Average is Awesome: Embracing Mediocrity as the Key to Success | Jeroen van Baar | TEDxAUCollege

Translator: Raul França
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney My story starts about a year ago,
on a rainy Monday afternoon. I was home alone, sitting on the couch, bored to death while the rain
was pouring outside, and I was still wearing my pajamas. So far, this might sound
slightly familiar to you, because we all have those days, right? And what do you do when you’re home alone on a Monday afternoon,
sitting on a couch in your PJs? Exactly. You check Facebook, right? So I did, and exactly at that moment,
a friend of mine posted a video online, in which he’d recorded one second
of every single day in 2013, and glued those seconds together
to form one six-minute video. And it was awesome. It was just like a highlight reel
of a sports event, or like a festival after-movie. It was one long string of amazing travel
experiences, graduation ceremonies, beers with his buddies,
and dinners with the in-laws. It makes me happy to see that a friend
of mine is doing well; it really does. But at the same time, seeing that video, I couldn’t help but evaluate my own life. And the funny thing is this: I know
that the lives of most of the people here, including my own, are wealthy, modern, healthy, democratic, free lives; are among the best lives ever lived
in the entire history of mankind. And yet, sitting there, by myself, in my PJs, in the afternoon,
on Facebook, all alone, I simply thought,”Damn,
my life just isn’t good enough.” How on Earth is this possible? We are the lucky ones. And is it just me, or is it something
about our society? Is it maybe something
about the way our mind works that makes me so
unreasonably dissatisfied? I tried to answer this question
in this book that I wrote, “De Prestatiegeneratie”;
“The Achievement Generation”. And tonight I’d like to share with you a few of the most surprising
things I found. Imagine, for example,
that one day I invite you to my lab. I give you the task to choose
your favorite flavor of chocolate from an array of six different chocolates. Pretty fun experiment, right? Free chocolate. Now, in the other room, however,
I have participants who are allowed to choose from the same six
chocolates, plus 24 other flavors, to make a grand total of 30 especially
selected gourmet chocolates. Do you feel like I screwed you over? Surely, the person in the other room
has thirty options, so he’ll have a higher chance
to find something he really likes, right? Well, wrong. In fact, I’m doing you, the sucker
with six chocolates, a big favor. People actually carried out
this study and it turned out that the people who could only choose
from six different flavors were significantly more satisfied
with the chocolate they got than the people who had
thirty different options. And so, it seems that having a little bit
of freedom of choice is a good thing, but a lot of choice can be disheartening. Psychologists have a word for this;
it’s called “choice overload”. Our mind is simply not capable
of comparing thirty different flavors of chocolate, or thirty different
of whatever is you are comparing. So the mind gets stressed out, your feeling of responsibility
towards making the perfect choice goes up, and people end up less satisfied
than they would have been after a simpler, more manageable decision. And, you know, I’m one
of those idiots who check Facebook every day over breakfast,
be it in my PJs or not. And so, every day I’m confronted
with all the alternative walks of life I could have ever pursued. Social media are great,
they are really fun, but they have also brought us extreme
and unprecedented transparency. Looking at this research,
maybe it’s that awareness of all the other options that makes
it difficult for us to be satisfied with what we actually have. Now, this relates to another
super-fascinating concept from psychology that I want to mention;
It’s called “the hedonic treadmill”. Looking at this picture, you might
be able to imagine what that feels like. It’s also really well illustrated in one
of my favorite TV shows of all time; maybe you’ve seen it, MTV’s
“My Super Sweet Sixteen”? Who has seen “My Super Sweet Sixteen”? It’s a great show, it’s really fun. And so what happens,
every episode: we follow a girl, usually of wealthy American
parents, as she turns 16. And apparently this is
a great achievement for her, because her parents throw her a big party,
and they prepare for months. They hire a party planner,
rent out this giant ballroom, get the girl a designer dress. She invites all her friends
and classmates, except, of course, the unpopular ones. And all this preparation culminates
in that moment during the party when the girl gets her present: the car. So, the girl walks outside, with this giant trail of classmates
and friends behind her, her parents, camera crew, and everything, and there it is, right? A beautiful, shiny, black, BMW
convertible with a big pink bow around it. The girl sees this and bursts into tears,
and goes to her dad and says, “Dad, I told you I wanted the white BMW!” Now we can laugh about this,
but it’s super sad, right? The wealth this girl grew up in
has made her completely incapable of ever being happy with anything
less than perfection. This is how the hedonic treadmill works. Everytime we achieve something,
everytime we experience something, we raise the bar
for ourselves, just a little bit. Then next time, we have to get more,
and more, and more, to be equally happy. In a broader sense, how happy you are
isn’t caused by what you experience, but by how you interpret
what you experience. And if you expect achievements
in themselves to make you happy, they will always leave you disappointed. It’s all about the way you look at them. So does our society favor
a frame of mind of satisfaction? Well, unfortunately not. Think about it, right?
Who are the heroes of our time? Well, there are the underdogs,
