The Allure of Mediocrity

Many of us may say that we want to stand apart from the rest of the world—that we wish to be different, unique, or exceptional. Yet, is there not a certain security found in conforming to the mold that society tries to cast us into? Do we not have to oftentimes be willing to take risks in order to not be one of the crowd?

Although this concept might seem difficult to adjust to, there is truly a certain allure to be found in mediocrity. When we refuse to acknowledge that we are extraordinary, it allows us to be less courageous than we would be otherwise. After all, if we haven’t any special gifts or talents, how can we be expected to accomplish anything remarkable? It would seem that merely managing to get by would be accepted as an achievement.

As incomprehensible as this may sound to some of you, there is a logic beneath it that I’m asking you to reflect upon. It is similar to the idea of not accepting responsibility for one’s own life. When persons can convince themselves of their own lack of power over themselves and their choices, they are also able to exempt themselves from guilt over unwise choices and reckless behavior. Sometimes, this refusal to accept personal responsibility is manifested in illogical thinking patterns connected to theories that promote the idea that rather than being the creators of our own destinities we are dependent upon the “forces of the Cosmos” or unseen entities who control our lives for us.

Personally, I do not  believe that simply thinking “positive” thoughts or focusing on how we want our lives to be will draw forces and events to us that will bring us the lives of our dreams. However, what I do believe is that some of us actually pursue mediocrity without being fully conscious of it. We persuade ourselves to discard any dreams that seem too far-reaching by convincing ourselves that we are being “realistic”.

Then, we wonder why our life resembles a plot out of one of Richard Yates’ novels. What were the two main characters of Revolutionary Road if not two people who sacrificed anything extraordinary by refusing to let go of the ordinary? Thankfully, most of us are fortunate enough to end up with lives that are not as deeply tragic as the lives of April and Frank Wheeler ended up being. Yet, whether we realize it or not, far too many of us are leading existences that are really nothing more than a slow death. We do not have to intentionally decide to be mediocre in order to live a life of mediocrity. All we really have to do is allow our fear and self-doubt to trap us into a prison of our own making, in which we prize security over change and safety over risk.

When we get to the end of our lives and we end up with a long list of regrets, it will not be because of the unwise choices we made but because of the choices we were too afraid to make. We will look back and find that the things that bring us the most sorrow are the words we didn’t say and the actions we didn’t take. When we try to play it safe and worry more about our pride or our self-image than we do about making the choice that is truly best for us, we are defeating ourselves and compromising our potential.  Actress Uta Hagen once said, “We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre.”  What Hagen probably did not entirely understand was how alluring the mediocre can be. 

To walk into a room without being noticed can actually be far less threatening than making an entrance that commands a great deal of attention. It is a brave person indeed who does not mind having others talk about him/her for when one is spoken of, there is always the possibility of criticism and ridicule. How much easier it is to blend into the background, to be no more noticeable than your average garden flower. Is it not the butterfly that captures our eye? We might have a dozen caterpillars cross our path without ever once losing ourselves in a moment of rapture or awe.

So, how can mediocrity be genuinely appealing? Well, it tends to be disguised as “fitting in” or as having what might be termed a “balanced life”. It is only later that people realize that they chose the ordinary at the expense of creating a life that was in any way exceptional. Oftentimes, the choice has been between having and being. In order to have “a life,” people give up being individuals. They marry because that’s simply what people do, and they procreate for the same reason.

It is not merely to fill a void within themselves that they continue to seek having over being. Also, it is because that is what culture encourages us to do. We can say all we want to about celebrating the individual, but the cold, bare, hard truth is that our world embraces normalcy and shuns everything else. There is even a tendency to ostracize those who refuse to conform although those who say they promote non-conformity are sometimes just as guilty of this behavior as anyone else.

