I quickly tuned in that what they were really surprised at is that I was doing well. I then realized, what they were really wanting to find out is that I wasn’t doing well. That way, they could keep their dream inside them, and be safe with their current situation and not risk branching out to finding something new. If I didn’t do well, chances are they wouldn’t either, so why try!

    Life is short, it is crazy not to take a risk and try doing what you love! I know this from my experience, you find out a lot about yourself in the process!

  10. TommyG May 7, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on Thinking Business and commented:
    Very interesting TED Talk.

  11. Donnaly Y May 8, 2012 at 5:27 am #

    Thank you for this post. I don’t always get to keep up with the blogs I’m subscribed too, but I’m glad I read this post. I just graduated and I’m on that job hunt… sometimes I feel so torn about what jobs to apply to and what’s more important–the salary or how meaningful the work is. Your thoughts reaffirmed my belief in people doing what they love because that is more fulfilling than anything. 🙂

  12. May 8, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Everyone also tells me “it’s called work for a reason…:” I HATE when they (meaning the world) tell me that! I’m glad I found someone else who truly believes what I’ve always believed. I think that everyone, including myself, deserves to wake up LOVING what they do each and every day….

    great blog! it really encouraged me and gave me the pick me up I needed!

  13. mrsroffey May 8, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    Wow, even here across the pond people say the same thing. Think yourself lucky you have a job. No one enjoys work and that I have unrealistic expectations and goals. Im in a role that I have been stuck in since the start of my career albiet at different firms and Im so bored and my moral so low that I feel like crying in the mornings. Im studying as I decided not to put up with my lot believing this is the way to fulful personal and professional dreams. Ive done well so far although Im still in the dead end role. Im have faith that once the UK is out of the recession and firms are hiring again that my dream job will find me as long as I keep on passing those exams.I take my inspirations from people like Philip Green, the mastermind behind Topshops sucess, he is who I want to be (a lady version of course).

  14. ivonprefontaine May 9, 2012 at 2:45 am #

    This is another excellent post. We need to think about those things sitting on the periphery that do not fit the mainstream easily. The outliers, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, are important considerations in learning, innovation, and creativity.

  15. ivonprefontaine May 9, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Cayla, this is another excellent blog. Innovation, creativity, and 21st Century learning require a different mindset where we step outside the mainstream. The mean of the average will give way to looking for the outliers and what they will represent.

  16. Greg Zander, the Cultural Architect May 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm #


    Once again, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really liked what Jody Bailey-Trujillo said in a previous comment: “So call me crazy, but you are an entrepreneur dear.” People who want more out of life and out of their career, and are determined to do so, will either be leading the company they are in or will start their own where they can create the environment that inspires people to be their best.

    I remember a friend of mine saying that he never wanted to be average. He would say, “Average is the best of worst and the least of the best.” Human beings want to get the most they can with the least amount of effort. Being average brings a sense of security as people who are worse than average are more likely to be cut and those who take risks to be the best may fail and be ridiculed. A “happy” medium is where most people try to be.

    Thanks, and yes, keep studying the ones who rise above the rest!

  17. Greg Zander, the Cultural Architect May 9, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on Catalyzing Leaders and commented:
    Kayla Cruz shares some amazing insights as a recent college graduate and her experience in the workplace. Her drive to become the best she can be is an inspiration. A great post to share with my readers.

  18. coachchinh May 9, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Honey, you go girl! Do not let all those folks tell you to let go of your dream or your “ideals”. I’ve noticed this more and more lately as I step up into who I am meant to be, I face a lot of resistance from people around me who question or doubt what I am doing. They are projecting their fears onto you and don’t let that put doubts into your mind! You are right, life is what you make of it and most important life is the canvas of unlimited possibility. It’s your job to create the life you’ve always dreamed of, so I give you kudos for having high standards for your career and your contribution to this world. Keep on struttin’!

  19. Tim Mushey May 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sell, Lead, Succeed! and commented:
    I really enjoyed this post today from Kayla Cruz and corresponding video by Shawn Achor. Have a read and listen when you have some time today. Let’s not be “average”.

  20. IslandPedro May 10, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    Saw this amazing speech and read your post. Interestingly enough, I had seen this speech before but didn’t take that much from it. It seems that my more negative attitude at the time kept me from benefiting from the information. I’m going to go ahead and read his book.

    I agree with you about not settling for the average, partially because this is how I was conditioned as a child by my mother. Now as a slightly older seed, I recognize that most individuals want to keep others down to keep their self worth at an acceptable level. Keep fightin’ the good fight!

  21. sjh2011 May 11, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I’m definitely on the same page as you when it comes to being above average. I know plenty of areas I could pursue and do well in that pay well, but that’s not what I’m passionate about, and personally I don’t think it’s worth putting your life into if you’re not passionate about it.

    Great post!

  22. Justin February 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm #


    Don’t let anyone stand in the way of you and your dreams. Those people who tell you you can’t do it are afraid. Human beings are like crabs in a bucket. Every watched some crabs in a little beach pail? When I was a kid, my grandfather showed me how this worked. You go to the beach and find a dozen little sand crabs. This works great in New England, like in a place like Cape Cod. Then you put the crabs in the sand pail with a little water and sand in the bottom. Once they are all in there, you will notice that one of them will start to climb out. All of the sudden, the other formerly relaxed and docile crabs become agitated. They begin to claw and scratch at the crab trying to get out of the bucket and try to pull him back down into the sand and water. The people you meet who tell you you can’t do it are the crabs in the bucket. They don’t want you to leave the sand and water because you leaving means that they have to face being stuck and afraid all alone and that is a scary proposition for any human being. Wish them well, thank them for their opinions, and go about building the life you want. Don’t try to fix them or change them… just let them be. They cannot stop you and will not harm you. Peace. Be well. Namaste.


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