who unexpectedly made it big through YouTube or “Holland’s Got Talent”. Economically, what matters is not
the value an agent adds to society, but rather the degree to which a country
or a company grows and overtakes others. In academia, we see every single day,
especially now with the protest going on, that universities are less
and less interested in providing good-quality education,
according to some didactic philosophy, and instead, focus more and more
on reaching a high position on some international
ranking of universities. In other words, in our society,
it sometimes seems like we have embraced the top as something
that is good in and of itself. And this really hit me
when I went to this thing called “The National Career Convention”, the “Nationale Carrierebeurs”. It’s a huge job fair
held annually in Amsterdam, It’s actually coming up now,
so if you want to check it out you should. And I went there, I was 22 years old,
looking for my dream job. Needless to say, I wore my best
blue suit, put on a red power tie, and had my CV tucked neatly
underneath my arm. I walk in, all chipper,
and I am just blown away by the sheer dimensions
of this thing, right? Thousands of people as far
as the eye could see, all dressed just as sharply as I was,
and not a way from me to stand out. Well, there was actually this one thing: if you had finished some form
of higher education, you got a red key cord with your name
tag on it, instead of a blue one, so that employers could spot you
as the extra smart individual, but this didn’t really
help me much either. Luckly, though, a friend of mine
had told me about this thing called “best graduates”. It works like this: a couple of weeks
before the convention, you send in your CV
and your grade list from university, and if they deem you worthy of the top,
they invite you to enter the convention through a special side door, you get a golden key cord
around your neck, no joke, here it is the one from that day, and you get to join in this thing
called “the capacity test”. It’s basically an IQ test together with
about a hundred other “high potentials”. Now, this IQ test is about
the point where my journey through the higher echelons of business
came to a screeching halt. But perhaps that’s a good thing. Because that day is also
the day that I realized that I myself was looking for the top,
on some agreed upon hierarchy, without having any idea what it would
be like to actually work there. I went home and this reminded me
of one last concept from psychology that I’d like to mention tonight. It has to do with the way
we make decisions. So, let’s suppose we all go
to a mall together, to buy a sweater, right? How do you reach the decision
which sweater is the right one for you? Well, it turns out, on the whole,
there are two main strategies. The first one is called “maximizing”. “Maximizers” – this may be you,
you might recognize this – maximizers go to the shop, they take
all the sweaters out of the racks, they line them up, compare them all,
remember them, go the all the other shops in the mall doing the exact same thing,
and after a couple of hours of painstakingly comparing sweaters,
they pick the very best one. The alternative is interesting. It’s called “satisficing”. Satisficers, what do they do? They go to the shop, they look
at sweaters until they find one that is good enough for them; that exceeds a certain
threshold of quality. And they take that sweater,
they go to the cashier, they pay, throw the receipt, go home,
put on their sweater and never think about it again. And the funny thing is this: obviously, the maximizers are going to see
more sweaters than the satisficers. And so, most likely
the maximizers will find a sweater that is objectively better than the rest. Research shows, however,
that satisficers always feel better. So, satisficers are happier
about the things they’ve chosen, even tough maximizers
have chosen better things. And this doesn’t only go
for trivial things like sweaters, but also, for example, for your first job. One study in the States showed
that maximizers, on average, earned 20% more money
in their first job than satisficers. And, yet, the satisficers were happier
with the job they got. So, what does this teaches us
about our society? Well, I argue in this book of mine
that our society as a whole, and our generation in particular,
have adopted a maximizing mindset. It seems to have become
so extremely important to do exceptionally well
on all facets of your life, – education, job, social life,
traveling, relationships – and putting it all on Facebook. And it’s exactly this attitude,
this maximizing mindset, that makes so difficult for us
to be happy with all we actually have. It’s this maximizing mindset
that spins the hedonic treadmill, that leads us to seek out choice overload, and that causes me
to be unreasonably dissatisfied. How do we get rid of this? I think the first step should be simple. Every now and then,
we just need to tell ourselves, “It’s okay to be just okay at something.” We shouldn’t adopt maximization
by trying to convince ourselves that every single second
of our lives is awesome. No, on the contrary. If we can just emancipate mediocrity, we can rid ourselves of the fear
of not being exceptional. What we have to do, our generation,
is take back the right to be average. And by doing so,
by embracing the simple fact that not everything that we do
will be exceptional, we will once again teach ourselves
how to appreciate the moments that are. And so, if I’m on that couch tomorrow,
or having breakfast in my PJs, and I see my friends achievements
pile up on my Facebook news feed, I might still feel anxious about
the average-ness of my life. But this time I won’t really care. Because, you know what? There is merit to mediocrity. It is nice to be normal. And average is awesome. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Average is Awesome: Embracing Mediocrity as the Key to Success | Jeroen van Baar | TEDxAUCollege

