The Upside Of Being Average In The Workplace

Work reviews are a part of work life. Reviews are a great opportunity to highlight your wins and listen to constructive feedback so you can ultimately do better and earn more money.  Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t like what we hear.  Despite working so hard on a particular project, your boss might not even care. Despite highlighting a strength of yours, your boss highlights an even bigger strength of his to belittle you.

Not getting paid or promoted is a very discouraging fact of work life. Not all of us can be special. Not all of us can keep climbing the mountain of glory. It’s disappointing to be average, as I strongly believe most of us have an inherent desire to be the best at what we do. A normal bell curve will say that 60-70% of us are in the middle of the pack. Therefore, most of us are probably average, or will encounter mediocrity at some point in our work careers.

The following article looks at the brightside of being average and how to carry on.

THE UPSIDE OF BEING AVERAGE

* There’s less pressure to perform. If you are deemed average by your manager, then you no longer have the stress to always be in the top percentile of performers. The 80/20 rule states that 20% of anything pays for 80% of everything. To achieve 100% perfection would require much more intense effort for less return. As a result, people get frustrated and burn out. As an average employee, you no longer have to be the best, and are therefore maximizing your work efficiency and minimizing the level of stress.

* You have the ability to surprise on the upside. As an average employee, nobody really expects you to make waves and come up with great ideas and profitable solutions. Therefore, if you just occasionally step up and offer something great, everybody will take notice. In fact, whatever great thing you do present, it will seem even more spectular from you, then from a consistently high performer. From the body that no longer reacts to the same exercise routine, to the wife who no longer finds her husband attractive, we get used to things very quickly and need to mix things up.

* Your relationship with your family and friends improve. Since you are average, you can be like everybody else and leave at 5pm, or whenever everybody else leaves. You don’t have to bust your butt working 12 hours a day until 8pm to try and please anybody. The term, “going the extra mile” becomes foreign to you.  You get to go home to your wife and have dinner with her at a reasonable time. You get to go home and play with your kids before they go to bed.  Your friends start seeing you again.

* You no longer get upset when others get paid and promoted before you. Because you’ve taken down your performance a notch and are now less stressed and happier, you no longer have as many setups for disappointment. When you compete against high-performers, not all high performers will be rewarded which creates a tremendous amount of distaste if you are one of the failures. As an average performer, you no longer expect to get paid or promoted anymore, therefore expectations are aligned and you don’t really care.

* You are able to focus on what you really like to do. You can’t love your job all the time. With added time, you’re able to focus on your hobbies that truly make you happy. Some people love playing sports. Others may love to read and write. Meanwhile, many more enjoy traveling. Without the constant stress to perform, you suddenly feel free.  Just focusing on getting paid is very soul-sucking.  By getting underpaid, you no longer have to take your work seriously, and start appreciating everything else that’s good.

* You no longer feel guilty working 40 hours a week. Given you are paid just like everyone else, you no longer feel guilty not working as hard as you can. You stop feeling guilty about taking all your vacation days either. One hour lunches are the norm, and if you have to schedule your doctor or dental appointments during the day, so be it.  Even sick days on a Friday or Monday become legitimate so you can take a nice long weekend.

* Nobody will gun for you.  As an average performer, you will never be the target of hostility, hatred, or jealousy.  You don’t have to fear anybody stealing your thunder and taking your ideas because nobody cares.  You’ll hardly ever be under a magnifying glass.

* You no longer get upset at big government taxing you to death!  This could be one of the best benefits of being average.  You don’t make a lot of money, therefore the government can’t get their inefficient, grubby paws on your soft-earned money.  You no longer will be frustrated with the government’s desire to redistribute wealth to half the population who pays no income taxes.  You might start becoming a beneficiary of big brother instead!  Yeah, baby!

A KEY THING TO REMEMBER

Don’t take being average too far. Make sure that you truly are average, so you aren’t laid off if you don’t want to be laid off.  Companies RIF their bottom 10% performers frequently, but not their middle 50% performers. So long as you take being average seriously, you’ll be fine. It’s all about aligning your expectations with your work habits with your pay. Once you have everything aligned, you’ll be as happy as Captain Meatball looking for a donut!

