Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Born with a wooden spoon and 2 digit IQ

If we scan through any popular print media or watch news channels for few minutes, we would invariably come across the names of people who have excelled in their respective fields. It could be a mention of a sportsperson who has brought fame to his country, an entrepreneur who has sold his startup for a couple of million dollars, an artist who has won a prestigious award, the list is endless. Often, when I read or hear about these people, I am left wondering – why am I not one among them? One thing for sure is that there is no definitive answer for this question, but I will make an honest attempt at getting close to the answer.

On analyzing the super achievers, I observed that they could roughly be placed under four groups– 
  • Born geniuses – These are the people who are extraordinary by design!! These people are gifted with some unique ability and it is tough to answer why they were the chosen recipients for the gift. A popular example would be Albert Einstein. 
  • Blessed with a great lineage – The set of people who have an edge over others primarily by the virtue of being born to super achievers. It is like , in a race, their starting point is quite ahead of others. These people have the much needed guidance and mentorship available at their fingertips and are best described by the phrase ‘born with a silver spoon’. Pick any second generation successful industrialist as an example. 
  • A combination of 1 and 2 above – These are set of people who are gifted with fairly good skills and a decent lineage. Their credit lies in combining it optimally. 
  • The hard worker – The quintessential darling of popular media who makes it to the top by sheer hard work and determination. 

Of course, this is a very broad classification and in most cases, it would be a combination of two or more things in the list in creating a success story. But, more than refining the list, am concerned about the vast majority of us who don’t belong to any of the categories above. By ‘us’, I mean the guy writing the blog and the one who is reading it J let us call this group as the ‘mediocre majority’. The hard truth is that members of this group are not gifted with any extraordinary abilities or born with silver spoons. Adding to the misery, hard work does not bond well with us. It is these people who seem to lead very ordinary lives in comparison to the exciting lives of super achievers. It is these people who spend most of their spare time wondering why are they leading ordinary lives!! During one of these contemplating sessions it struck me that I am missing an important point while comparing myself with people who seem to have achieved too much too soon. May be, the error is that we are just looking at the end result and not the path. It was like looking at two end products and immediately concluding which is better than the other, without doing the background check of what went into making each product. A better analogy would be like looking at two athletes ‘Mr. Mediocre’ and ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ racing against each other and instantaneously concluding who is the winner, without asking some critical questions – did they start from the same place? Did they follow the same track ? Were they given equal opportunities for training ? Are they participating in the same race ? May be, if we really start analyzing along these lines, it would be tough to declare anyone of them as winner or loser. 

In the above example, imagine that ‘Mr. Mediocre’ who apparently looks lagging behind started from a different point in the race and had to train under tougher circumstances compared to ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ who apparently looks like leading the race. Fortunately or unfortunately, the situation of most people in the ‘mediocre majority’ is similar to the situation of ‘Mr. Mediocre’ in the race. With the limited skills and opportunities, it takes time before we accomplish anything substantial [what actually qualifies to be called ‘substantial’ is a different topic in itself]. And due to these limitations, it is quite possible that ‘Mr. Mediocre’ might never catch up with ‘Mr. Extraordinary’. This may sound hard, but this could just be the reality. The motivational speakers would want me to believe that these limitations just exist in the mind, but reality does not always match theory!! 

I don’t mean to discredit the super achievers in anyway, but just looking at the end result and ignoring the process would be a wrong way of judging anything. Considering this, the next time I am tempted to compare ‘Mr. Mediocre’ and ‘Mr. Extraordinary’ and come to a hasty conclusion, it is better to not just look at the end result, but also give a thought to their individual journey through the race.


  1. Beautiful Title for the article and love the intent of the article as well :)
    looking forward for more spells from your wisdom :)

    1. Thanks Vrandesh.,this stuff is more from boredom and frustration rather than wisdom :)

  2. how do you rate people who are Mr. Mediocre in 10 fields but not Mr. Extraordinary in any field?

    1. This would be a classic case of 'Jack of all and Master of none'. If someone can be mediocre in 10 fields, I would say he is out of the 2 digit IQ range :) But, on a serious note, he deserves respect for trying his hand on 10 different things in spite of being mediocre.,

  3. Good one Madhan...
    I think the very realization of this fact classifies you as "Mr.Extraordinary" :)

  4. Nicely written. You know how I like to spam your posts with my gibberish so here goes.

    Assuming you agree that there is no absolute definition to anything, how would you know that a person, considered as an extraordinary by a mediocre person, really considers themselves as extraordinary?

    There are so many factors beyond human cognition that define an individual and their way of thinking and why they choose to do what other people consider they are extraordinary at. But it is also "human" nature to ignore to bring out all those factors that would make one stand amongst the rest. Maybe different people have different levels of ignorance that sets them apart. This is defined by Chaos (or biologically speaking, DNA) but not something that an individual cannot choose to alter.

    The definition of success is again to the observer and the definer. But it is interesting to observe that many successful define it more in terms of leaving behind a legacy or an impact on society and not just the dominance of the individual. It's almost as though they treat themselves of capable of more than what just one person can do with their body and force.

    Also, did you know that there was a philosophy that showed you the path towards becoming "Superman" or Ubermensch as ze Germans called it:

    Pretty amusing.

  5. Your comment is definitely not spam. On both occasions, it has been better than my post !!

    You are right that a person whom the world considers a success might count himself as a failure or vice versa. In this post, I was trying to understand how we judge others as extraordinary/mediocre. How do we judge ourselves is another interesting topic. Hope I can write a post on this someday.,

  6. Read this post first Madhan, I want to read all your posts after this but first I have some nit picking to do with you :)

    I thoroughly agree with Arvind when he says " But it is interesting to observe that many successful define it more in terms of leaving behind a legacy or an impact on society and not just the dominance of the individual. It's almost as though they treat themselves of capable of more than what just one person can do with their body and force. "

    From what I have observed, your Mr. Mediocre almost always does not achieve is because he takes the safe route. In the race track between your star and the mediocre, see what paths the star has taken in terms of how many hurdles he faced, how many hurdles he went around, when he backtracked and took a different route and when he jumped over them. Also see how many times he went back to the starting point or atleast a few paces back and started again on the very same path that he came back from. There is also attitude that i feel you have discounted from your observations and I feel that is a major chunk of any achievement or disappointment.

    Maybe your Mr. Mediocre, regardless of his IQ or woodenness of his spoon, very sensitive to remarks and expectaions from the society about him. maybe he thinks of the eventuality or the destination more than the joy of the journey. For the star, maybe he enjoys the journey and the challenges more than what he will get when he reaches his destination. And what if the destination changes? For the guy who loves his journey, it is another milestone he will pass on the way to another destination but for your mediocre it is the end of everything!

    Having thick skin and the drive and confidence in oneself , i feel is the most important aspect to success. of course, you should know your limits and not delude yourself like Niel DeGrasse Tyson says but you should have the confidence in yourself that if you falter, you can try again or do it some other way. Mainly he should tell himself, What do I care what people think...that gem from Richard Feynman

    1. Hey Atul,glad to interact with you and thanks for taking the time to read and post an insightful comment.

      Totally agree with your point that it takes great attitude to be 'Mr.Extraordinary'. What I am not comfortable is the way we immediately conclude that anybody lagging in the race is a failure and mediocre without looking into the journey. I fundamentally hate comparison :)