Winning and Success

I recently spoke to someone about the importance of understanding winning and success. Winning is something we’ve all come to know. The Patriots and the Cavs won and the Falcons and Golden State Warriors lost. You close the sale or you don’t. You get promoted to manager or your teammate does. Winning, is somewhat binary.

Success on the other hand is a more nebulous, and thus harder to define. In fact, if I were to ask you right now what success means you may or may not have an answer.

Furthermore, what you determine as success is going to be different than what someone else might view as success. Winning is not bad, neither is wanting success. It’s just important to define them for yourself and to know the difference.

The Average Paradox

The world’s most successful people tend to do things differently. Take any great artist/athlete/performer/entrepreneur and you’ll quickly see that they followed a different path than most of their peers which enabled them to achieve success and be unique.

Many of us want to be successful, to stand out and be above average. However, But being successful and standing out isn’t always easy, it means having the courage to do what you think is right even when it’s different than what almost everyone else is doing. Conformity brings comfort, which also is important. I came across a nice article that illustrated this point:

“We instinctively think we are above average. We don’t want to be average. Yet ironically, we want to be normal and have the same interests as most people do. We don’t want to be different and stand out. Having the same interests, routines, habits as everyone else ensures that we stay in the majority and are hence part of the ‘in-group’. But by design, we are setting up ourselves to be average.”

This describes what I like to call the average paradox. On one hand, our drive and focus on success means being exceptional and thus not just another average person. We want to succeed, do well and even stand out amongst the crowd.


However, we still want to be normal, and, have similar routines, and held to similar standards, which by definition, is average.

I have experienced this paradox myself. As a consultant, my job had a lot of ambiguity, even to the point where sometimes on a Friday I didn’t know where I needed to be the following Monday. In those moments, it’s easy for me to get stressed and think to myself, “if I only had a normal job..” The reality of that statement is that if I only had a normal job, I wouldn’t have gotten to do many of the things I really enjoyed about the job that I had!

There’s nothing wrong with being average. There’s also nothing wrong with striving for excellence. The only way around the average paradox is to pursue the things that are most important to our vision and values and acknowledge and accept the tradeoffs and opportunity costs that we must incur in pursuit of those values.

Being different is not always easy, but with patience and persistence, we can focus our efforts on becoming the person we want to be.

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