Pretty provoking title, eh? Good that I got your attention. Let’s see if I can keep it through the rest of this article.
I wanted to write about this because it is a subject that became important to me as I grew up and started questioning so much about what I saw around me and about how I grew up. Not only that, I also wanted to pass on what I realized over this time. Maybe this will be helpful for you or maybe you will disagree with me, either way is completely fine. I’m not here to force you to agree with my mediocre ideas.
It starts when you are young
I would say that a lot of pressure or ideas of having to be the best begin at a young age. Either because you are always competing with your little friends, either because of your family’s expectations.
When we are kids there is this innate feeling of competition. And, if it’s innate, I guess it’s just natural. You want to win the race to the next light post. You want to have the best video game. Your mother makes the best sandwich! Ah, to be young and dumb… At that age you start solidifying this concept of superiority in your mind because everyone around you is competing in some way.
And as I said, some parents (or even teachers) don’t help here. They compare you with your colleagues, or they start asking why you got a 7 instead of a 10. “You should study more, after all, it’s the only thing you do anyway!” They fuel the competitive spirit in an unhealthy way. Well, guess what? When you get older and move to puberty things don’t get easier. Now it’s about being popular, it’s about having partners, it’s about having more than others.
Oh my god, what about that cousin that dances ballet, gets 10s on her tests, AND goes to church on Sundays? That is a blessed kid…
Well, she isn’t. And you are not dumb because you got a 6 and can’t play guitar. You are mediocre. And that is fine.
Sadly when you get to adulthood, you already have all those preconceptions about what you ought to do to be the best in the pack.
One movie scene that really gets me every time I watch is a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a scene where a guy raises from “the dead,” makes a huge effort to obliterate the enemy. After that, his colleagues celebratorily shout, “Mediocre!” Holy shit, the guy made a superhuman amount of effort for something and he was called mediocre! What did these people expect from him?!
I think this scene summarizes some groups very well. No matter how bizarre your effort, you will still be considered mediocre.
At this point, I must say that you should be aware of the expectations around you. And that can change the way you see yourself and how “mediocre” you are right now. Take a moment to check where the metaphorical bar is, and if the bar is high, reflect if you really want to rise to that level or if you are comfortable where you are.
Sometimes people raise the bar so high without even realizing it. I’m guilty of doing that, for sure. And so is your husband, your mother, and your boss. We create some otherworldly expectations of others and ourselves and when we don’t achieve them we say, “mediocre.” Of course I am mediocre, you are trying to compare me to Hercules!
Putting yourself in perspective
Remember that tale that says that you can never drink from the same river twice because the water now is not the same water in the next moment? That also applies to you. Why am I talking about that? Turns out that you right now is not the same as you from the previous year. You changed, man. And your mediocre ass of today… is better than your mediocre ass of last year. Did you know that?
Aside from the societal expectations, we have our own expectations, and those can be even worse. I was in a course recently and one of the exercises was to write a letter to yourself as if you were a friend. That made me realize: how good of a friend I am and, conversely, how shitty and judgemental I am with myself. Some situations that I try to lift my friend’s spirit but would be very harsh on myself. That’s weird, right?
You have to be kind to yourself! That is one thing that I learned over the past years and that I try to pass on to other people. You are with yourself until the end of days, you better be your own best friend. A friend that calls you out, if needed, but a friend that knows when to pat you on the back and give you ice cream because you are doing a good job. Not a great job, not a stellar job, just a good job. You did it. That’s what matters.
The other thing that matters (and people should reflect more) is the difficulty of the thing that you are trying. Unless you are Homer and just need to press a button, chances are that you are always trying something new. Your brain is getting new information and expanding and creating connections… You are developing yourself. How can you be mad at yourself for making a mistake if you didn’t even know how to do that thing in the first place? If you are being mediocre at trying something new, holy shit, you are amazing! You are right there with people that already know! Or, if you will, compared to the previous you that didn’t know, you outdid yourself! You surpassed all expectations. Good job, you.
That is something that we need to be more aware of. Sometimes we stretch and try so many things - in a new job, in a new relationship, in a new environment - and just by stretching, you are already getting better than you were before. You broke the scale and moved to another one. Take a look at your last 6 months and think about all the things you did that you didn’t know.
Changing what we expect from others
Good, now you know how to put yourself in perspective and understand that you don’t need straight As to be happy, but what about the people around you? Are you giving them a break and letting them be mediocre as well or are you turning this into a vicious cycle of neverending increasing expectations?
Have you noticed that even when we wish something to people, let’s say on their birthday, we wish the best? “Hey sis, happy birthday, I wish you the best of life.” “Hey friend, it’s your play tonight, best of luck.” “Man, you are amazing, I want you to have the time of your life on holidays.” Ok, easy there… What if I just want a normal, peaceful holiday? I don’t need to have the best every time I go see aunt Gertrudes…
I remember some years ago when my mother sent me a message saying “I wish you enough.” Oh man, how weird that was. I called her to understand why she was only wishing me just enough? What did I do to deserve just enough? Turns out she just learned about this mantra and how beneficial it would be for us to have enough. We don’t need all and everything, we just need enough. I found it very weird and tried to comprehend. Well, I don’t know how well it worked, but here I am, trying to convince you that it’s ok to be good enough.
And there is more. Before putting your expectations high for someone, what about asking them how much they want to stretch? What if this person is ok being good enough, being mediocre? They will do their job just fine, go home and eat their dinner. And that is fine for them. Sometimes even being mediocre (in your conception) is being better than people. You being mediocre might actually be you being better than 70% of other lawyers out there.
To finish this very long post
The world is full of mediocre hard-working people. They make the cogs of the world turn. The world is not full of geniuses and doesn’t even need to be. There is space for everyone and no one should be ashamed of not having a Nobel, an Oscar, or 5 stars from Mrs. Fine from grade school. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and understand how hard we worked to arrive where we are now. Your whole life doesn’t need to be an uphill battle forever. Battle a little, rest a little. Getting 3/5 means that you did exactly what you needed to do, so congratulate yourself. Enjoy your mediocrity.
Thank you, my editor, Ashley, for reviewing this article.
If you want to understand more about being a perfectionist from a personality point of view, I would suggest this article: The Perfectionism and the Turbulent Identity.
There is a really nice video that I watched the other day from The School of Life called Why You Don’t Need to Be Exceptional