You are probably less special than you think

Most psychological traits are normally distributed, which means that around 65 percent of people will have average intelligence, personality, memory, happiness, leadership potential, creativity, and so on. Unfortunately, this does not mean they are aware of it: Most people rate themselves as “better than average” on any desirable trait – which, of course, is a statistical impossibility.

Perhaps most striking, telling someone they are “average” is akin to insulting them, and will likely offend a large number of people. Indeed, many people would prefer to be unique, but in a bad way, than to be normal in a good way. This need for uniqueness is a common symptom of narcissism, which has been rising steadily during the past century, particularly in the U.S. The narcissism epidemic explains the substantial increase in people’s desire to be famous or special or to stand out from the crowd. Consider this: In the 1950s, only 12 percent of college students described themselves as “an important person”; by the 1980s, the figure had risen to 80 percent.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many advantages to being, and even feeling, average. If you want to avoid most physical and psychological illnesses, being average is one of your best options; pathology is generally associated with statistical infrequency. Even desirable characteristics – ambition, sociability, confidence, and conscientiousness – are problematic when exacerbated or taken to the extreme. Ambition turns into greed; sociability into exhibitionistic attention-seeking; confidence into arrogance; and conscientiousness into obsessive-compulsive behavior. Further, since you probably are average on most qualities anyway, feeling average will translate into high self-awareness, which is far better than the (much more common) alternative – overconfident delusion.

Of course, on a more granular level – genetics, biology, subjective experience, etc. – we are all unique, just like everyone else is. Self-help tips designed to embrace our uniqueness – i.e., “just be yourself” – are therefore quite comedic. How could we possibly not be ourselves, and what sort of pathetic achievement would that constitute anyway?

Needless to say, the world is optimized for average people: Nothing would function if the majority of us were outliers, but it’s nice to think that while everyone else is the same, we are celebrated for being different.

To be clear, the world’s progress depends on those who stand out via their exceptional and innovative contributions, but these individuals are part of the top 1 percent in their field, combining truly unconventional levels of talent, work ethic, and focus. For the remaining 99 percent of us, the acceptance that our talents and motivation are much more conventional, and unlikely to result in world-changing accomplishments, would reflect a healthier, more rational self-concept than illusions of grandiosity or fantasized talent.

Source: Psychology Today