For one of my classes in this, my last quarter of business school, my professor asked us to write a This I Believe essay. I wrote two because my first one was about poop (but I turned both in and got a good grade on both, proving my hypothesis that everyone loves poop and poop is hilarious). Anyway. The second one took some serious introspection and, well, here you go. Apologies for the nerdiness; I attend the business school where fun (and geeks) goes to die. Maybe the essay explains my absence? Maybe not? I don’t know. Also, if you’re getting married and can get Smilebooth, do it. I am the photo booth queen.
Regression to the Mean
Nearly two years ago, I was sitting at my best friend’s dining table, my brain fuzzy with joy. It had been the best week of my life. I was two months away from marrying my soul mate. He and I were living with our two best friends for the summer. I had found twenty dollars on the ground. I was skinny. The day before, I had learned I would be going to the #1 business school in the country. And that morning, another unexpected call, this one from New York: I was being given a book deal. A big one.
I sat at the dining table, wondering what to do with myself. Nobody was home to squeal and jump around with me. I remember looking down at my hands and feeling oddly detached from them and the rest of my body.
Suddenly, I was gripped with overwhelming panic. This was too good. Way too good. Irrationally, I began to fear I’d used up all of my good luck in life. Regression toward the mean – this week’s fortunes would have to be offset by something else, later.
How could I show my gratitude to the Dude in the sky? Maybe he would take pity on me, and give me only sort-of-bad luck to even things out. A stubbed toe, a broken wine glass, that sort of thing.
Later that evening, when I shared the news with my friends and fiancé, we clapped and cheered and jumped around the room like wild monkeys. Another stroke of luck for me: I was surrounded by people who loved me, who were genuinely happy for my serendipity.
The next few months passed in a whirlwind of happiness. I got married, I began business school, I finished the first draft of my book. I somehow managed to stay skinny. We brought home a new puppy, Baxter, and I discovered the unbridled joy and hilarity that come with owning a dog. I got a job.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, though, I kept thinking about regression toward the mean. How could I stay grateful for this unprecedented happiness?
It has been a really bad year. My parents have gone through an ugly divorce. My husband’s family – now my beloved family – experienced frightening health scares. Both of my grandfathers have been in and out of the hospital. I got a bad grade in Investments. Every time I give my dog a bath, he takes a revenge dump on the floor. I got into a wreck in an uninsured car. I gained twenty pounds. Some days I’m so overwhelmed by egocentric self-pity that I can’t force myself to get out of bed.
Now I’m counting on that regression toward the mean. I don’t actually believe some guy is sitting up there in the sky making sure nobody exceeds their allotted amount of bliss. But here’s what I do believe: life regresses to the mean. And that’s wonderful. In times of great joy, the mean anchors me to earth and keeps me humble. In times of great sorrow, the mean is my life vest, keeping me afloat. And when life just feels average, well, that’s because it is. This I believe.