This is a short story I read a long time ago, almost certainly before 2000 and likely before 1990.

I don't recall if it was in a magazine or in a book/anthology.

It was probably published a decade or more before I read it, because technology is not present in anything beyond about mid-1970s levels.

The plot remains very strongly with me though:

An exactly average man decides one day to buy, from an ad in the back of the yellow pages or newspaper classifieds or similar, a set of lessons that claim to impart a particular skill.

His friend advises against it, claiming they don't work very well, and are a waste of money.

But because he is the exactly average man, average in all respects, the lessons work extraordinarily well, and he becomes an expert/virtuoso/etc.

So he begins to get all the lessons and become extraordinary talented.

Some of the lessons include piano lessons and weight lifting/body building/health improvements.

I believe it ends in disaster for the average man, a cautionary tale about excesses in any form.

For the life of me I cannot Google this now, to share with a friend who claims to be "very average".

  • what sort of disaster?
    – user14111
    Jun 22 '17 at 3:34
  • I don't recall. Ostracized perhaps. Or he collapses under the metaphorical weight of all his new-found talents. It might have been a "be careful what you wish for" cautionary tale.
    – studog
    Jun 22 '17 at 21:52
  • I'm so sad I can't answer this, because I read this same story, around the same time period. I think there is a 50% chance I read it in this anthology: goodreads.com/book/show/… Jul 28 '21 at 16:40
  • @CaptainSkyfish Thank you so much! If there's two of us that remember it, it's more likely that it's real and I'm not crazy after all. :-) I may have this one in my in-storage books. I'll check but it'll be a while.
    – studog
    Jul 30 '21 at 20:50

Sounds familiar but the only story I've read with similar plot is Isaac Asimov short story "Profession". I'm quite certain that it is not the correct one, though.

  • Definitely not Profession, although that's an Asimov tale that has escaped me somehow. Thanks!
    – studog
    Jun 22 '17 at 21:55

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