The Good Kind of Average

On the outside, it doesn’t look like we did too much on our last family vacation in Italy. We didn’t hit up a different town of the Piedmont every day. We only went to one wine tasting. And there was not much shopping done either. We did, however, use the pool every day.

In total, I swam 350 laps in the 15-meter-basin. I did 100 on the first day, but after that? Nothing crazy. 50 laps here, 40 laps there. Some days I skipped entirely. Still, by the end of the trip, I had racked up over five kilometers of swimming distance. 35 laps a day — 525 meters — on average. Not bad for someone who currently does no regular endurance training.

The first reason you should be content with average performance is that average is the default — and on most days, that default is more than enough. The second reason is that, while mostly unglamorous on a day-to-day basis, in hindsight, the average will look a lot kinder than your subjective experience.

You’ll have some bad days, sure, but if you plod along most of the time, that and some positive outliers will make all the difference in the end. In my case, I happened to have a good run early on, and so I did nearly 30% of my swimming on day one. After that, it almost didn’t matter how many laps I did. As long as I kept showing up, I’d get a decent result.

It’s easy to feel bummed when things are only going okay, which, most of the time, they are. Even the high of a good day will barely last through the week — but that outlier will still drag up your average for months to come. It’s hard to feel in the moment, but easy to see once you look back.

The good kind of average is not the so-so feeling you have at the end of each workday. It’s the realization that, wow, over time, your efforts genuinely added up. Persist through the bad days, savor the good ones when you can, and soon enough, you’ll find you’re back on land even though it feels like you just left the shore.