I hope you’re reading this post at work and leaving early today!  Happy Friday!

Readers, what are your thoughts of settling with being average?  Have you ever had a below expected review that made you mad, but once you recognized the benefits of being average, you started to relax and get happy again?  Does the constant desire to be the best at everything make people sad?  On Yakezie.com, I share a couple stories of what makes me happy, and I am completely average!

Photo: Captain Meatball Looking For A Donut, SD.

Regards,

Sam

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Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    Interesting take on being average Sam. And for those who feel guilty about being average you could strive to be right around the top of the average 80% (a solid B) satisfying your need to excel (somewhat) and still getting all the other benefits of being average.

    Or you could drop the job and strike out on your own and be exceptional. I think I know which route I would take, what about you?

    • says

      I like your idea of being at the top of average… a solid B. That’s where you get max return for your effort. Good one!

      On your question, it depends how much you like your job and how much you make! What if you make $250,000 a year at a job you like? Hard to walk away!

      • says

        Very true. Even if you only make $100k and it’s a job you like I think it would be hard to walk away. Although I think the action of forcing yourself to be average might take away some of the satisfaction and joy from the job. On the other hand $250k can substitute for quite a bit of satisfaction :)

  2. says

    I’m perfectly content with being average when it comes to my job. I don’t really have any incentives to work harder, and no one seems to care anyway. I would say I’ve experienced all of your symptoms listed for being content with being average, too. It’s nice when you don’t have to feel guilty anymore :)

  3. Mike Hunt says

    Nice dawg. Funny post as I happened to leave early today. Met a customer at 8:30am, drove him to the factory site, was done by noon, drove back to town and grabbed lunch with him then dropped him off. Was home by 3pm. Woo hoo.

    Here’s to being average. Without us the world wouldn’t carry on.

    -Mike

  4. says

    I hate being average. I’m a pretty average student, because I don’t feel great about sacrificing my free time and time with my boyfriend and friends to be an exceptional student. But being average at work is no fun. I don’t think I’d mind it so much if I weren’t at the bottom of the food chain at work, or an intern, or trying to grow myself professionally. Then, it would be kind of nice!

  5. Rachel says

    There is no benefit to me being amazing or exceptional at my current job so I feel no pressure to do so. If there was the possibility of bonuses, a raise, a promotion or even a legit performance review, I would feel more motivated. As it is, with ever-changing performance goals and metrics and random enforcement of the same, the stress is not worth it.

  6. says

    Interesting approach, although it’s not for me. Every team I’ve worked with has included a fraction of people that are not performing. For whatever reason, they’re just not engaged like the rest of us. It’s incredibly frustrating working with these people. Some companies routinely fire the bottom 10% performers annually – tough love. I know you’re referring to ‘average’ but in my experience, if you cruise, you go down.

  7. says

    I think my favorite part is the closing statement “Don’t take being average too far.”
    This reminds me of that bit on Office Space where he states that he works “just hard enough not to get fired.” This is the approach I usually take when I’m about to switch jobs. :)

    • says

      Nice. Part of living in a country where we are having bigger and bigger government and Socialism in the workplace, is that we get to take it easy ad spend time on things we really care about!

  8. Untemplater says

    If I read this at the start of my career I would have disagreed completely. I was inexperienced and I had a lot to prove in order to climb the ladder and increase my income. It really paid off. Now that I am in a position that I like and my company isn’t handing out bonuses worthy of going above and beyond around the clock, I’ve slowed down. I still do enough to get above average scores on my reviews but I’m not staying late or working weekends anymore. For folks who are just starting out the reward for being above average is more important imo.

  9. says

    Ahh, the vitality curve come to life! The best one comes from the military “Up or out” policy – if you don’t get promoted in a certain time-frame, you are on your way out! In private industry, the most common system (although it has softened somewhat) is the Jack Welsh 20-70-10, with the 10% on the fire/layoff list!

