Looking Beyond Excellence: On Mediocrity, Failure, And Feeling ‘Good Enough’

woman looking through book and laptop on white bed
Twenty20 / @sean.miyaji

Mediocrity and self-criticism have always been two things that have gone hand-in-hand for me. I’m not good at a lot of things, the majority of things probably, the voice in my head is always telling me that I’m afraid of being a beginner, afraid of producing trash content, afraid of not succeeding or being accepted, afraid my efforts will go unrecognized, and mostly afraid that there is someone who will always be better than me.

This is even further engrained in relationships, body image, intelligence, you name it, and the fear of mediocrity is still there. A concept that is so simple, but one that most people can’t get behind, is telling ourselves to be okay with mediocrity. Especially when there are so many signs telling us to be the -est. For men, that’s often the strongest or the toughest and for women, that’s often the prettiest or the skinniest. Overall there is this constant message that if you aren’t going to be the best, why are you even trying? And this has been something that’s been haunting me since day one. Chances are there is always going to be someone that is going to be better at something than me. Chances are I’m not going to be the next Michael Phelps or Wes Anderson. The idea that I’m not good enough is often one that terrifies me, because why would anyone read my content when there is someone out there producing something bigger and better?

The fact is that we all need to start being okay with mediocrity. While excellence is certainly a way towards motivation, it needs to stop being our sole motivation for pursuing our passions or really anything for that matter.

I’m not saying that you need to stop striving for greatness, but if being great is the only thing you’re striving for then you need to take a step back. If you are only pursuing reputation, what you’re creating isn’t coming from who you are, but how you’re trying to brand and promote yourself.

True creativity and passion lie hand in hand with how you see yourself in relation to greatness. The nirvana fallacy tells us that many of us think perfectionism is possible and probable, but the truth is it’s not. Excellence comes and goes within each area of life; it’s subjective and ever-changing within each person. When I was younger I thought that perfectionism wasn’t a bad thing, but often times it made me stop from starting in the first place.

Overcoming your fear of not being good enough not only takes bravery but also vulnerability to fail.

I can’t tell you the voice in the back of your head telling you what a failure you’re going to be is going to go away, but you can ignore it and be ok with doing the things that you want to do regardless of your skill level. The self-criticism I feel with mediocrity and producing quality content vs. getting views is a battle I still don’t have all the answers to. Honestly, I don’t know if there is going to a point in my life where I do feel good enough. What I do know is that you aren’t going to get the time back that you use in self-loathing. Your greatest asset to yourself might even be mediocrity. Through mediocrity, you can discover what your true motivations are, as excellence is nothing without true passion.

As we take time to reflect on mediocrity, we also need to individually redefine excellence and its true intentions. Is the content that you’re producing for yourself or is it for others? Are you working towards what society thinks is excellence or content that is central to yourself and your sense of accomplishment? Money and fame are great, we all know that, but the cultivation of your craft should bring more fulfilling. And often times we feel that we deserve recognition and reward for our work, but this is a self-serving fallacy. God doesn’t owe you anything.

Working hard and putting time into your ambitions, while it is a pathway to success, isn’t equivalent to entitlement.

As each of us strives towards excellence, we need to recognize that success is something that is shaped both by culture and subjectivity. However, our society largely places importance on fame and success over feelings of personal accomplishment. This often misguides many of us towards self-loathing and an unrealistic comprehension of accolade. Social media enhances this even more because we only see the best part of other people’s lives. Suddenly, there is a race to success as we see others having personal gain, but even though there is this pressure to compete that doesn’t mean you’re failing. It’s easy to forget that life isn’t a test, especially if you value personal gain. Stop letting other people rush you and value the moments in life as they come.

Take time to rest. Do you feel like by going off the grind you’re missing out on your own journey towards greatness? If you said yes, take some time to reflect. Being busy isn’t a badge of honor, in rest, you will gain clarity with yourself. You can filter what your vision is and what it is you actually need to work towards your goals.

Sometimes stepping back from work is when we actually start to figure out what it is we’re working for without being surrounded by it.

Don’t get me wrong; while rest is something that everyone is able to do, it can be one of the most terrifying things when you are taking on so much already. Yet, it is important to remind ourselves that striving towards greatness (a word that I’ve been using as a supplement for perfection) requires us to look after our body, mind, and soul. Don’t be afraid of the grind, but also don’t let it control you, you can’t reach your goals if you are constantly being blinded by the quickest way of getting there. The reality is that most of us aren’t practicing rest, because we are on a constant path towards trying to be the best. However, setting aside perfectionism and doing what you need to do in order to be happy is one of the best practices you can put in place for yourself.

My challenge for you is to look to mediocrity to fulfill your life; it may be a lesson that will bring you bountiful joy and freedom. If you are constantly looking towards the end gain, then you will never value the process. TC mark

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