  1. Happiness and satisfaction with ourselves way more important than being excellence in every single aspect of life. It's OK to be just OK.

  2. Great talk! I love when at 6:30, that girl in the audience looks at the guy next to her and gives him this look like the speaker had touched on something they had had an argument about or something.

  3. I don't believe excessively comparing yourself to others is healthy. This talk shows to find your own path.

  4. This talk made me feel so so. I was feeling pretty damn good. Thanks a lot.

  5. Omg! I loved it! This talks made me so comfortable now, i will now embrace being average because by achieving something great in my life  i always end up feeling inferior all the time, i will be contented of what i've got now and i won't expect to much for my life just an AVERAGE haha  it's AWESOME! Thank you.

  6. Wow, this talk was AMAZING!! I agree with every single point! 
    And the experiment with the chocolate is so true. I've been thinking the same thing about university applications. I have such a huge range of options that it gets harder and harder to choose the 'right' option. I struggle everyday at it, because I always think: "What if I choose the wrong thing?" It would be a lot easier, if someone just gave me 6 options and I'd have to choose from these!
    Good talk man, really good talk, I loved everything about it!! 🙂

  7. These days it might not be up to you to be just ok. The economic state is very bad at the moment (at least in my country), so it's very difficult to even get a job. And if you're not exceptional, qualified and have a lot of experience, it's more than likely that you won't get that job, because there always will be someone who is better than you.

  8. Done ! This is the first TED that I have been able to master and I did it instantly .  I will always be grateful  to Jeroen .

  9. Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooorrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiingggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg…

  10. My sister is a maximizer and I am a satisfier.She makes much more money but I am happier and satisfied.Thank you for sharing this talk.

