Shortly after I started college, a man by the name of Hy Kaplan contacted me. Mr. Kaplan wanted to pick my brain about video equipment for a new business he wanted to startup recording valuable personal belongings that the client could keep for record insurance purposes. He found me through the forums at Videomaker.com where I would frequently help answer people’s video-related questions. It was the first time someone sought me out for my specific knowledge.
We met at a local restaurant where he treated me to breakfast. I gave him my honest advice about video gear and gave me some nuggets of wisdom. The one that stuck with me the most was about how being in the middle of competition, no matter what the activity, is just as good as being invisible. Let me break it down further.
There are only three levels of expertise: the best, the worst, and somewhere in the middle. Being the best has it’s obvious benefits. The perks of being better than the competition provides leverage to charge more for goods or services. Our culture is groomed to value the best the world has to offer through the way we worship celebrities to the stock price of the most successful companies; capitalism is built around being the best.
The worst has several non-obvious benefits. There is no point in doing something if you can’t be the best at it. By being the worst, you can easily quit with little to nothing to lose. Being the worst means you can only go up and get better without fear of getting any worse. Life at the bottom offers a broader view of possibilities and paths in your quest to be the best including the option to dump the idea and focus on something else entirely. When you are the worst, the flexibility to move on with no penalty is the greatest asset you have.
Being in the middle is where you get stuck; it’s the toughest spot to shake free from. The middle leaves you the tough choice of pressing on or giving it all up which results in the waste of the time and energy it took to get you were you are. By concentrating on getting out of the middle you pay an opportunity cost to exploring other ideas that might may give you your next big break. But most importantly, being in the middle makes you average, and being average is like being invisible. Which team came in 5th place in the football playoffs last year? What college is ranked 23rd in the nation according to USNews? What is your favorite mediocre blog? All of these questions are hard to answer because they don’t stick out; they are average.