Mediocrity Is Not the New Excellence

Image for post
Image for post

I remember when I first heard Sarah McLachlan. It was 1996, I was sixteen years old and “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” was a big deal. I was sixteen so, of course, to me it was the biggest deal in the world. In fleece and flannel (it was the 90s and fashion is fickle and fluctuating thing), hair dyed like Angela Chase from “My So-Called Life”, I was beyond certain that not only would my angst never end, no one would ever understand it the way Sarah did. It was like she saw right into my broken, angst ridden, confused and ever-so-tender teenager heart and wrote songs just for it.

I’ll never forget hearing the first Sarah McLachlan song I ever heard. It was Fall, first semester and I was in my music class. I can’t remember what we were learning but I remember “Good Enough” playing; Sarah’s soaring voice seemingly able to transcend any hurt, all pain and all doubt. When she sang, “You’re so much more than good enough” I believed her. In an instant, I went from feeling literally worthless and hopeless to feeling like, ‘okay, I am good enough.’. Of course, I was a teenager so that feeling lasted exactly a nanosecond but, even though fleeting, it was freeing. It was nice to feel good enough. It was like a permission slip from striving, from doubt and from not quite measuring up.

We spend a lot of our lives being corrected. As Don Miguel Ruiz’s life changing (to me) book “The Four Agreements” points out in its early pages, even as children we are told more often what we are doing wrong rather than what we are doing right and, unfortunately, that instruction, can often feel conditional even if it’s not meant to be. It is though usually tied to disappointment, or, a withholding of love and affection. Of course however, when framed correctly, that type of constructive feedback and correction is adaptive. It is so when it is rooted in not having to earn something, like love or acceptance or connection. Teaching for its own sake and for the betterment of ourselves and other people is necessary, and, an important tool to being well-adjusted and developing prosocial behaviours. When not, framed mindfully though, that correction leaves us feeling, well, not good enough and like there is always something to be striving for, a rung on the ladder just out of reach.

Social media is another huge problem. Look on any platform and you see perfect lives, thousands of followers, ‘influencers’ who can make a living while sitting in their impossibly chic homes telling other people (the ones not quite doing it right) how to live their lives, but, better. If we let it, that kind of social media, look at me, compare yourself to me, mindset can be extremely maladaptive and hugely exhausting. I haven’t, thankfully, been a teenager for a really long time and the wildfire of not feeling good enough long ago died out into embers at best and a low flame at worst as every person has their ‘not good enough moments’. That being said though, if I spend too much time on social media, I swear to God, you might as well stick me in flannel, dye my hair out of a box, crank Sarah up and call it a day. It’s completely destructive. And it’s not just completely destructive to me, those dopamine hits that make our brains like rats on wheels are bad for all of us. Super bad.

The other day, CBC Radio posted this article called “Should we aim for mediocrity”. It was, as a friend who I sent it to noted, “a strange way to frame the concept” as it was limiting and misleading. In the article, the philosopher Daniel Milo asks us to consider our cultural mindset of “extreme achievement” using the example of youth sports where children are being told they may be the next “Great One” when it is, at least statistically, improbable. However, Milo lost me, and my friend, when he swung the pendulum wildly from extreme achievement to mediocrity. Cue the Charlie Brown music.

Avram Alpert, an author quoted in the same article, doesn’t use the term mediocrity but likes the term “good enough” because, according to him, that mindset “prepares us to be creative, to be adaptive, to be capable of transforming ourselves, and our relationships, as we need to in response to tragedy.”. While that sits better with me than mediocrity (a sad word and an even sadder way to live) it still doesn’t go far enough. It is good to accept being good enough, or having done enough, but, we shouldn’t just give up and settle for those things. Not without swinging for the fences first.

As my friend wrote to me, “giving your best to a task with the circumstances you are given should be the standard, not settling for less…our best changes as circumstances change. It shouldn’t be about settling for good enough. It should be about assessing any situation realistically, knowing that perfection is a unicorn, doing the best we can, and being comfortable with the outcome. Regressing to the mean = bad. Adapting realistically to the moving target of excellence = good.”. And that right there, is why my friend is the best. Milo might have the title philosopher but my friend deserves it more.

We always ought to give our best. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to life itself to do so. We don’t however have to be perfect, that is a unicorn. Our best though is not a unicorn and it will always be good enough. It has to be because, even if we fumble getting there, when we have honestly given everything we have to give, it couldn’t be anything other than good enough as that would actually be statistically impossible.

Our best will always look different but it will never let us down because when we put our heads on the pillow at night, we can say we gave it our ever changing all. We only get messed up and feel not good enough when we think if we don’t become Oprah we need to give up on the idea of excellence because we have failed. We get messed up when we, I don’t know, write on a platform like Medium and get a few hundred views verus thousands of views and a book deal and an invitation to Oprah’s ranch for a taping of Super Soul Sunday even though we’ve picked our outfit (not flannel or plaid) to match the mossy green of the trees. Sorry, digressed for a minute imagining how a writer who is not me might feel. The point remains though that we never get messed up by doing our best. We get messed up when we have expectations of outcomes that don’t end up matching reality.

I realize now approaching…ahem…forty…that when Sarah sang that I was good enough, and for that nanosecond I was released from my fear and my doubt, it was not based on my doing, it was based on my being. Our beings are always good enough and we never have to settle when it comes to them. When we do from our beings we have access to our best; every time and without fail. Some days, we can access that place in ourselves better than others and so our doing will look different that day and that’s okay. We still aimed for our best in that moment and it is enough, even good enough. But whether we are washing the dishes or writing a bestseller we have to give it our best and never settle for less as mediocrity will never be the new excellence. In fact, it’ll always just be lame and not excellent at all. Trying our best though, no matter the outcome, well, it just doesn’t get any better.

P.S. I actually love the hundreds of views I get on Medium and feel so grateful to have such an amazing place in which to put my thoughts. To quote Sarah, it’s “so much more than good enough.”. It’s actually the very, very best.

I write about what affects our lives. Thoughts we have, questions we raise and ways in which we can grow and, hopefully, become better so we can do better.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store