“For the most privileged among us, freedom seems to feel oppressive, and oppression feels like freedom. There’s also a very American fixation on extremes at play: More is always better.” Heather Havrilesky writes in the New York Times, discussing America’s trend towards extreme fitness. “If you’re running just four miles a day and doing a few pull-ups, you’re a wimp compared with the buff dude who’s ready for an appearance on “American Ninja Warrior.”’
Our tendency towards extremes is not limited to exercise. We apply it to our work. Working extreme hours is an indication of our ambition and dedication. If you’re working reasonable hours and maintaining balance in your life you might as well be running just four miles. Yes, we give lip service to balance but we aggrandize those who can tolerate the extreme. It seems that working hard now means depriving yourself of sleep and missing opportunities to create memories with family and friends.
The media’s portrayal of entrepreneurs would also make you believe that extremes are necessary for success. Starting a business is portrayed as quitting your job and “going all in”. If you’re not cashing out your retirement account and maxing out your credit cards you’re not dedicated to make it happen.
Extremes are interesting. We don’t want to read about an average Everest climb, we want to read Into Thin Air. We don’t want to watch a film of an average day in an average person’s life. We want to see the depiction of the day that changes a life.
Average fails to hold our attention. This is a shame. Most days are average. Most of us are of average intelligence and beauty. If extremes are the only thing we can be satisfied with, and we think we must risk all we have to get there, there won’t be much room for satisfaction, which is sometimes enthralling but mostly average.