Mediocrity is sneaky. We’re all convinced we can catch it before it unpacks and settles itself comfortably in the center of our life, but there’s almost never a warning. On the contrary, it’s a slow, subtle, quiet takeover. It’s one tiny little change after another, until enough time passes and we wake up one morning having no idea how we got to the place where we’re standing. And the scariest part is that once it establishes itself, mediocrity almost never leaves. Because we don’t force it to. Because in a sick way, mediocrity can be a lot more comfortable and appealing to us than success.
Because success comes from vulnerability, rejection, discomfort, and a hell of a lot of effort – with no guarantee of a payoff.
J.K. Rowling was rejected twelve times before Harry Potter was eventually published; she was told “not to quit her day job.” Before becoming the star of Scandal, Kerry Washington did two other pilots – both of which were picked up, but with her being replaced in each one by other actresses. Steve Jobs was fired from his own damn company. Albert Einstein didn’t learn how to read until he was seven. Steven Spielberg was rejected from USC’s film school three times. Marilyn Monroe was told that being a secretary might be a better fit for her career path than acting or modeling. Walt Disney was fired from a local newspaper because he “lacked imagination.”
These people faced embarrassment, humiliation, rejection, condescension, criticism, and the constant suggestion, spoken or implied, that they were not good enough. But they powered on. Because they refused to settle for mediocrity. They refused to be told what they could or could not do. They didn’t avoid failure and fear – they just learned how to function in spite of it.
So does putting yourself out there and refusing mediocrity in your life automatically mean you’re going to become a billionaire author, an Oscar-winning filmmaker, or the father of the next iPhone? No, it does not. But the opposite of mediocrity isn’t fame, power, or mass wealth. The opposite of mediocrity is excellence, and excellence in life is going to mean something different to every person on this earth.
Maybe creativity is not a passion of yours. But somewhere not too far away from you, there is a person staring at their computer at their dead-end job, wishing that they were making a living as an architect, or a graphic designer, or a wedding planner, or a tv writer. But instead, they’re working at an office job that is completely meaningless to them. Because they ignored all of the applications that their friends sent their way over the years for jobs that they might have been happier with. Because their situation was comfortable. It was paying the bills. And their dreams were impractical, anyway.
And somewhere else not too far away from you, someone is out to dinner with the significant other they should have broken up with four years ago. Maybe they’re married now. Maybe they’re engaged. Maybe they’re just living together. But whatever the technical status of their relationship is, it doesn’t matter. Because the only status that matters is that they are with the wrong person. They’re treated poorly, or they’re unsupported in their career, or they’re with a perfectly decent person who treats them well but whom they are not in love with. But they will stay where they are, probably forever. Because being alone is so much scarier, and there’s no guarantee that they will find someone better. And who cares if their love isn’t ‘excellent,’ as long as they have a warm body next to them at night?
Regardless of what mediocrity means to you, the common denominator is about being comfortable. Too comfortable to try, too comfortable to take a risk, too comfortable to disrupt what you’ve convinced yourself is ‘a good thing.’
But if J.K. Rowling felt it was easier to just stop submitting manuscripts, the world would never have met Harry Potter. And if Walt Disney agreed that he had no imagination, Mickey Mouse would have never been born. Your excellence is in there somewhere too. Maybe it’s not a discovery that will change modern science forever, or the starring role in the best drama on tv (bless, Scandal). But refusing mediocrity does not mean you must attain mass wealth or power. It just means that you will settle for nothing less than a life of excellence, and you will fight through rejection and insecurity and uncertainty to get there.
On my graduation day from college, right before I left my favorite place in the world to start a job for which I felt completely unqualified, my grandfather looked me in the eye and said, “It’s okay to have butterflies. You just have to train them how to fly in formation.” That’s the difference between mediocrity and excellence. You can have as many damn butterflies as you want. Just as long as they know that this is your house, not theirs.