Big Fishbein, Small Pond - The Law of Averages & The Key to Happiness
Most folks are possessed by one of two fears:
#1 - "I'm not doing enough, not dreaming big enough. I'm lazy and will never really achieve the thing in life that will truly fulfill."
#2 - "I'm too ambitious, I dream too big. I'm afraid that my eyes are always so focused on the future milestones I'm missing out on the joys of the present...and upon my death bed I'll realize in horror the life I could've lived.
I am unfortunately afflicted with both.
Mayhaps not so unfortunate...but before I spoil the ending, allow me to begin at the beginning.
Small Fish, BIG Pond Phase
When I was but a boy I played lots of sports. I liked to play sports with my friends. My friends were all much bigger than I, but I held my own and worked hard to be a valuable player. Though I established worth, I never shone. In soccer I played a mean defender but I still played defense. In baseball I batted first, was told to land a safe single, and played a reliable centerfield role. I was never trusted with the responsibility of a pitcher or felt the spring-loaded action at short-stop.
Oh how I craved these things! I dreamed and aspired and sought and bled and sweat but alas, those roles were securely locked down by the bigger/older friends.
At least in that pond they were.
In little league sports, at a certain age there is a transition from "minors" to "majors" of sorts. This applied to my soccer and my baseball leagues. There would be a try-out and certain kids would move up while others would stay back.
I cannot recall my reasoning at the time, but I didn't try out.
I chose to stay behind.
BIG Fish, Small Pond Phase
BOY WHAT A REVOLUTION! The next soccer season saw me lead my team in goals as a starting striker with a devastating header. And much the same with baseball: I alternated positions between a spry short-stop digging out nasty skips with grace, and closing pitcher boasting a change-up that had 'em swingin' whole seconds before the ball passed the plate. And now I batted 4th, the most coveted and prestigious position in a batting lineup, cleaning up loaded bases on many an occasion to great fanfare.
I had arrived...
...or more accurately, my more challenging and skilled competitors had departed.
I was torn. It was uncomfortably obvious that I had only been allowed the limelight due to my conscious choice to downsize my pond thereby becoming relatively the bigger fish. Only recently have I considered why this was. I won't indulge in any further anecdotes, but this choice had become a tendency and it leaked far past childhood sports into my academics, my career, my relationships, my everywhere. I had become enthralled by reputation, recognition, and most importantly by winning.
The Self-Doubt Phase
The nagging mind was with me. The dialogue thread sounded something like this:
Am I really that afraid of measuring up? I thought I was a confident guy, perhaps even too much so! Am I shortchanging myself by limiting my exposure to challenges? Am I really that dependent on the attention that comes from winning and being the best? What has become of the humble student I thought I was? Surely he must still live somewhere in me! How can I channel him again?
Now that's the question isn't it: How do I channel a teachable mindset with a heart that beats for competition?
The Law of Averages & The Key to Happiness
The answer was simple, far more simple than I wanted, and like most lessons it lived hidden in my past experience. There were in fact two causes for the shining results of the pond-changings. I already outlined the first; I moved to the realm of the less skilled. But I cannot discount the power of being previously surrounded by and training alongside those who were FAR more skilled than I. It is no new truth that we get better faster when we are the worst in the crowd.
"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." - Jim Rohn
This quote is my new gospel. It is simple and its evidence lies in my experience. However, I haven't come completely full-circle and I'm not necessarily preaching that one should seek to be the worst. Why? Because it sucks, that's why! It's demoralizing, debilitating, and in my opinion emotionally harmful over a sustained period of time. Because an ambitious soul on the bottom of the totem pole has their sights forever fixed on the next rung (do totem poles have rungs?) making them a prime candidate for those classic death-bed-regrets.
I hope you've enjoyed story time, but now it's time for reflection. Trust I have not lost sight of the original point. Remember the two fears I was caught between? Fear of taking the unchallenging lazy road vs. fear of the future-trippin' joy-blind life? These dualist fears gave birth to my new goal of becoming a perfect person #3 in Jim's group of 5. I want to think big, but live grounded in the moment. I want to concoct complicated strategies for tomorrow, but feel joy and find gratitude in the accomplishments of today.
I feel I have found the edge where the worlds of the ambitious and the grateful meet, and ironically it's in the middle. It is in being "Dude #3". Here I will learn, but I will also teach. I will strive, but I will also chill the fuck out from time to time. In this way I will die a happy man with a full life lived and exactly no regrets.