Living with the Achievement Gap
If you’re average, congratulations! Most of us are mediocre in most of our endeavors, somewhere in the large dome region of the Bell Curve, a graph of a normal distribution of values for a given variable. We might be relieved by this essential equality since happiness and satisfaction are more elusive towards the narrower, right end of the Bell Curve where the exceptional loiter. At the left end, government mollycoddles the underachievers, providing an ever-expanding safety net.
At various venues, I’ve seen giant billboards touting “equality.” Indeed, when it comes to such unalienable rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then equality is self-evident. In fact, Americans make generous sacrifices in the pursuit of equity itself, which allocates resources to help underachievers bridge the gap -- often to the detriment of those with purported privilege.
Equally evident is that we are endowed with different levels of skill and talent. Therefore, it’s downright disgraceful to mock billionaires as “policy mistakes,” after all, entrepreneurship inherently leads to inequality.
Despite American Privilege, despite affirmative action, despite a multitude of DEI programs, despite massive assistance to help the needy, there remains an achievement gap. Unfortunately, pandering politicians pay no mind for fear of offending constituents’ sensibilities; when underperformance is addressed, it is usually in the context of inequality, rather than complacency. So many minorities succeed under a meritocracy, without the necessity to be superhuman, that it undermines the progressive mantra of systemic racism.
Hopefully, those who accept personal responsibility will achieve equality in America’s middle class. Shunning the perverse perspective of 1619 Project Creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, who asserted that Cuba, of all places, has less inequality than the U.S., is a requisite mindset. Socialism is the greatest path to poverty, so I’ll take a little inequality if there’s potential for betterment, if my lot improves in absolute terms, even if I lag the wealthy. Interestingly, even they often claim a spot in the middle class, for it symbolizes American ideals of equality.
Instead of demonizing successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, we might be grateful we don’t suffer their burdens. Naturally, there is a deserved income gap, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in quickly. There is also a wealth creation gap: they create more societal wealth than they consume as they create more products, markets, and jobs that enhance our lives.
Speaking of gaps, another one to mind is the happiness gap, and high achievers are often on the short end of that one. According to this study, only 1 in 10 high achievers are authentically happy. They are often trapped in a cycle of never-ending demands wherein the satisfaction of an accomplishment is fleeting before anxiety about “what’s next?” sets in.
Richard Branson probably repeated that question many times as he guided 17 years of development at Virgin Galactic and invested over a billion dollars to achieve the dream of commercial spaceflight. Maybe Branson, Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), and Elon Musk (SpaceX) are furthering humankind’s reach into the solar system. At a minimum, they are earning their inequality by forging the market for space tourism, and the potential mining of celestial resources that will potentially benefit us all. As with the early days of commercial flight, the well-heeled will enjoy first, but free markets will turn today’s unequal luxuries into tomorrow’s commonplace stuff.
Still, there is a gap to mind -- these visionaries are not really content. Bezos, for example, is already imagining the New Glenn rocket; instead of a few minutes above the Karman Line which delineates the edge of space, it will enable orbit. Despite his resented riches, Bezos is not the picture of perfect happiness. If you need more evidence of his dissatisfaction, just look at the left-wing nuts he’s giving his money to. As for the Brilliant Elon Musk, he seems to be constantly on the cusp of madness, proof, perhaps, that there’s a fine line between being a genius and being bonkers.
So, if you’re not a high achiever, be grateful you are not entrapped in the tyranny of excellence, but thankful towards those who dare embrace the pressures of perfectionism. They have earned the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor considering their rewards aren’t commensurate with their contributions to society. Indeed, instead of relaxing in opulence, they usually pursue further wealth creation for society. If you wisely invested in their companies, they’ve disproportionately helped your 401K, but retirement for them may be an alien concept. What’s next?
As for those blessed with comfortable mediocrity, we can achieve the American Dream, firmly embedded in the all-American middle class – if we can prevent Biden from squeezing us too hard with more taxes, that is.
Incessantly chasing an unreachable goal can be futile; furthermore, the burdensome bromide “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” sounds perilously close to the definition of madness. Maybe recalibrating goals would be more productive, for few people are going to remember in a couple of years who won that award you coveted but missed. Ricky Gervais captured this humility while hosting the Golden Globes: “We’re all going to die soon, and there’s no sequel.” So, most of us might as well appreciate our mediocrity, if that is our fortunate circumstance, rather than succumb to the liberal politics of envy. Memento Mori.
Paradoxically, enjoying something without the demands of being great at it enhances productivity, because while one may try, one doesn’t feel compelled into a Sisyphean effort to become something we aren’t. Don’t let the demands of excellence curb your freedom to try, but not to try, try, again. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” That’s a great antidote to procrastination, just remember: if it turns out you’re not a prodigy or savant, then don’t mind the gap.
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