Yes, it’s true. To take on life with bravado and assert your belief that you are extraordinary will be one of the most difficult tasks you ever undertake. It will not be the words alone that will bring you criticism, however. The actions you take that back up your assertions will be what others will question, challenge, and even attempt to thwart. We accept butterflies as the natural transformation of the caterpillar because it is expected that caterpillars transform themselves into butterflies. But, what if only on occasion did the caterpillar turn himself/herself into a butterfly? Would we then consider the butterfly beautiful, or might we not rather label it an odditiy, an anomaly, something “outside the norm”?

The famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche summed up the battle towards individuality rather succinctly when he said, “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” But what do we call “owning” ourselves? That is a question that many of us fail to answer adequately.

We may say that we live for ourselves and that our beliefs and opinions are all our own, yet how true is that for most of us? There is so much inner strength involved in letting go of the need to please anyone besides ourselves. Even if we manage to accomplish this feat for awhile, it doesn’t take long for us to once again fall into the pattern of caring too much what other people think of  us.

Does this mean we are doomed to some level of mediocrity no matter how much we fight against it? No, I don’t think it means that at all. However, what we have to do is remain entirely aware of the superifcial glamour that oftentimes draws us to that which is ordinary whether consciously or not. We must never mistake the desires that other people have for us for our own desires nor should we ever allow ourselves to exchange the vision we have for ourselves and our lives for another person’s vision for us. 

There have been countless people who have settled for that which seemed good only to give up that which was truly best. And generally, this decision has been made from a place of fear. We take what comes along rather than waiting for that which we really yearn for because we are so afraid that we will be without anything if we don’t choose something. It is only later that we see our mistake although by then we have to face the consequences of our choice.

Even if we manage to persuade other people that the choice we made has worked out for the best, deep within the recesses of our souls we know that we could have done better. We know that it was only in trying to “fit in” or “make do” that we exchanged the extraordinary for a life of mediocrity. We settled for an ordinary life because we weren’t brave enough to let go of our fears—not because it was the only option available for us.

I’m sure that many of you who read this article are already in situations that seem to be permanent or, at the least, offer you little hope of change. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that things can be radically different simply by your wishing them to be so. But what I can do is assure you that the things which you view as unchangeable are never as incapable of being altered as you may think they are. Although none of us are promised nor should we expect a life of ceaseless sublimity, each moment gives us the possibility of becoming something more than we are now.

Our dreams are never lost to us unless we let go of them. Hope can always be found if we look for it persistently enough. But we have to be willing to unlearn the things we think we know and to explore that which we are afraid of. Security and safety are the parents of mediocrity. Once we perceive this to be the case, we will understand that only in overcoming them will we lead anything other than an ordinary life.

In sharing my concepts and ideas with you, I want you to realize that I am not asking you to agree with me. In fact, I would much prefer you to disagree with me than to accept my theories without examining them and thinking them over.  I am so devoted to a life of self-examination that I oftentimes find I disagree with myself when I read back over some of my previous articles. But, for me, this is a positive thing as it indicates I am capable of changing my beliefs and that I do not need to convince myself that I have the “right” answers about anything. When you reach the point in your life when you can acknowledge and even embrace your own ignorance, you are giving yourself the freedom not only to recreate yourself but also to rediscover the world around you.

And what of mediocrity and its superficial allure? Is it possible that with all of my attempts to elucidate upon the virtues of the extraordinary I’m truly confessing that the mediocre is beguiling? Actually, it isn’t mediocrity itself that will ever put a spell upon anyone. But what is a temptation that any of us who wish to stand apart from the herd must be willing to resist is the fear that comes from disapproval . . . from solitude . . .  from isolation . . . from taking risks that other people regard as dangerous or foolish. And, no matter how eager you are to abandon  the idea that mediocrity can be alluring, the transitory benefits that can be yours from choosing a mediocre life should never be underrated.

Ultimately, it is your choice: the allure of mediocrity or the risk of the extraordinary? No matter which decision you make, make sure it’s yours.

Love and blessings,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

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