About being strong, good-looking, and above average

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

  • Ethics: Most business people tend to rate themselves as “more ethical” than others in business.  In fact, in a 1997 national survey asking people how they would rate their own morals and values on a scale from 1 to 100 (100 = perfect), 50% of those people rated themselves 90 or above.  A scant 11% rated themselves as 74 or less.

  • Professional Competence: The vast majority of business managers (90%) rate their performance as superior to their peers and most surgeons believe the mortality rate of their patients is lower than average.

  • Virtues: Most high school students in the Netherlands rate themselves as more friendly, honest, and reliable than the average high school student.

  • Driving: The majority of drivers (including those who have been hospitalized for car accidents) perceive themselves to be safer drivers than the average driver.

  • Intelligence: Most people consider themselves to be more intelligent, more attractive, and less prejudiced than most people.  Almost comically, when outperformed, most people consider the other person to be a “genius.”

  • Tolerance: According to a 1997 Gallup poll, 14% of white Americans rated their prejudice against Blacks as a 5 (on a scale of 1 – 10), although they rated 44% of other Whites as being more prejudiced (5 or above).

  • Parental Support: The majority of adults perceive themselves as giving more support to their aging parents than their siblings.

  • Health: Most college students believe that they will outlive their predicted age of death by 10 years.

  • Insight: Most of us tend to believe that we understand others better than they understand us. We also tend to believe than we understand ourselves better than other people understand themselves.

  • Freedom from Bias: People tend to see themselves as freer from the effects of bias than most other people.

The psychology term for this is illusory superiority.  Examples came from Self In A Social World.

It’s hard to hear that you are average or even below average, isn’t it? Kind of stings a little to hear we aren’t perfect.

At first, like almost everybody, I thought, “Yes, but I really am above average!” Then I realized I was doing it again.

So I decided to gamble on the opposite: I now just assume I’m below average.

It serves me well.

I listen more. I ask a lot of questions. I let myself get curious about things.

I don’t think I’m surrounded by idiots. I assume most people are smarter than me. It is a true statement: everyone else has a different lived experience. 

To assume you’re below average is to admit you’re a beginner. It confirms you are learning. It gives you the gift of a student’s mind. It keeps your focus on present practice and future possibilities, and away from any past accomplishments.

There isn’t a young pianist out there, if they are honest, that when they started out playing Chopsticks, ever thought they had what it took to make it to Carnegie Hall.

Most people are so worried about posturing, faking it until they make it, that they never do anything really great.

They self-edit. They opt to remain polished and share the correct answer, versus getting messy, stuck, and vulnerable by learning something new.

They only move one brick back and forth.

They cut themselves off from interesting opportunities.

Most people are so worried about doing something great that they never do anything at all.

You destroy that sense of stuckness when you think of yourself as such a beginner that just doing anything is an accomplishment.

Or even better, it’s just a small experiment.

The art of complaining

Complaining means that we know what's wrong, but we:

  1. don’t realize we can change it. (We believe we're powerless.)

  2. are too lazy to change it. (We'd rather just complain.)

As a friend, I hate this. Because it’s a lot of work to make complainers realize they can change things. They always push back with all the reasons they can’t, which just reinforces the two points above.

As a colleague, I love this. Because I know I’m powerful and can change anything. Because every complaint is an opportunity. It’s fun to invent solutions to problems, turn ideas to reality, and watch my creations make the world a little better.Then afterward, on a personal note, I can say, “See? Told you it could change.”

