Better Mediocrity

mediocreMediocre means “ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road, unexceptional, lackluster and forgettable.”  In many ways, I would put myself in the category of mediocre.  I’m 5 foot 9 inches tall and weigh 190 pounds.  My bench press and squat numbers are nothing impressive.  I got a 1060 on my SATs (the old version).  My yearly income is nothing to “write home about”.  By most accounts, I am pretty mediocre.

The thought of mediocrity has been one that has entered my mind several times over the past year.  The realization of my own mediocrity was nothing new.  I have little chance to become exceptional in most areas.  Even for my age, the benchmarks of excellence are pretty high.  This divide creates a chasm that stagnates improvement.  With the possibility of excellence off the table, it is easy to see why so many people lose their drive.  However it is actually in this chasm that I believe we actually have the greatest of societal opportunities.  As a collective (Athletes, Americans, Humans), we can choose to strive for better mediocrity.

In the past, I have written about the “Bannister Effect” and how the breaking of new ground creates possibilities for others to follow.  That is a concept that I still endorse wholeheartedly.  However as I thought about my own mediocrity, I came to realize that we need a “second wave”.  There must be another push from the middle.  The outliers pulling forward will only have an effect on those that are close to their level.  For example, the 10s only pull the 9s forward but the effect is almost unnoticeable by the time that it reaches the critical mass in the middle.

This second wave needs to be created as an individual and a  collective undertaking.  The mediocre individual competes for the most part with himself.  Improving with a partially selfish desire to take a step up one rung on the ladder.  Despite this selfish motivation, the individual also recognizes his membership of a collective (Athletes, Americans, Humans).  The “mediocre Americans” are getting better.  The middle of the road changes from 5 to 7 and there is a pride in self and the collective.

Better mediocrity would change so many things about our lives and expectations.  Perhaps mediocre would no longer be a slight insult but rather an identifiable force pushing the forerunners to greater excellence.  If you happen to be mediocre, choose to be better mediocre!



The Downward Spiral

LadyLibertyWhen I was young, my Boy Scout troop took a trip to the Statue of Liberty.  I’m not sure who talked me into it but a group of us decided to go up to the crown.  If you’ve never been there, in order to get up to the crown, you need to take a long spiral staircase.  I’ve looked at pictures of the present day stairs and they seem to have improved them.  However when I visited, the stairs looked very old and you could see through the steps into “guts” of Lady Liberty.  About every fifty feet or so there was a little platform, which I guess was intended for tired people to rest on.  For someone who is afraid of heights like me, the climb was bad enough but stopping on that platform was out of the question.

As I was climbing those steps on that day, a thought occurred to me about the worst-case scenario.  What if someone fell backwards as you were climbing?  We were packed like sardines in this stairwell, if one went we all would go.  I felt myself getting slightly dizzy and nauseated.  The only thing that made the upward spiral bearable was the fact that I was facing and leaning forward.  If I did fall, I would end up face down on the steps but I’d be ok.  By the time I finally reached the crown, I only took a cursory glance at the view.  As I turned the corner, the realization of my prior fear was fully in front of me.  The downward spiral had all of the possibility of falling but now I was facing and leaning in that direction.  For my younger self, it was nerve-wracking and scary.  I hated every moment of that descent.  So much so that I’m surprised that I don’t remember who talked me into going because it was exactly “THAT BAD”.

Downward spirals are scary and nerve-wracking in life as well.  Everything seems normal at first but then something puts you just a little off from your climb upward.  Then another thing hits you and another, until you are turned around and no longer looking forward toward your goal but backward toward the fall.  The staircase is not wavering; it is you.  You have taken these little setbacks to mean that you are going to fall.  This is not the time to start flailing or grabbing onto people to bring down with you.  It is time to take a moment and get some perspective.  Breathe!!!

You are not helpless.

  • Decide if the crown is worth it. I would have gladly gotten off of that staircase had that been an option.
  • If the crown is worth it, then refocus on the crown and take the next forward step.
  • Your fear of the fall can be your enemy or your ally. If it causes you to focus on the process and take steps carefully, it is your ally. If it causes you to be nervous and freeze up, then it’s your enemy. Make fear your ally.
  • Fall forward! If you’re going to fall (fail), make sure that you gain some ground with that fall. You learn something; pick up new information or even just figure out what doesn’t work.

I wish you all the best on your upward spirals!