It’s getting harder to be average

When I was at school, I was excellent. I didn’t find anything particularly difficult, and I breezed through exams without having to study for them. I assumed that when I left school, the world of work would be much the same and I would be hugely rewarded for doing sod-all.

Spoiler: nope.

One of the things about growing up – unless you’re lucky enough to benefit from inherited wealth and/or nepotism – is that you soon learn that you are not the genius you thought you were. It turns out that the world is full of people who are not just as clever or as talented as you, but who also work much harder than you do.

That leaves you with two options. One, find ways to compete. Or two, have an almighty shit-fit about how it’s soooooo unfair that others are allowed into your treehouse. Previously the highly privileged railed against “PC gone maaaaaaad”; now it’s about “wokeness”. But it’s always a toddler tantrum.

Laura Waddell in the Scotsman, itself no stranger to publishing such tantrums, writes about two kinds of contrarians: the career ones who manufacture controversy cynically to pay their bills, and the people who mistake loss of privilege for conspiracy.

The second camp is rooted in insecurity about one’s own position in the professional world, and a sense of being left behind as it changes. This can be seen in the desire to suck up to a stale model of power, the white male change-maker who held court when the controversialist’s career was on the up. Mocking others is an ingratiation attempt, showing they’re in the same camp, fighting newcomers who dare think they deserve a place at the table. But it is always easier to trick oneself into believing advancement of others has resulted in one’s personal persecution, than come to terms with being average among the competition.

White people aren’t necessarily better writers than people of colour. Men are not necessarily better musicians than women. Straight people are not necessarily better CEOs than gay people. But for a very long time, mediocre people have had better opportunities than others purely because of their skin colour. their gender or their sexual orientation because they and people like them promoted the people who were exactly like them – and limited the opportunities for people who were not.


The problem is not the existence of others – it’s just not being good enough. The world is just a little less likely to reward them for it.