Managing Tension

Managing tension

You have something you want to change: a thought process or habit you want to adjust, fix or pivot toward.Consider a bunch of bricks on a seesaw. Right now all the bricks are stacked on one side. This is the way you have been.To make a change, most people don’t do enough. They do one small thing.And nothing happens.You've started a shift. Maybe you moved that brick back to where it was, and then out again.Making a shift does not account for:

  • a lifetime of doing it the other way
  • the environment that made you that way
  • the pressure from friends to stay that way
  • and a whole repertoire of old habits

Some say, to make a change, you have to be extreme. Go all the way the other way. Stop smoking, sold turkey. Start going to the gym every day. Just jump in the deep end. Doing that means that you are trying one form of being "all in" - by stacking a huge pile of bricks on the other side. This is what most people envision as success. You will have "arrived" if life looks like the opposite. If you were depressed, this is what happy looks like. If you were in a slump, this is what energy and vitality look like. This new you sounds extreme and exciting. You will think you’re going to be completely changed.But, your history of doing things the other way is still there. So really this is what you needed to do: move one brick at a time, until you have a full spectrum of behaviors and visions of success to draw from.  This is not the same as balance. This is about establishing small habits that lead to managing the teetering that happens when you go too far toward either end of the seesaw.By managing the middle (meaning you avoid extremes) new skills will sink in, and become your new normal. 


You have a tendency to blame others for your situation. We all do this. You realize this is hurting your life. You think, “I should stop doing that. What got me here won't get me there. I should take some responsibility.”So you try something new:But that doesn't quite do enough. You are still not quite there yet. You need to try more, in a way that will feel like you are going too far.So you think, “Absolutely everything is my fault. All of it. It’s my fault the world is the way it is. It’s my responsibility to fix everything I don’t love. It’s my fault that others act the way they do towards me.”Sounds extreme, right? It will feel like this:You try to think this new way. Sometimes you can actually get there and embody that new voice.  You are trying on something new, hearing a new inner voice.But you still can’t help feeling that some things are not your fault. Your old voice still wants to be heard. That’s OK. Now you’re working the middle a little more. This back and forth conversation with "both-and" starts to sink in and becomes your new normal way of thinking. 

More examples:

The best and most effective changes I’ve made in my life seemed crazy at first because they seemed to so extreme.  I’m going to be writing about more of them in the future, and I’ll keep them listed here:

No, it's me...not you.

I have a bitchy resting face. That is, when I am thinking or reflecting on something, my face looks angry. I don’t really ever get mad, but I do experience frustration, which can look a lot like being angry.

But, if I’m really honest, there were a few years before #MeToo brought everything to the foreground, where I was very angry.  I spent a few years being really mad at my former colleagues.

They corrupted the culture of the group. They resisted change they themselves said they supported. They focused on their own gains instead of collaborating.

They this. They that. Does this pattern sound familiar?

When someone upsets you, it’s human nature to feel it’s entirely their fault.

But at some point, I flipped a bit and I started thinking maybe it was all my fault.  Yes, really, even in an environment that mercilessly punishes those at fault.

  • I created the environment that let the rotten apples spoil the barrel.

  • I ignored problems instead of nipping them in the bud.

  • I was aloof and away instead of managing or developing others.

  • (I could list many more examples, but you get the idea.)

It was a little bit liberating to decide it was all my fault!

This is way more effective than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still assuming everyone one else is wrong and you’re the victim. You’re just charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

But to decide it’s your fault kept me in the driver’s seat! Now, it’s not that I was wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation I created. They’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke I had set up. In the end, human interaction comes down to algebra: what is done on one side, impacts the other.

What power! Now you’re like a new super-hero, just discovering your strength. Now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about.

This philosophy feels so empowering that I apply the “EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT” filter before reacting.

It’s one of those base rules like “people mean well” that’s more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.

  • The artist that stole $750 from me? My fault. I should have taken the art that day, rather than do him the favor of leaving the piece hanging as part of the exhibit. (To this day, I think he sold that piece twice).

  • I didn’t find my dream job after graduate school? My fault. My dream was much too broad.

  • Don’t like my government? My fault. I could get involved and change it.

See what power it is?

Yes, it is all about personal responsibility but to me that’s such a somber concept. It’s the vegetables no one wants to eat. The lesson no one wants to hear. Whereas “everything’s my fault” is a fun rule-of-thumb.

Try it. Move some of those bricks to the other side.

Think of every bad thing that happened to you, and imagine youhappened to it.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it?

That power looks good on you.

Artist  Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows”  shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.

Artist Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows” shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.