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Michael Phelps is Average

Aug 7, 2008
Michael Phelps is the gold standard in the swimming pool, but don't think of him as exceptional and special. He is just like you and me. Average.

How can that be? At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Michael Phelps claimed 8 medals: 6 gold and 2 bronze. He holds 4 world records and 11 individual world titles. Phelps is favored to break still more records at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Nothing average about that! Truly, Michael Phelps is an extraordinarily talented, gifted, and capable athlete who shines brilliantly in the swimming pool and on the medals stand. You and I certainly can't compete with that.

A Zero in Every Ten

Fortunately, we don't have to. That's the beauty of being average. On a scale of zero to ten, 5 is average. We're all given a different mix of strengths and abilities. While we might be a 0 in one area (like me in a swimming pool), we're likely 10 in another area (like Michael Phelps is in the swimming pool). Or maybe we have two strong talents, one at an 8 and another at a 7. Zero, 8, and 7 averages out to ... 5. Average.

When we see Michael Phelps glide through the water, we really don't care what his zeroes are. His coach doesn't make him run during the team's dry land training because Phelp's flexible ankles -- an asset to swimming -- make him prone to tripping and falling. We'll probably never see him win on "Dancing with the Stars", but that really doesn't matter. What does matter is that Michael has (1) discovered his key talents and (2) is applying them daily.

Strengths Select You

We, on the other hand, continually worry about "fixing" ourselves where we are below average. "I can't diagram a sentence." "I speak with an accent." "I can never remember where I put my glasses." So what? We'll never enjoy all we can from life if we spend our time working on the weaknesses. We need to find ways to tap into our strengths, to (1) identify our 8's, 9's, and 10's, and then (2) put them to work for us every day.

The Gallup pollsters have done research over decades that show top performers are not those that repair their weaknesses. Instead, top performers discover their strengths and then sharpen and polish them to make them even better. In their book, "Now, Discover Your Strengths", authors Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton list 34 strengths that everyone enjoys in some combination, plus point readers to assessment tools to enable them to discover their top five strengths.

Michael Phelps has found at least one of his strengths, and it's a thrill for the rest of us to see him apply it. Whether he's pulling through the water with those huge hands, torpedoing the competition after a turn, or closing a race to finish well ahead of the rest of the field, we're excited to watch. But what about us? We're meant to be more than just spectators in the game of life.

Late is Still Great

You are really great at something; have you found it yet? Alan Opdyke of Snellville, Georgia wins awards for breeding guppies. Bill Porter of Portland, Oregon became a top salesman despite his cerebral palsy. Michael Phelps is lucky because he found -- with the help of a coach and his family -- something he is good at while relatively young. Yet late bloomers are all around us. Charles Hurme won the USTA National Senior Hard Court Tennis Championship when he was 90. Just because you haven't found your 10 yet doesn't mean you don't have it in you.

If you're still thinking I must be writing about someone besides you, that you have no talents and abilities above a 5, you're wrong. You're not inadequate, you're just chicken.

Maybe you're reluctant to try new things. Maybe you're afraid to get hurt, physically or emotionally. Maybe you're terrified to discover another thing you're not good at. What if Edison had chickened out after his 999th try in his quest to create the light bulb?

Listen for "Wow"

Accept the fact that you're average and do something positive with it. Stop wasting time working on abilities at which you'll never be exceptional. Shift your efforts to trying things that interest you. Act on your curiosity and desire. Pay attention when people pay you a "Wow" compliment. Take a chance on yourself. Challenge yourself to find the excellence within you. Don't ever let anyone imply that you are "just" average. Find your strengths, and then have the courage to apply, hone, and polish them. Stand Out. Excel.

It's unlikely that we'll ever join Michael Phelps in the pool, but that doesn't mean we can't make a splash in our own way every day. We may all be average, but in some way we're also extraordinary as well. Find and apply your "extra" and you'll be far from ordinary.

Copyright 2008 Paul Johnson.
About the Author
Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker is a keynote speaker who works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover breakthrough concepts at http://www.paul-johnson.com. Visit http://TroubleBreaker.com for presentations on performance improvement.
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