I am an average guy. But, I am not normal.
And that is a good thing.
Very few things are average when it comes to people. Let’s start with the basic question: How do you measure a person? Height? Weight? BMI? Years of education? Income? Age? How many pushups they can do? How often they have sex?
I don’t want to ruin my reputation as a writer, but I did a lot of math and statistics in college. The first thing I learned is respect for the numbers. The second thing I learned is that with the right perspective, the numbers can be made to represent lots of things. It is a statistical thing. How you measure determines your results. In graduate school I did a really interesting (Hey! It was for me.) thesis that used all kinds of statistical machinations to see if my hypothesis was true. I won’t get into the gory details, but I will say that along the way I had to make decisions on how and what to measure. I was able to find all kinds of research justifying how I did it. I’d be fooling you and myself if I didn’t think I could have found the same amount of research to justify a totally different approach. And that was before the world wide web and Google and wikipedia. I had to use a real library and keypunch my statistical analysis onto Hollerith cards and batch run them in a thing called a mainframe.
Melancholy over numbers taught me one thing; I could measure an entire population, calculate the mean (that is the statistician’s word for ‘average’) and find that no specific sample equals the mean. It happens all the time. So why does average matter? For manufacturing I think these kind of statistics are priceless, but for people? I’m not convinced. Sorry Dr. Oz, psychology and the weight loss industry, but I think you have it all wrong. We don’t exist on a normal density function (normal curve, bell curve, whatever). Only the measurements do.
If I look at my height (5’5″) I am in the negative side of this normal curve. But, if I look at the number of men over 50 who have run at least 3 full marathons, written several books, have a graduate degree, most of their natural hair, a US patent, and a hip replacement, I think I’d be on the very end of that long, positive tail.
Like everyone else, I exist on many curves. The average of me is the sum of many measures, many of which are not normal. And I am okay with that.
By blurring reality with summary statistics, analysts are missing the micro-trends of normal. Normal is context driven and very subjective since there is no such thing as objective perception. Sorry Ayn Rand. Objectivism belongs in fiction, not in reality. Normal is a blend of traits, attributes and myriad other characteristics that make each of us different.
Why is this important?
It demands a change in perspective. We focus on all the wrong things when we equate average with desirable. Think about body style, food consumption, exercise, and don’t even get me started on how fucked up our educational system is because we quantify all the wrong things and then apply them to our children.
What is normal?
As I am often willing to do, let’s take it back a few million years. Back when we were developing as humans and became the greatest hunters on this planet. The only animal that has learned to survive in all areas of the planet – well, except for cockroaches.
We didn’t understand statistics while we evolved. (Yes, evolution is a fact.) What we understood was that every person could contribute. I am assuming that unless you were a liability to the pre-history man, you were considered a positive resource to have. That meant that the range of acceptable characteristics was measured by contribution, not focus on a specific attribute. I say that because survival was about getting enough calories to sustain while we had sex to procreate, which led to the need for more calories. During that 2 million year period of pre-civilization our DNA got wired in. We learned to dream because we learned to track animals. Successful tracking meant we had to project our minds into the animal we were tracking to understand where they would go when we lost the trail.
Zip forward to today. (Sorry for the whiplash.) I am seeing people beginning to fight against that averaging of expectations. In some cases they are fighting at the outer edges of the curve (#StigmaFighters) in other areas they are fighting in the middle of the mix (Virgin Industries and other employers who focus on people). There are men and women I know who have found new strength in accepting who they are and then building on it in a positive way. Some lift weights that are heavier than me, others craft words that melt my mind, and others move across the world with fleet feet and strong hearts, touching the essence of what made man dominant – distance running.
You homework is to find one trait you are most average about and one that you are least average about. First, humor yourself that you are the product of 3 million years of evolution. Then have a beer. Then be proud of being just an average guy (gal). Then celebrate not being normal.
Run Free. Run Smooth.