Are you really a 10?

Are you really a 10?

We can't all be superior, all the time. Paul Phillips explains the bell curve of  reality.


How would you rank your abilities as a lawyer? As a professional? Most likely, in an age of self-esteem gone mad, you probably wouldn’t rate yourself as average.

“Average” has become a derogatory word.

Yet average is most likely to occur. It is the average of all performances, measures and observations. However, people now expect exceptional as the new normal, which is statistically impossible.

Proponents of exceptional behaviours often use examples like the four-minute mile. Originally thought to be unachievable, it was broken in 1954. The new record became perceived as the ultimate limit, only to be surpassed yet again. 

A shift in the tail ends of the bell curve does not mean that the middle of the curve moves. Just because a tiny percentage of people can now run faster at certain time does not mean that the average time for all of humanity has improved. And what about people at the other end? 

Consider your IQ, if you know it. Is it really so far above average that you have a globally superior intelligence? What about your height, weight, resting heart rate, cholesterol, writing and math skills, leadership and verbal communication? It is more than likely that most of your skills and abilities are not above average, that you look more like a bell curve – some bits are better than others, some worse and other bits the same. 

How to manage your less than superior abilities

Assuming you accept that you may be above average at skill A but not at skill B, how can you provide a peak performance at work? 

Here are two ways:

1. Don’t focus on improving your weaknesses, unless they cause harm, collateral damage or hinder your work efforts. Instead, delegate the things you aren’t good at, those skill B jobs, to someone or something more appropriate.

2. Focus people’s attention toward the things you really do well. People tend to notice what you actually do and how often you do it.

By spending more time on the skills you are good at, people will notice your efforts on those tasks rather than on the areas where you aren’t as proficient. When you spend eight hours a day doing things that you are genuinely great at and only one hour on something where you are average, people are more likely to encounter you at your top behaviour. This isn’t the same as saying you only have top behaviours, just that you show your 9 or 10 level stuff more often. 


About the author

Paul Phillips, PhD, is a registered occupational therapist, psychologist and academic who leads mindfulness classes at The Law Society of NSW.


5 September 2017