The Paradox of Overperformance

The first time I ever got below 80% on a test, I knew something was wrong.

Approaching my class teacher:

“Teacher, is this really 72%, or actually 92% written wrongly?”

With a smile, she gently let me know there had indeed been no mistake. 10-year-old Aaron was overconfident, but got brought down to earth.

Starting with this story, because I think there are two interesting concepts here. Two concepts which sometimes appear to be polar opposites of each other; yet are both important for success.

The first — like how my first 72% test told me I wasn’t as great as I thought — is a realistic understanding of the world.

Being Hyperrealistic — Knowing Where You Stand

If I asked you how rich you are compared to the rest of the world, what would your answer be?

Bottom 50%? Top 30%?

According to the World Inequality Database, here’s what you need to be in the top 10%1:

  • USD 3.1K / month income, or
  • USD 126K total wealth

Not low numbers for sure, but probably not as high as you originally thought. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance you’re already a top 10-percenter in wealth.

Of course, we normally don’t think we’re in the top 10% because top 10-percenters hang out with other top 10-perecenters. And then everyone feels poor when you scroll the Insta Feed of a top 1% celebrity.

My point: Maybe you’re already outperforming. But you just haven’t realized it. Maybe you’re already rich and successful beyond what 90% of people dream of.

What your feelings tell you can be very different to what objective numbers say.

What the (Harsh) Numbers Say

We started with a story about my test results, then moved on to income and wealth.

Some other interesting numbers2 I could find:

Good luck if you’re getting married, starting a business, or investing in a mutual fund.

Here’s another:

I spend a lot of time on crypto Twitter. It’s fun. Fascinating to see people sharing all kinds of technical analysis charts. No doubt it takes a vast amount of intelligence to comprehend the markets and make money trading.

Because they’re so good at numbers, you’ve gotta assume traders know the odds — study after study show that the vast majority of traders lose money. Why would you even try?

I think it’s because people think: “I’ll be the exception.”

The same reason when you say “I Do,” you believe your marriage will last forever.

Faith Lets Miracles Happen

There’s a paradox here. Statistically, most people aren’t gonna be super successful. By conventional measures at least. Most people can’t be in the top 10%.

But if everyone accepted that. If everyone looked at the difficult odds and thought “well there’s no point trying then,” you can be sure that 100% of people would fail.

There’s power in “I’ll be the exception.”

Because even one in a million things happen.

In 2009, an unemployed 47-year-old lady stepped in front of a cynical crowd at Britain’s Got Talent. “I’m trying to be a professional singer,” she said. “I’ve never been given the chance before.”

Susan Boyle certainly didn’t look like a pro singer — no sharp cheekbones, sexy curves or silky charisma. She also had Asperger’s syndrome. And surely she was too old.

Then she sang “I dreamed a dream” and wowed the world:

I’m not sure what the odds of becoming a pro singer are. But for someone like Susan Boyle, it must have at least been 10 times harder.

That’s why when she sings of youthful dreams getting killed, you feel every word.

Today, with more then 25 million records sold, safe to say she achieved her dreams.

Believe You’re Gonna Make It; Work Like You’re Not

I didn’t want this to feel like some cheap motivational speech. Motivational stories are great, though we know they’re great precisely because of how unlikely they are.

But somewhere on the spectrum — between the tale of the underdog like Susan Boyle and the harsh statistics of this world — I think there’s a lesson:

Understand how hard it is; know what you’re getting into. Billionaire hedge fund founder Ray Dalio says this about achieving your dreams: “…people who create great things aren’t idle dreamers: They are totally grounded in reality.”

On the other hand, don’t become cynical either. Especially today, when everything feels like it’s going to shit. You can’t make progress without a bit of faith.

Pessimism is seductive, but optimists change the world.

– – –

Footnotes:

  1. Depending on where you live, the numbers will differ. Numbers above assume you’re living in the USA.
  2. All statistics from the USA.

Pic from Pexels: InstaWalli


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