Embracing Our Collective Fear Of Mediocrity



It’s perfectly okay to be average. This is the sentiment shared in many blog posts recently, including from two of my favorite bloggers, Jay Baer and Mark Manson. While their blog posts couldn’t be further apart, the same general theme held true. It’s about our collective fear of being average.

[quote]“Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve.”  [/quote]

If you are anything like me, your first reaction to this sentiment is to get defensive and all up on your high horse. I know what you are thinking. It’s easy for you to write and say this, but that’s just not me. I don’t want to be seen as just average.

I honestly struggled with whether or not to even write this post for fear of being seen as a hypocrite. You see, I’m your classic Type A, ambitious go-getter. I’ve been taught from a very young age that “Cs” are bad. And, I’ve been taught to strive to be the best at everything I do and chase the “As”.

As I get older, I realize how flawed this logic really is.  if we strive to be exceptional at everything we do, we end up jumping from one far-reaching goal to the next on autopilot mode. We unconsciously chase a desire to be exceptional at the expense of everything else, pushing ourselves further and further from one goal to the next and before we know it we end up driving our life to a outcome that we never really wanted in the first place. This is what Michael Hyatt’s coins as the danger of the driven life. In this excellent talk at WDS 2104, Hyatt points out that “Exhaustion has become the new status symbol.” Think about it. When someone asks you what you are up to, the default answer is, “I’m busy.” or :”I’m tired but good and busy.” Or, “hustling.” The answer is never, “well I had time to explore a new hobby or I started getting 3 hours more sleep a night, or etc. We as a society associate being busy as being successful, important and more valuable to society. However, in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As pretty much every study and article out there showcases that we are the most creative in our downtime, including this excellent article from 99u.   We’re robbing ourselves of our most creative energy by over scheduling our lives and chasing the high of being busy.

Think about it. When do you engage in the most creative activities and pursuits? Most likely in the early morning or late at night. Guilty as charged, right? To illustrate that point further, I wrote the draft for this post at 2am on a Sunday morning. And yes I was 100% sober at the time.

If you think about it, that makes sense. You can be the most creative when you allow yourself to be the most free. Free from distractions, free from the trappings of your over scheduled calendar and free from manufactured busyness.

If I’m honest with myself, my biggest fear is getting stuck in this driven, “busy” life and waking up 20, 30 or 40 years in a mid-life crisis facing an outcome that I never wanted. It’s even what prompted me to make my theme for this year all about vulnerability. It’s forced me to step out of the day to day grind as uncomfortable as it is from time to time to evaluate the big picture.

When I really stopped and thought about the things that matter most to me, I begin to prioritize those things over everything else. For me, life is measured by the relationships I have built and experiences I have had, not by all the hours worked or all the material things I have bought and collected.  I’d rather strive to be exceptional at just a handful of things that truly matter to me than spread myself too thin by chasing perfection for everything I do. When framed this way, suddenly being mediocre or even a little below average at everything else seems much more palatable. After all, none of us are superheroes (even if we may want to believe that we are from time to time). we can’t be extraordinary at everything.

[quote]As Mark states, “We can then say that it is a complete statistical improbability that any single person can be an extraordinary performer in all areas of their life, or even many areas of their life. Bruce Wayne does not exist. It just doesn’t happen. Brilliant businessmen are often fuck ups in their personal lives. Extraordinary athletes are often shallow and as dumb as a lobotomized rock. Most celebrities are probably just as clueless about life as the people who gawk at them and follow their every move.”[/quote]

By being brutally honest and vulnerable with not only others but with myself (most importantly), it’s allowed me to make some really big changes over the last year that aligned with my values and freed up my energy for the things that I care most about and strive to be exceptional at all. My core values can be summed up by these four things:

  • Be a better community builder each and every day.
  • Strengthen my core relationships.
  • Chase new experiences and seek out adventures.
  • Cultivate an environment around me that inspires me to stay curious and be a lifelong student.

These are the four values that I use as my guiding star to integrate my professional and personal life.

[box type=”note” border=”full” icon=”none”](Note, I think work-life balance is mostly hogwash. You are going to spend a significant amount of your adult life working, so it’s much wiser to find a way to integrate the two (a.l.a. work-life integration). Having them be in silos is just a great way to sacrifice your happiness and kill your spirit.)[/box]

For example, it’s allowed me to better prioritize how I budget my money. There’s only two types of purchases that I never regret or feel guilty about. That’s books and plane tickets. Both of these purchases align with two of my biggest core values: being a lifelong student and a desire to chase new experiences. Through traveling and reading books, that’s where I have learned the most about myself and the world around me. I realize to some people that makes me a travel snob. Admittedly, they may be right. It’s not lost on me that I’m incredibly lucky and blessed that I’ve been able to travel to as many countries and cities that I’ve been. I also realize that I sacrifice other everyday experiences. For instance, I stopped engaging in retail therapy and all the trappings of credit card fueled material purchases, such as tons of new clothes, expensive jewelry and upgrading to new iDevices just because they are shiny and new. After all, debt is our real, biggest enemy. It’s a guaranteed way to trap yourself into living a life that doesn’t allow you to chase and fulfill all your goals and ambitions. Here’s a great post around how to free yourself from debt from Dan over at TropicalMBA.

By embracing and truly living the four values that really matter to me, it makes it easier to accept mediocrity in other areas of my life. One instance is in the comical disaster that is my dating life. Anyone who has read this blog or followed my Twitter account for any bit of time knows about some of my dating horror stories both on dates and on online dating sites. While I’m not ready to give up my quest of meeting Mr. Right and succumbing to my inner dog-lady (Dogs are cooler and better than cats), I recognize that if I spend all my time obsessing over my dating woes that I’m taking valuable time and energy from the four values that matter the most to me.

Through all of this, I challenge each and every one of you to write down your core values (i.e. the things that you really stand for and don’t ever want to compromise). That’s your vision or North Star. That’s where you should strive to be exceptional. For everything else in life, know it’s okay (if not expected) to be pretty mediocre.

About the author

Jessica Malnik

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