TEDWomen: Why it’s OK to be average

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Person at the top of a mountain Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Not everyone can be a high achiever

The “forgotten middle”, people who get average grades at school and who never shine in the office have been given a voice at the TED Women conference in Palm Springs.

Social activist Danielle Moss Lee took to the stage to speak up for them, asking teachers and employers to find ways for them to contribute more.

“Those at the top get noticed and those at the bottom get extra help but no-one really thinks about the kids in the middle who make up the majority.”

Such people can make valuable contributions at school and in the office but often “check out” because they are overlooked.

Image copyright Maria Aufmuth/TED
Image caption Danielle Moss is happy to have been an average student

“We have to create different ways to harness their potential,” she said.

She told the TED delegates that she herself had been an average student.

“I didn’t appreciate how average I was until I was a college student and I bumped into a science teacher and he couldn’t believe what college I was attending.”

Her average grades forced her mother to find extra-curricular activities for her to do.

“She signed me up for programmes to find the thing that made me click.”

That thing turned out to be writing and Ms Moss believes that most middling students have something that they can excel at.

“The middle isn’t a permanent location,” she said.

But others disagree and think that people need to accept that they will not all excel.

“Most psychological traits are evenly distributed, meaning that a significant proportion of the population will have average intelligence and leadership potential,” says Prof Chamorro-Premuzic, who teaches business psychology at University College, London.

He thinks there has been increasing societal pressure to be extraordinary in recent years.

“While only 12% of college students described themselves as ‘an important person’ in the 1950s, this rose to 80% by the 1980s,” he said.

He believes that people would be happier if they accepted that not everyone can shine.

“The world’s progress depends on those who stand out via their exceptional and innovative contributions, but these individuals are part of the top one percent in their field, combining truly unconventional levels of talent, work ethic, and focus.

“For the remaining 99% of us, the acceptance that our talents and motivation are much more conventional, and unlikely to result in world-changing accomplishments, would reflect a healthier, more rational self-concept than illusions of grandiosity or fantasised talent.”

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