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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Success and Reverting to the Mean

The husband alerted me to an article in the sports section of the NY Times about how the in the NFL this year, "never have so many been so-so." As near as I can reckon, the article about how mediocrity is a negative name for average, and average is normal, and most teams are average, and that’s okay. By extension, therefore, I assume the idea is that most people perform at average level and therefore that’s okay. Indeed, I’m fairly sure I’m intelligent enough to understand that Daniel Kahneman talked about how the idea of reverting to the norm applies to most activities, be they financial or sporting. That’s because there is a norm. Norm is just the root of normal. 

The downside is encapsulated by the immortal words of Emilio Estevez’s character - whose name I cannot remember and am too lazy to look up - Otto, it was Otto — in the film “Repo Man.”  Otto says, “Ordinary f*****g people - I hate ‘em!” 

Otto didn’t eliminate the five middle letters in that expletive, I assure you, Readers. I myself often do not, either; but now that the Twelfth Grader has gone through her swearing phase, the one that really made me feel like a shitty mom for sharing my ashtray mouth, she tells me what I always said to her, “Don’t curse. That’s crass.” Crass is worse than average. Crass is like definitely one standard deviation below acceptable average. So I’m returning to the mean, which is, apparently, inevitable. And by mean, I mean cruel. No - I do not. I mean average. 
How happy the husband would be if I liked football. No can do.

According to a guy named Stone in this NY Times article, normal is underrated. He even wrote a mock self-help book to make people appreciate mediocrity, Embrace Your Inner Mediocrity. The author of this article points out that this season has been full of interesting, competitive games, even if most of the teams are not performing spectacularly.

Here, he loses me, in that I don’t watch football. But I get the idea. If teams are mostly average, then they can play more interesting games because one isn’t handing the other the equivalent of a game of unstoppable serves (to use a tennis analogy, tennis being a sport I enjoy watching, even though I usually don’t anymore). Watching a game of aces - that’s boring. No one wants to watch one competitor slam the other into the ground, figuratively, not literally. You can’t root for a team that’s just so much better than the others, and you have to pity the lame-ass teams that get pummeled. So I see the point. Better matched teams make better entertainment, and better matched teams are closer to mediocre average and or normal. They have to be, statistically.

But really, who wants to be average? Do you? I do not. I am like Otto in that way. I have the deep conviction and fear that I am completely unspecial. Most of us are, apparently. This leads to a lot of unmet ambition. Fruitless ambition. Pointless ambition. Followed by despair, disillusionment, and self-medication - or actual medication. 

But if we delve into this article, we - and I mean, I - find that this sports article is about how the NFL is returning to the norm after having had more spectacular teams in previous seasons. This change is in response to some new regulations about how to practice more safely to prevent concussions. This has meant that some new players don’t learn how to play full-out in practice the way they used to, so it takes them longer into the season to ramp up. 

Another factor is that some major quarterbacks, ones so major that even I, who don’t give a f**k about football, have heard of them, are reaching the ends of their careers. Thus, the level of excellence has gone down a notch.

Okay, maybe things are reverting to the norm, but, and this is important, Readers - this means that they once were playing well above average. They had their season of specialness. They got to be spectacular. Which is what so many of us, like Otto, want the chance to do. 

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