    I’m sure lots of people don’t mind being average. I’m also sure lots of people wouldn’t mind being an ‘average’ CEO. Different strokes?

  10. says

    I agree with Tushar, I equate being average to I’m done improving myself. You have to remember that at the end of the day it’s the experience you take home.

    Just because no one notices you, or you don’t get the big raise doesn’t mean you give up. It’s about continuous improvement, giving back, networking, and going above and beyond. Life isn’t served on a silver platter and neither will be your raise.

    Invest in yourself so when you leave the company you know what to do better at the next one. If you don’t like your job, look for a new one!

    Although this is the way I’ve always operated in life there are the people who enjoy going to work and going home. No stress, no care once they walk out the door. That’s ok, as long as you are ok with where you are at.

    • says

      Yep, your last sentence is the thesis of my article. Adjust your own expectations accordingly if you aren’t being paid ad promoted, and focus your attention on areas where you can stand out. Most people are average. It’s just math.

      Do you believe you are above average? If so, in what respects? Thanks.

      • says

        I believe at one point in my life I truly believed I was above average but
        recognized for the negative rather the positive. There is only so much one who
        has the desire to succeed built in since a young age can take.

        How did I think I was above average? When the company said jump I jumped. When the company needed me, I was there. In 12 years I never called in sick.
        I worked avg about 450 hours a year overtime. I volunteered for everything,
        I coordinated fundraising events, Christmas parties you name it.

        I was a friend and a leader to all but most didn’t realize I wasn’t looking for
        followers I was building leaders. In order for that to happen you always
        need support above and below you. This was the case and you can’t fight a
        losing fight when your voice gets lost with the higher powers.

        You then have to make the decision to take it down a notch and become average
        or move on. Waiting for a miracle to happen is a waste of time. If you aren’t moving up, move out. I chose to move on because I had a drive to succeed but took
        away so many valuable experiences.

        Perhaps in the end I realized it’s no different on the other side of the avg unless
        you have support. If you want to succeed because you love what you do,that will happen with-in. If you are in it for the money, demons will always follow you. You will never be happy.

        • says

          A brilliant comment, thanks for your perspective! It’s that inability to tame that inherent drive to do better which really starts messing with people over time.

          I feel that we can’t be top performers in everything. Something must give! If that’s work, so be it. The mind will thank us for accepting being average if we then focus our attention on other things beautiful.

  11. says

    I like being a top performer better. The day goes by quicker and people were nicer to me. People are much nicer to me when they want something from me.
    I’ve been an average performer for a few years now and it’s ok. Being in the meaty part of the curve is a lot easier and it gives me time to work on my side ventures.

  12. says

    Would it be weird to say there is always a hidden message in all of Financial Samurai’s articles? I think you never mean exactly what you are saying and at the same time are secretly telling us the message in what you don’t say. It’s an interesting approach. I think it all goes back to the Samurai code, you are following the eight virtues of the Bushido code but it’s obvious you want to say so much more, but mercy, politeness and self-control hold you back! Tell us what you’re really thinking! I’ve become a loyal reader mostly because I am interested in the next move of this chess game of yours!

  13. says

    I’m glad you wrote this because I’m kinda sick of reading posts (not here) about how cool it is to be the best. I’m not buying it.

    I was passed over for a big promotion recently, mainly because I didn’t really want it.

    While there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best, there is also nothing wrong with NOT wanting to kill yourself trying to buck Paretos Law.

    • says

      Good on you for passing up that promotion. I’ve done the same in the past because I knew the promotion would entail sucking up another 15-20 hours of my life. Sorry company, but I have a life outside work and my main goal is NOT to help you line the pockets of the executives. The downside is that if you ever change your mind and want to pursue a promotion you are seriously out of luck because by turning down the first one you’ve blacklisted yourself.

  14. says

    I like being good enough at my job that other people use me for help or to train, but average enough not to have to take (too much) work home with me. Good-average. That’s where I like being.

