By Dave Bowman,
It’s so easy to be average at something – anything. And so we see the freeway of life packed with ordinary performers trying to figure out how they can win life’s extraordinary rewards. But so many will only wonder why they’ve never won them.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being average, as long as that’s what one wants. After all, average is in the middle – between great and insignificant. That’s not shabby. But the rewards in the middle are only average rewards. They aren’t the result of excellence, or greatness.
It seems most people think of excellence as something unattainable for themselves. Self-excellence, or greatness is beyond their comprehension. We so often hear, “Oh, I could never do that!” I think that if every utterance of that phrase – since the beginning of time – came back as an echo, the decibel level would probably shatter the earth.
But in reality, the distance between extraordinary and average isn’t really so much. It’s often measured in inches instead of feet, yards, or miles; in seconds instead of minutes, hours or days; in small percentage points instead of huge numbers.
For example, consider the young, hot-shot baseball player from whom management expects a base hit once in every three times at bat. For this performance he’ll be paid several million dollars, and very possibly the same or more for the next several seasons. In comparison, the average big leaguer’s salary is between $200,000 and $500,000 (depending on many variables).
Let’s assume the young hot-shot’s salary is $3 million annually (not out of the ordinary today) and the average player’s is $300,000. That would mean the hot-shot’s performance, with his one hit in three times at bat, should be ten times better than the average player’s. Yet, statistics show that the average player gets a hit every four times at bat. The actual difference, then, is nowhere near a factor of times ten!
Thus, we can conclude that in baseball, the rewards for “just a little better than average” are enormous!
So it is in life. Rewards come to us in proportion to how well we live our lives and do our work. However, the distance that separates exceptional and mediocre performance is often deceptively small.
For a salesperson, the difference could be one or two extra calls each day, or doing some research on a potential client’s needs. For a student, it could be reading a chapter twice, or gaining a more in-depth perspective on a subject by reading an extra book or paper, or checking for mistakes before handing in a paper or exam. For a government worker, it could be taking on the extra project that nobody wants. For anyone past school age, maybe it’s keeping skills at cutting-edge by attending specific classes on weekends or on weekday evenings.
In career management, the difference between excellent and average could be the “hoper and floater” syndrome. What’s a hoper and floater?” That’s someone who does only what’s expected and nothing more; who doesn’t go out of his or her way to help anyone else, or do anything extra. “Hopers and floaters” just hope they’ll get promoted, hope they’ll get a raise and simply float through their careers and lives, wondering why the big rewards haven’t come their way. These folks haven’t taken charge of their lives or careers by adding extra value to their endeavors. But, just as with baseball, this often requires so little extra effort, thought or time.
In our neighborhoods, have we taken the time to hold out a hand to those truly in need – indeed, have we even looked for or at them? Have we involved ourselves in our schools, or have we let someone else do that? Have we mentored parentless kids, helped in a civic project, or joined a community rebuilding project. This kind of excellence may not bring monetary rewards, but it sure feels good inside. And in the end, isn’t that what really counts?
When spread over a semester, a career, or a lifetime, these little things we can do, these little “extras” can make an enormous difference, not only in terms of worldly rewards, but also in how we view ourselves – how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
Of course, I’d be remiss if, within this mix of ideas, I didn’t discuss passion and talent. It’s often one’s intense interests that cause the development of innate talent, which can contribute greatly to excellence. Why? Because if we enjoy something (passion), we’re probably pretty good at it (talent), and we’re likely to put the extra time and effort into doing it well – since it’s fun and not work. Thus, in the case of our baseball hot-shot, his passion may have caused the development of his talent, which may have contributed significantly to his success. That is, since he loved the sport, he may have spent every spare hour practicing his hitting technique – a great way to create excellence! The lesson here is for each of us to look for and follow our passions, and to let no one tell us to do otherwise, since intense interest and a developed talent can foster extraordinary results.
So, performance excellence can be measured in many ways. Often that measure is financial, but also it can be in how satisfied we are in what we’ve done or accomplished in our lives, in our careers and for others. Have we listened to our inner passions, developed our talents, “gone the extra mile” and made the world a better place for ourselves, our co-workers and our neighbors?
It takes so little to move average to excellent – and it’s so worth the time and effort!
Dave Bowman is known as ‘America’s Career Coach. ‘ He’s helped thousands discover their life passions and achieve success by finding more fulfilling and better paying jobs – through his many articles (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and many others) and his frequent radio and television appearances (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC). He is the author of 8 audio books that can be found at The Job Game and a fast-selling book published by John Wiley & Sons entitled, How Do I Find the Right Job? Dave was the former president of the International Association of Career Consulting Firms. Dave teaches successful career strategy techniques at UCLA and other universities, and has been a senior executive at three Fortune 100 corporations – so he knows the inner workings of the corporate world. His consulting firm, TTG Consultants has many of America’s largest companies as clients.