I have a confession to make: I’m average.
I have fought my average-ness every step of the way. Here’s an example. When my wife and I were first together, we moved into a small, beautiful apartment in a historic part of Providence, Rhode Island. I took the bus to work and walked everywhere. We swore we would be different from our peers, who were all moving into anonymous suburbs, having kids and spending half their life driving around in cars and fixing their overly-large houses.
It’s been seven years since I’ve lived in that apartment, and can you guess where we live right now? You guessed it: in a suburb, with a just-too-big house, with two kids. We both drive to work every day. We’re exactly like all our friends. Why didn’t we follow through on our plan to be different?
Because we’re average. When faced with some of the choices and incentives around us, we acted with the same rationality as our friends. We began to feel cooped up in our apartment, and we couldn’t afford anything in the city. Property taxes were much higher than in the surrounding ‘burbs. At the same time my wife began to feel an emotional and physical yearning for children. And if we were going to have children we wanted space for them, and a durable community. Our part of the city contained a lot of short-term student renters. And of course, the schools. Every parent’s obsession: schools, schools, schools.
Once a year, we visit my in-laws in Florida. They are the epitome of average in the path of their retirement. They worked hard their entire lives living in the Northeast, and now they live most of the year in a gated community in Florida. My wife and I always say we don’t ever want to find ourselves retired in Florida. We don’t like the car culture or the humidity.
But I can’t rule it out, because I’ve learned it’s best to plan to be average and work from there. I don’t know what it will feel like to shovel snow when I’m sixty-five, or how I’ll react to a big New England tax bill knowing I can stretch my finances by thousands per year by moving south. Maybe I’ll want to create a grandchild-attracting honeypot as my in-laws have done, with a pool and quick access to Disney. Each time I visit them, I understand the attraction more.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m done telling myself I know how I’ll react to future decisions, because I don’t what will make future E. A. happy. I have to respect the average, because it reveals rational decision making on a large scale.
That’s not to say it’s okay to be average in every way. The average American saves 5% of their income, but I try very hard to save at least 20%. The average American retires at 65 (or never) and I’m going to try to shave a few years off of this, at least. In these ways, I really do not want to be average, and no lived experience will change my mind. I hope.
When I first realized I was average, it made me a little sad. Part of my personality is tied up in being contrarian. I like looking at life from different angles, trying to optimize my financial decisions over-and-above the average consumer’s default mode.
But I’m at peace with myself now. I can still dare to be different, but I’ll plan to be average just in case. It’s okay - most people are. Otherwise it wouldn’t be the average.
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