  11. “The woods would be quiet if no bird sang but the one that sang best.”
    ― Henry Van Dyke

  12. fantastic and simply pointing out what's right under ones nose in daily routine

  13. In no way does this guy say to give up on your dreams…quite the contrary.

    He is saying what wise folks have been saying for thousands of years…

    "The Journey IS the Reward" ~Sun Tzu

  14. Ok… one problem I have with this, is something that's a problem with a lot of "smart people" who believe they know the world, but actually they project their own lifestyle onto the world. In other words, they think most people, or a lot of people, have a very similar mindframe as themselves. "Our society as a whole" and "our generation in particular" are terms that quite often misrepresent the predicate that follows. Young, rich, blonde, intelligent and spoiled people in Holland or the USA are not true representatives of "our generation". It is true that there are many aspects where "our society as a whole" can be labeled more accurately (or accurately enough). This "maximizers" thing is just another synonym of "overachievers", or you can use more negative adjectives as "greedy" or "megalomaniacal", egocentric, egoist, etc. (I'm not implying that overachievers are necessarily egocentric in the obnoxious, patronizing sense. But, you know…). The problem is, the "elite" is mostly comprised of these overachievers, maximizers, greedy, egocentric, narcissistic, etc. (I'm not hating "the elites", I'm just stating what is somewhat obvious), and there is a direct, overtly, undisguised pushing force towards making other people (the masses) become more competitive and strive for higher grounds. There is a blatant negative stance towards "laid back" people, they're lazy, they're losers, they're parasites. Virtue is being a hard worker, being very active within society, constantly improving whatever (since "improving" may be very subjective). There's aggressive marketing everywhere. You have to buy, you need to update your equipment. People may be bullied, ridiculed, for being too outdated. Not only that, but in many cases the person will get fired, get abandoned by "friends" or girlfriends or whatever. But this is a tendency, and like I said, it does come from "the top down", otherwise there would be no need for heavy marketing and extreme sales strategies and etc. Most people WILL live a somewhat "simple life", if not constantly bothered and pushed by others. Mediocrity is not something most need to "strive for"; unless, of course, it's the bottom of society, those who are the "trash", who then need to strive to keep up with the masses, make a lot of effort to be "average", these would be the extreme obese, the dwarfs, the mentally challenged, the deformed, the diseased, the ones with physical disabilities, etc. Now, somewhat contradicting what I just said… in a certain aspect, since most people in the world are more prone to "the simple life", what is considered "the average" is not really the norm for the majority, but an average between the top and the bottom. What I'm trying to say is that the "average" in terms of capitalist, economic parameters, is different than the average of cultural/behavioral characteristics of the majority of people. So then, everyone becomes "below average" (not everyone, but the majority of the masses). In other words (again) a "normal person" becomes "below average", simply because those at the top decided that the average MUST BE something above what the average really is. It's like I take a group of a hundred people, and give them a test, and most of them score about the same, let's say 6 out of 10, then I arbitrarily state that the average should be 7, and most people are now automatically below average. That's exactly how capitalism works. No one likes to be "below average", but since the definition of average is set by people in power (at least in these economic aspects, which are mostly the axis of all these social debates/speeches), the notion of average tend to be subjective and dynamic. I'm gonna stop writing because this comment is already too much above average of a normal Youtube comment!

  15. The mystery in all this is that often contentment and love for who you are helps you see clearly what can be improved upon. Certain Improvements bring more satisfaction.

  16. God likes mediocre people the most… thats why he made so many of them.

  17. The end result of socialistic idealism is embracing the avarage in the name of egalitarianism

  18. wow i thought i would hate this talk based on this title but it was actually great.

  19. This video is supposed to defend mediocrity, judging from the title. However, it talks about choice overload and how having a moderate range of alternatives to choose from is better than having a very large range. I didn't see a single reasonable defense for mediocrity. Mediocrity sucks. Anyone with the gift of life should aim at the highest s/he can. Mediocrity sucks! Did I mention that if one thing sucks the most in this world, it is mediocrity by all means?

  20. Biology produces more average beings because average is generally best.

  21. This is such an inspiring talk, sometimes we have to lower our expectations to be truly happy!

  22. One has more choices than "to be just ok… to be average" or "to be better" … those "options" are the same thing when one is not being oneself. This guy is missing the point by saying that there is merit to mediocrity.

