Sitting in the brightly lit university classroom, the statement hit like a scud missile. Coming from a man for whom I had quickly developed respect and affection, it caused considerable turmoil in my head.

“The really good marketers” – it came in the midst of a class on Entrepreneurial Marketing – “are those who move to London and learn their craft there before coming back home.”

I’m still not sure why it caused me to react the way that I did. At the time I was determined to move to London in any case. But I did not feel comfortable with this belittling of Belfast. It became a topic of conversation with my best friend, Cliona, who was also on the Masters with me. We rejected the notion. I stayed in Belfast. Cliona moved to Dublin.

Today we both know what Professor Carson – Dave – meant. It was not that London or Dublin are inherently better than Belfast. Put simply, the message was that to succeed in London or Dublin you cannot be average. They do not celebrate the average.

I have both a hatred of the average and a fear of being average. Another friend used to laugh when I would cringe and scoff at Sunday evening television for being “middle-class, Suburban blah.” It is saccharine filled drivel, full of lowest common denominator compromises. I remain uncomprehending as to why anyone would chose to sit down and watch Heartbeat. Some of the people I love most in life are huge fans, but I still cannot understand why.

Susan Jacoby delivers a fulsome critique of the evils of television in “The Age of American Unreason.” The specifics of her argument I have forgotten. But I do remember her blaming the dumbing down of America on the rise of television. Whilst I probably agree with Jacoby on the evils of television, my issue with Sunday night television is its averageness. My fear is that despite my refusal to watch Sunday night television, I am trapped by my own averageness.

Two months ago I resolved that my future would be based on my ambitions. Having drifted through my 20s on the backs of other people’s dreams and goals, I finally had a sense of what I actually wanted to achieve in life. It had a focus and specificity which the dreaming of my past lacked.

Two days ago, having failed to write anything in a month, I sat and stared at a blank screen. Becoming ever more frustrated with my inability to write, I eventually began a 900 word diatribe on my averageness.

My hatred of averageness and banality has some strange consequences. I cannot, for example, bear to listen to most presenters on local commercial radio; in particular Paul Kennedy and Pete Snodden are banned from my radio. So, when listening to music in the car, I am usually tuned to BBC Radio 1, whereupon my brain wonders, what is it about Nick Grimshaw or Sara Cox or Greg James that enabled them to become Radio 1 presenters? The simple answer is they are not average, nor did they settle for average.

Was it as simple as them moving to London? I cannot believe it so, but I can believe that by being in London or having the ambition of being in London then they were willing to go beyond average.

“The Last Empire” is a collection of essays from Gore Vidal. In one he recounts the tale of how a reviewer of his work was upset that he did not know how dumbed-down Americans were. “How dare I mention people that they had never heard of?” he quotes the reviewer as asking.

In that simple question Vidal’s reviewer showed his acceptance of the average. He showed his willingness to celebrate the mediocre, a position in which we all seem to now find ourselves. Recognising this in myself means that I have to do something about it. It means not being trapped by averageness but working to not be average. It means dedication, practice and focus. It means not being average.

To have a future that is different from the present requires us to make a change. Successful people are often filled with self-doubts. Their success comes from not allowing those self-doubts to define them. They don’t settle for average.



Filed under Ambition, Future, Personal

2 responses to “Averageness

  1. Your professor is right.

    I grew up in Toronto (biggest city in Canada) and Montreal, working as a journalist, and earned a national reputation by the age of 26 for being top of my game. Then, in 1989, at 30, I moved to NYC, full of ambition and the utter certainty I’d Do Great!!! Hahahahahahahahahaha. You have NO idea what competition looks like, or feels like, until or unless you throw yourself (and many choose never to face it) into a city like London or New York to compete for work or jobs there. In NY, if they want someone with a Phd in Swahili who also speaks fluent German, they’ll find them….People are armed to the teeth with fancy graduate degrees (I have none) and their alumni networks get them access to the gatekeepers for all things good. Then there’s the sheer fact of competing with millions of people who are better than you, or perceived to be, better than you.

    Coming to NY was very, very tough, on my income, ego and self-image. But I’ve done fine. It upped my game to the degree I now read my old Canadian papers and think “meh.” It sharpens you.

    • I just wish that I had realised this when I heard it at university; but onwards and upwards as they say. I have been very lucky to have a very challenging mentor/boss in Belfast. She worked in London for a time and continually challenges the “do fine rightly” attitude that little old Belfast displays. I learned a lot from her about being/doing better. I guess I just want the challenge of being even better.

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