  15. says

    I am reading this at work during my conference period. When I had people working for me, I was thrilled to have people of various abilities (average to extraordinary) because a team is diverse. I had people I could count on, but they were not promotable. When you are the boss, you do not want everyone to be promotable.
    Remember the Lakers a number of years ago with all the super stars? They had all the talent and couldn’t win the big one. You have to play as a team. The business world is no different! You want a mix of people who work well together. In some ways, the right bunch of average people could beat the super stars.
    BTW, I was told I was average when I was in (prep) high school. Being average in an above average environment is not bad! I was able to do a lot with myself since that time.

    • says

      EXCELLENT job reading the post while at work Larry! I won’t tell anybody!

      Very good perspective on being the boss and needing people from all types. So long as you treat average people with AVERAGE expectations, it’s all good. The problem lies when you ask average people to do great things and pay them like average people. Then shit hits the fan!

  16. says

    I don’t like to be average, because frankly I think the average person is kind of a moron. When I was in college, I would study hard for tests, but I would never kill myself doing homework or studying for a test. I had too much other fun stuff to worry about: sports, gf, etc.

    I believe firmly in the law of diminishing returns. Once you get to a certain point, the amount of effort you have to exert to go a little further is extremely disproprtional to the gain you would receive. This applies to almost all aspects of life..

  17. says

    If being average means failing to get promoted and/or receive merit based pay increases and being forced to work until you are 60 (+/- a few years and subject to being able to get/keep a job at that age) and then being dependant on SS and/or an underfunded pension to see me through my old age, I will pass. I’m happy to put in the extra effort so that I can quit the rat race earlier (mid 40s) and achieve better financial security along the way.

    Making a conscious choice to be average (in career anyway) is (i) an excuse to be lazy which is likely to become a bad habit that will spill over into other areas of your life and (ii) only legitimately valuable if you do in fact put the energy that would have gone into your job to good use in other areas of your life.

  18. says

    The happiest people I run into in my line of work (teaching) are the ones that don’t tax themselves too much, have lots of hobbies outside of work, take nothing personally, and always put themselves first (the average). This was discouraging for me. The teachers that try to be elite are generally frustrated by all the bureaucracy and general ignorance of many parents. This presents an awkward choice for me. So far, I try to do my best, and pick certain things to focus on in order to give me job satisfaction.

    • says

      Taking nothing personally is something I should continue to work on. When I feel wronged, it’s hard not to hold onto that frustration and remember it for a loooooong time. Must be one with the heavens.

  19. Simple Rich Living says

    Deep down I am an average type of person and it’s all I want to be. However, in my current job situation, if you are just average, you are the slacker (such as if I were to leave at the regular working hour 4pm every day. Regular hours are 8-4.). On a good day I am out of the office by 5. Sometimes I am there until 6, 7 and even 8 a few times. I get a salary but no over time. I have to consciously remind myself to maintain work life balance. My boss is driving me insane right now (he is apparently the most hated boss in the work place’s history) . I am overworked and overloaded and he doesn’t even see it (sorry just need a second to vent). I need to get a new job.

      • Simple Rich Living says

        Intend to :). I need to put some serious thought in this ‘new job’. I am thinking about a career change verses just a new job. I also requested a lateral transfer this summer. If it gets approved, I am hoping that I will be happier.

  20. says

    Hey Sam! I think when you are average at work, you’re probably not doing the right thing. You’re playing it small, and you have to push it instead of being pulled by a dream, a vision, etc.

  21. says

    Sam, it’s these great posts that change my mindset. Just yesterday I was telling my wife that I would be okay if I was laid off. haha. I have many colleagues that settle for average. The problem that I have seen is that with accepting average behavior and/or productivity, it often moves towards less-than-average and people hate working with you (or at least I do)

  22. says

    Good post. Not everybody can be a top performer, by definition. Some people will simply be average, or maybe not even average.

    The thing is, daily life at work seems to be better as a top performer. People look at you a bit differently, want to network with you more, etc. I’ve been perceived as average and as a top performer at different times and in different situations, and it’s more fun to be a top performer.