  23. An interesting video. Although I disagree with a lot of it. It's true that our generation has more freedom than a medieval peasant, but 'more freedom' is not freedom. The cage is bigger, but it's still a cage. I'm aware that there are people out there who see careers and cars as things that bring value, but that's a choice you make to accept the values of everyone else. To be honest that's fetishing the letzermensche. Freedom is the ability to chose your own values, but also to chose your oppression, to have the choice of being able to exist independent of capitalism or communism or nazism or any other ism. To have no ism – to have no cage – except the one that works for you. That's why being alive is so depressing. We haven't escaped the fanatical obsession with authority and power that was so prevalent to the lives of the medieval peasant. The only difference is they used the idea of God to mask it. Today you've got other things that mask it. And what it shrinks is not that the cage is bigger. No, the cage is shrinking. Choice is not freedom if all you can chose is meaningless rubbish. In summary you're not average. You decide what is average and what is good. Don't accept dictatorship from the masses or from some corporate exec. Do what's right for you.

  24. Dear Jeroen:

    an abundance of pleasure is NOT the abundance of happiness or joy.
    the pursuit of happiness is NOT the pursuit of pleasure or social acceptance. you make this mistakes and so argues that because we pursue the maximum of everything, the actual pursuit is wrong.

    the pursuit of happiness, is life itself – when allowed to express it's higher goals (rather than just means of survival). but i do agree with you on the notion that we should acknowledge to goodness in our lives.

    satisfiers, as you explained, settle for what is good enough for them. but life is not a sweater we shop.
    each of us must have at least ONE thing which is important for us, one thing that makes us do the extra step.
    but in no way should we revel in mediocrity as an end goal. that fact that you are satisfied with something at the moment does not mean its good for you.

    one should center his/energy on the thing that makes one's life exceptional and meaningfull, while accepting that the lack of maximizing the energy on other fields serves this goal. but averageness and mediocracy should never be okay.

  25. my hero! everything about me is average and/or mediocre. I love it. I am a success! I am content.choice overload,is like waiting on your computer to stop loading, but it or never does. I mean every word you said. I am 66 years old. how old are you? you are perceptive.

  26. The maximizers in these comments desperately defending their way of life are hilarious.

  27. Just Love it, thank you to the jeroen for making me so comfortable now.

    Everyday some of my friends doing great things. i really feel happy for my friends.
    But, i feel bad for myself for not archeiving and also being an average person.

    I won't really care about being an average.
    Because, AVERAGE is AWESOME.

    This TED Talk was Average……i mean Awesome……..

  28. It is curious to see how nature works here: the people on this planet that are below average, are reproducing at a very high pace, while the maximizers are going to be extinct in no time because they are no having children. By the end, who succeeds?

  29. You know, that moment in recovery when you still aren't ok at all… but are somehow ok with that fact?

  30. This message is good, but I feel like the title is misleading. You should always strive to be and do your best, but "embracing mediocrity" sounds like settling. The message is good, it just should have been called something else.

  31. "So, what do you do on a monday afternoon when you're home alone in your pj's?"
    Me: looks around and raises hand slowly Masturba-
    "Exactly! You check Facebook."
    Me: Yep. Mmhm. Me too. turns to nearest audience member He's right; that's what we do. That's what normal people do. mhmm. He gets us. Yep yep yep. Yeppity yep. mhmm. yep yes totally nods in overzealous agreement

  32. Secret to being happy is stop being greedy, stop trying to be successful because all that propels you is a desire of wealth. I got rid of greed and wanting more and I'm so happy now.

