I’m going to describe three types of people. I call them average, elite, and ascendant. Average is good. It’s not a bad thing to be average. It won’t ruin you and you can have a good life. Elite is great. You can do things few do and achieve a lot, including a place in history. Ascendancy is something else altogether. Ascendant people are better than great, whether or not the world knows it.
Average people don’t try to change the world. Elite people try to be recognized for changing the world. Ascendant people work every single day to become a superior version of themselves and inevitably change the world as a result.
Average seeks safety, primarily motivated by pain avoidance. Elite seeks social esteem, primarily motivated by prestige and external validation. Ascendant seeks something no one else can give; the self-actualization and restless contentment of a life lived fully alive and in pursuit of whatever their ‘it’ is.
The point is not to condemn being average or elite, but to describe three different approaches to a variety of situations in hope that we can learn what it takes to ascend when and where we are willing. In reality, no one is ever fully average, elite, or ascendant. We’re more or less these categories in different areas of life.
You may be ascendant in your business, hobby, fitness, or family life while being average or elite in other areas. Striving for ascendancy in more areas of life is a ceaseless and difficult journey.
I settle for average in a number of areas. I love music, but I haven’t ever mustered the will to go beyond average. I play it safe, keep music to myself, and avoid embarrassment or failure. I find myself fighting the elite plateau in many things – writing included – where a certain type of success or praise begins to draw me away from genuine growth and progress. The formula for likes and clicks and fans is a powerful draw for any creator.
Ascent is hard. Really hard.
It’s probably easier to go from average to ascendant than it is to go from elite to ascendant. Average and elite both share characteristics with ascendancy, but the shared characteristics of average and ascendant are in some ways more fundamental. Elite and ascendant share drive, hard work, and risk-taking. Average and ascendant share unpretentiousness, inward focus, and a higher degree of self-awareness.
More importantly, elite is valuable and rare, and therefore the move to ascendancy is more costly. Prestige is very hard to give up. Good reputations can be both a propellant and a tether. This is what Jesus meant when he talked about a rich man reaching the kingdom of God being harder than a camel passing through the eye of a needle. He didn’t mean riches were bad, nor did he say it was impossible. The lesson was simple: when you have more to lose, you’ll have a harder time ascending.
I’ll explore the average, elite, and ascendant approaches to a number of situations. Most are from personal observation of people through the Praxis program and my own life experiences. There is a truly unique approach to life that only the rarest remnant – the best of the best, better than great – have. That’s what I wish to capture, describe, and constantly move towards.
It’s up to you if and when you wish to pursue ascendancy for yourself. The cost is great, but the reward is greater.
Isaac Morehouse is founder and CEO of Praxis. This was originally published on his blog as part of a series on the difference between average, elite, and ascendant.