On excellence and mediocrity

So many of us are taught to excel at everything, from very early on. We are told that there is nothing that we can’t do if we put our minds to it. We are promised success in return for hard work, with a side of happiness. Work hard, and you’ll get somewhere in life, with the implication that if you don’t, you are nowhere.
Now, I’m not to say that this is entirely wrong. I’m going to save my opinions on the matter of happiness for another day, and I think we’re in agreement that if everybody gives up on working to achieve what she or he believes in, we may well find ourselves in dire straights. But I digress.
I took this ethic to a slightly odd extreme. For the longest time, I did only that at which I could excel. Anything I did, I would set the highest demands of myself, and perform impeccably. But on the other hand, if I couldn’t be excellent, I just would not, could not, do it, and would slog through lazily and without accomplishment.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a varied handful of useful skills, you can get through life this way for quite some time. But not forever. Eventually responsibilities and workload catch up with you, and not everything you do is such a spectacular success anymore. And when you’re so strongly conditioned to succeed, if it’s not a success, it’s necessarily a failure.
So, you have this new breed of humans walking the Earth. They are smart, capable, and talented. They do things well, with dedication, and are quite possibly creating their own little dents to make the world a better place. And they are slowly burning themselves out, seeing themselves from inside as a growing mass of failures.
You get to believe this about yourself too much, and you stop moving. And that makes it even worse. You get sucked into an endless cycle of feeling inadequate, like a disappointment to yourself and those who rely on you, of self-loathing, even. The deeper you get sucked in, the harder it is to unstick yourself, and slowly the terrible things you believe about yourself are starting to become true to others as well.
If you’re lucky, someone will unstick you. This someone might be yourself. This someone might be someone who loves you very much, but this someone could also not even be close to you, or even ever know this happened. This someone could be a group of people. This someone will deliver the slap in your face you need to get unstuck and back on track.
So you get back on track and keep moving. Go back to being your excellent old self. Until you start burning out again. This will keep happening, unless you change the rules.

I think I found a way to trick the system. To avoid, or at least stall the burnout.
Make a list of things you wouldn’t normally do. Because you’re no good at them and they are a waste of your time. Single out one item that sounds like it would be fun, or that maybe you’ve even harbored wishes of maybe someday mastering. DO IT. Do it with the full knowledge that you will NEVER be excellent at it. Enjoy it anyway, just because you’re doing it. Keep doing it. If you improve over time, pay no mind to this. Anybody will improve over time. You’re not in this for the improvement. This is your chance to be truly and utterly mediocre at something, and not give a fuck about it. Just because you enjoy what you’re doing.

Did you just spend 30-60 minutes of your day doing something absolutely useless?
Excellent. No. Just kidding.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Love it. Love yourself. Give yourself the credit of being allowed to be less than stellar at something. Don’t be excellent. Just be.

2 Comments

Filed under Dare I Say Philosophy

2 responses to “On excellence and mediocrity

  1. Julia

    This is an excellent post! Thank you for writing it.

    I think I’m going to go make my list now…

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