  33. It is true !! I remember when I first bought my Ps2 and only had 1-5 games it was great but when I got a chip and got maybe 70 or more games it became boring. I dont know why but I have never heard anyone give a word for it. Choice Overload =)

  34. I do not agree. It's fucking facebook and other social media that make us believe that people are profoundly happy, which is far from being true. Evyone s got problems. It all depends on what you want and your perspective on life. If you're ambitious you can't just stand being average nor can bare average people. Ted is a lab where everyone has his say, I have mine and it is not aligned with this gentlemen. Period.

  35. Take back the right to be average

    My god, thank you for this. I'm on my quarter life crisis trying to find the most meaningful job and this talk has change my perception.

  36. Exceptional people would not agree with this video – I am not one of them however. So, I loved it 🙂

  37. I’m sure that a blind billionaire would gladly give you all his money for just average vision.

  38. I’m average and I’m ok with that I have a roof over my head I have a job and retirement

  39. Brilliant stuff. Very well spoken. I personally feel that in today's day an age the focus on excessive progress and excessive motivation has driven us all up against the wall. Everyone is obsessed with reaching the top rung on the ladder of materialism. People are obsessed with outdoing themselves and reaching some esoteric standard they perceive will help them attain status in society.

  40. The majority of Deviant Art gonna love this video. Since mediocrities are celebrated there. It's important to be simple than being right, reasonable, good, true, competitive or better.

  41. This has to be the worst possible advice anybody can receive.. if you are satisfied with being Average.. you probably need to evaluate yourself further

  42. There's a disconnect between the thesis of the talk and the conclusion. The entire talk is dedicated to what's known as the "paradox of choice" and then the conclusion he draws is that mediocrity is awesome. Hardly any discussion on the topic at hand. I was expecting a discussion of how mediocrity rises to the top because of overall fewer costs and limitations in comparison with perfection. This guy couldn't properly identify the issue with preciseness.

  43. Not wanting to be a troll, just trying to find some more arguments to justify this way of thinking. If being average is fine and ok, how is it possible to be/feel average and at the same time strive for being betterment of one´s financial/academic/professional situation? I consider that probably this line of thought can have detrimental consequences in the development of our full potential and capabilities, because the effort will never be aimed at being the best, but at being average AT BEST. Thus a high opportunity cost.

    what do you think youtube?

  44. This was a great TED talk. I was actually looking for something like this. Our generation should have the right to be average.

  45. I feel it`s improtant to know which areas to be a maximizer and which areas to be a satisficer. For example, finding a partner or career might not be about settling for "mediocrity". Still we have a tendency to not appreciate what we already have.

  46. Damn, after watching so many "self-improvement" videos to "fight mediocrity", this comment section feels so surreal. It's almost like a Bizarro version of the comments sections of those videos.
    I feel so welcome here…

  47. I am here because at times I felt bad being a mediocre but then on, I realized man, it is ok (great!) to be just ok. Thank you for reminding me that it is ok to be average. I am good at almost everything that I do but I did not stand out at any of it. Atleast I am good at everything wink

  48. Dutch national motto: doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg, act normal then you allready crazy enough.

  49. Very well said I respect this man he has taught me a lot thank you very much 😃 average =🤩🤩🤩

  50. By the smattering of applause, seems like a lot of maximizers in the audience.

  51. Reminded me of a good lyric from one song: "..she wishes for less ways to wish for,
    more ways to work toward it"

  52. Its about gratitude for where we are now and what we have. = genuine happiness

  53. Let some people strive for and be content with mediocrity if that is what they want. I want more than that.

  54. “Rid ourselves of the fear of not being exceptional” “Not everything we do will be exceptional”. These are great quotes. Following these quotes helps you to move forward and take chances. Be happy with who you are, but…. you gotta learn WHO you are. You can’t do this if you don’t test yourself, if you don’t try new things. There can be a talent or skill you have inside you that your completely unaware of. Never stop learning about who you are and what your capable of.

  55. Before this ideology I am below average and unhappy. After this ideology I am average but happy!

  56. Sorry, if you are average in this economy, you will be eaten, this is the message that I consistently get in my life here in the US.

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