You Are Not Average

You Are Not Average - Jason Zook

You don’t have to stay on the path of average. You don’t have to let other people control your circumstances.

I’m not average. I’m special. I’m different.

It’s a really weird thing to type these next few words, but I teared up while writing those three previous short phrases. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written them before. I’ve said them, but I say a lot of things. It means more to write them down. Writing has a sense of permanence that spoken word doesn’t.

I’ve always felt like I was different from other people. It started for me as a kid when I was—not unlike many of you—bullied in school. Growing up I was a bit of a gangly mess. I think by age eight I already had size 13 shoes (okay, maybe not that big) and my ears were probably fully grown. I wasn’t taller than the other kids (yet), but parts of my body were definitely not on the same growth patterns as others.

While growing up it wasn’t that I thought I was different, it’s that I was told I was different. I was physically and emotionally punished for it.

Fortunately for me, I had an incredible guiding force in my life when I was a kid: my mom. No matter how bad things got, she was there to support me and help me. (Dammit, I didn’t intend for this to be an emotional article, but I’m embracing my more vulnerable side because I truly believe it’s helping me bring more value to the world.) I’d love to share the bits of wisdom with you that she shared with me, but the honest truth is that I’ve completely blacked out the memories of the majority of my childhood. That’s not a joke; it’s a hard truth. I’ve locked away a lot of uncomfortable memories in one of those bank vaults with the titanium wheel and fingerprint pad on the outside. Maybe we’ll dig into that issue at a later date, folks.

Nonetheless, I started out very average but was molded into something else by my peers and circumstances throughout my teens. I resisted making friends and clung tightly to the ones I trusted. I tried not to excel at much of anything for fear of more bullying.

This is my first time admitting this, but I scored a 1430 on my PSATs in high school (1600 was perfect at my time of taking them). I was in an SAT planning class, and when I got my score a couple guys who were on the high school basketball team with me made fun of me and called me a nerd. If you can imagine trying to be a jock, but then being called a nerd in front of your peers (by your supposed co-jocks), it was painful. When I took the actual SATs, however, I purposefully breezed through it—scoring a very average 1050. I didn’t intentionally organize this decline in test scoring, but I’m 99% certain my subconscious took the reins and made it happen.

When I got my scores, I showed them to my fellow co-jocks like a badge of honor. “Look at this 1050, it’s completely average! I’m not a nerd anymore right??” I didn’t want to be made fun of, so I managed to fit perfectly in the middle, hidden away from nerd-criticism.

Even in college I coasted through school, through friendships, through relationships, through mediocre part-time jobs, all to make sure that I stayed right in the line of average. Sure, there were blips of standing out—like that time my friend Alun and I decided we’d bleach our hair and dye in some leopard spots (still sorry about that, Grampa). Or when I got my ears pierced. Or when I wore parachute pants and puffy vests.

But then something happened. A moment in time that I can picture with absolutely perfect detail. The moment I decided not to let external influences keep me in a state of average any longer.

I was sitting at the desk of my 9–5 design job right out of college. I can still remember the beige desktop and the carpeted half-wall that surrounded me. The cheap desk chair that raised up and down with the little lever on the side. My starchy gray dress pants and blue button up shirt from Express. I had recently picked up a copy of Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow and was reading it during a lunch break.

If you’ve read The Purple Cow, you know where this is headed. If you haven’t, just know that Seth talks about standing out from a crowd of normal black and white cows and becoming a “purple cow.” Here’s the singular takeaway for me while reading Seth’s book: “I want to be a Purple Cow. No, you know what? I am a Purple Cow.”

F*$k being average.

(I’m sorry, Grama.) This is one memory I can recall clear as day. In the middle of reading this small hardcover purple book written by some bald guy I’d only just recently heard of, I said to myself, “F*$k being average. I’m different. I’m special.”

It was in that moment that I created the tiny snowball-sized idea in my mind that would eventually turn into a roaring avalanche of difference. I didn’t want to be average anymore. I didn’t want to hold myself back from standing out. I wanted to embrace my difference.

This was a pivotal shift in my life in 2006. For the first time, I was going to completely buck the system and abandon the security and stability of the average American Dream. I was going to start my own business. I was going to be different. I was going to strive to do bigger things with my life.

From that moment forward, I’ve pushed as many proverbial envelopes as possible. I’ve taken more entrepreneurial risks than many people will take in their lifetimes. I haven’t been willing to settle for average. I’m not saying that to brag; I’m saying that because I’m damn proud of myself.

I don’t think you should settle for average either. We all have own our unique differences. It can be uncomfortable to embrace who you truly are, but it’s time to show the world your true colors.

As my girlfriend, Caroline, so eloquently wrote:

“When we play small, nobody wins. We miss out on realizing our potential and the world misses out on all the great things we can create when we’re living out the fullest, brightest expression of our gifts.”

Stop pretending to be someone you’re not for fear of ridicule or criticism. Don’t waste your time surrounding yourself with people who make fun of you for being yourself. In fact, one of the best things you can do for yourself in this lifetime is to quit your crappy friends. A few years ago I wrote an article about friendships. It still applies to me today and I hope it resonates with some of you as well.

My friend AJ Leon said it perfectly:

“This is not your practice life.”

You don’t have to stay on the path of average. You don’t have to let other people control your circumstances. You don’t have to continue to do things the same way you’ve done them before. You alone can decide your future, you just have to let go of your past and take action (which isn’t easy, but is absolutely doable).

You are not average. You are special. You are different. And so am I.