    I say strive to be the best you can, but remember that life requires balance. If we can’t be a top performer, either figure out how to be one, or simply be content with being average. Either way, handling things realistically and being at peace with where you are is a good thing.

  23. Front242 says

    My thoughts:

    1) If you are not happy at your job you might want to consider that you have a problem and that you might want to fix it doing the necessary to work in something that you like.

    2) When you take your kid to your surgeon, you expect a professional person well prepared and confident, not an average one, so not sure if the philosophy of being average fits well for all careers and situations.

    3) You could just try to find other company with different philosophy, policies or start your own, in that way to work harder is rewarded.

    4) In economic crisis, average does not make it.

    Conclusion: Depends if you value more your free time or your career. If you are an artist, journalist or software engineer and you love it, you will not feel miserable working extra hours, learning more about it, etc, however, if you just work for a salary to survive and you prefer to enjoy free time, I guess is fine, the only problem is that in hard economic times, I am not sure if being 50% good employee will be enough for you to maintain yourself in a company, not even having your own company.

    • says

      But by definition, most employees average. There is no way around the bell curve. To strive for something beyond, when you are average doesn’t fly.

      Good points though. Good thing the good times are back again!

  24. says

    Being average doesn’t always have to be bad thing. Just be sure to take advantage of any opportunity to show your stuff every now and then. You wouldn’t want to fade into the background.

  25. says

    I read somewhere a long time ago that that some of the most successful businesses are started by people who received an 1100 on their SATs. The premise was that they found one thing they were really good at. They worked at it and it paid off.

    Perhaps these folks would be considered average in a traditional company, but they are superstars in their own businesses.

    • says

      Encouraging! But, could you explain how getting an 1,100 on your SAT translates to finding one thing someone is really good at?

      Are you just saying these successful folks were average test takers, so don’t count out average since it doesn’t mean they are average in everything and other things?

  26. says

    Every team needs a “plodder” or two. Someone who is there, rain or shine, dependable and predictable. Outsize job demands or special projects will stress them out and= send them into “tilt” mode, but that’s OK, because as long as they get the everyday grunt work done, everybody’s happy. Superstars, on the other hand, are highly strung and high-maintenance. Too many of them, and the team won’t perform.

  27. says

    This is a great list Sam. People often don’t think of the upsides of work life balance and calm at work, they just think of driving to the next promotion or raise. I never looked at it this way, but you make a good point.

  28. says

    You considered 10% at bottom and 50% at middle. So 40% is at the top! Do you really think that? I don’t think at my place and the two others before this considered any one but 10% as top performers.

    All the points are about searching solace of being second best, excuses of failed ones. Sorry can’t agree. :)

  29. Aric says

    be the best you can be, but, don’t focus on the future. if you make $12 /hr right now, maybe set a goal for $15 /hr in 2 years. i make $14 /hrly w/ OT and full benefits package, believe me sometimes I wish I was making $17-25 /hr but since I am only 20 years old and new to this industry I guess I have nothing left to lose.

    I think a lot of people want to look rich, to look well off. I hear a lot of these “well off” looking people are in debt. What’s a better feeling, driving a used honda civic or used car and debt free – able to go to sleep at night soundly OR drowning in debt cause you decided to buy a new camaro or mustang on a 35k salary.

  30. Jay Fire says

    If you are average at whatever you are doing maybe you are doing the wrong thing and maybe its just the people who are around you that are negatively trying to bring you down including your manager and/or co-workers. I worked a large project and I felt it was the #1 project above at least 100’s of others. I still believe it today; my manager was upset but couldn’t offer any constructive feedback just negative attitude. I think it was that she was intimidated and her values don’t match mine; what she thinks is good and what I think is good is two separate things. I believe I am an advocate for my believe in what is valuable. That tells me I am in the wrong place working with and for the wrong people. I need to find others that are closer aligned with my values. Time to move on. Everyone is average and yet everyone is great at something. Find that something and don’t stop believing in yourself and your passion.

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