In praise of mediocrity

I can’t say that I could have ever predicted that I would be writing an article with such a headline, but here I am, after years of relentless self-imposed challenge and achievement, about to say “There really is something to embracing your average-ness.” 

But before this entire article is dismissed as one person’s attempt to justify a singular lack of talent or ambition, you can read a list of my extensive and somewhat ridiculous credentials at the very bottom of this article, if you must*. Suffice to say that if anyone knows anything about attempting to live up to one’s potential (sometimes embarrassingly so), it’s me.

The virtue of mediocrity

I’m a fan of mediocrity simply because it reflects reality, which is that you're going to be average at most things (that is what average means, after all). Put another way, you are statistically unlikely to be all that smart, all that beautiful, all that kind, all that wealthy, all that healthy, all that charitable, or all that anything at all. A few things you’ll be great at, and a few you will be terrible at… but mostly, you’ll just be mediocre.

Reality also says that you have a finite amount of time, energy and resources with which to achieve things. It's unlikely that you have enough time, energy and resources to be good at most things (one powerball, though, right?). So, with that being the case, our best bet is to get intentional with our mediocrity, and be okay with what we choose to not care about. This approach allows us to focus on those areas where we truly can be great, rather than wasting our time trying to be great at everything (or even at most things). 

"But, but! It doesn’t feel okay to just accept my own averageness. I should be more healthy, fit, successful etc than I am."

Why does our own average-ness so often feel like “failure” and not like “completely normal”? 

Well, we live in a society where the focus on certain things that are ‘good for us’ (healthy diet, exercise, ‘living up to our potential’, not smoking) have gotten to a point where we are ripe for judgement from others if we are not participating. Who would you pity more - the clean-eater who had a heart attack, or the overweight person? The triathlete who got lung cancer, or the smoker who got lung cancer? “It’s his own fault,” we instinctively think of the latter, rather than “We all have unhelpful habits that we find hard to stop.” That is, we are more likely to go for judgement rather than empathy on these topics. We’ve bought into the hype that to be a good human is to be a healthy, fit, non-smoking, living-your-best-life human, and if you’re choosing not to do that, then you’re less qualified to receive kindness. 

But we need to remember: these are all societal values that are reflective of the period of human evolution that we’re currently up to, not objective truths that guarantee happiness and success

It’s your life, and you can live it however you want, and you will be required to deal with the consequences of so doing. 

So while your life and the rest of the world might really benefit from you addressing your anger problem, or your emotional eating, or your compulsive avoidance of conflict, you are not morally obligated to do this. In fact, you should be focusing any effort that you want to exert on the areas of life that will give you (and or others, depending on what you most value) the most happiness bang-for-buck.

One of the more liberating moments of my life came when I realised that accepting “average” could, in fact, be enormously freeing (rather than being an admission of defeat, which was what I previously feared it was). Nope, I'm never giving up all the foods that I love and, as a consequence, I’m not going to look like a supermodel - both my genetic structure and my happiness refuse to support it. Nope, I'm not going to be able to create a massively successful business overnight - I'm not innately endowed with the genius to know how to do things that I haven't done before, so I can struggle along with the masses of first-time business starters without hating myself for it. Nope, I'm never going to be one of those fantastically zen people who can just enjoy their lives - neuroticism and over-thinking seems to be my lot, and, on reflection, have their own unique advantages. Now, because I'm not wasting my time trying to be super thin, immediately successful, or fantastically zen, I can use that time and energy for things I can be brilliant at.

Why we strive, matters. So often our striving is about trying to combat the belief that we are not enough as we are, rather than a joyful exertion undertaken simply because it feels good.

I’m not anti-striving, but I am most definitely pro-balance. Being pro-balance means that our periods of striving are offset by periods of rest, reflection, and play. That our awareness of where we are ‘less than’ we would like to be and our attempts to do something about that, are tempered with genuine self-love, grace and mercy toward our own humanity. That we are not compulsive in anything that we’re doing, but we’re holding it with the conditions of lightness and openness that our lives, and our selves, best thrive with. 

If you’re striving to achieve something because, like exercise, it feels good when we exert ourselves in moderate amounts, then great! Go have fun with that.

If you’re striving to achieve something in response to a belief that you are not enough as you are - that you will be more loveable, more safe, more respected, more powerful, more desirable, or more admired etc if you achieve x, y or z or earn however many dollars per annum - then the issue is that belief, not how you’re turning up in the world. That’s a deeply painful belief to hold about oneself, and it will drive you to treat yourself in damaging and self-abandoning ways. Go and get some professional support to work through that one.

Now, have a fantastically average week! Cease judging yourself and others, and spread generous amounts of compassion around the world.



*God, this is embarrassing. Here goes: I was a lawyer by age 21. I received my MBA at age 26, and was recognised as one of the top perfumers in my cohort. I was sitting on the board of a not for profit that same year. I quadrupled my salary in my first four years of work, and not because I started on an incredibly low base. I’ve run half marathons, hiked extraordinary lengths, done a 10 day water fast, survived on juice for 70 days, and even went to the extreme lengths of undertaking a body suspension (don’t Google that if you’re a squeamish sort). I’m an artist, a competent musician on several instruments (I taught piano for several years), a composer, a singer, and have even run a patisserie business on the side of having a corporate career.