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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This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. (C) Copyright 2010 Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva. All Rights Reserved.

What choice will you make?

Although this may sound like a simple argument to set forth, life really is about choices. Almost everything you do each day is a choice— even those things that you think you must do or that someone else is expecting you to do. Sometimes I think that our society conditions us to believe that we have to live a certain way and make certain decisions because the world, at large, thrives upon control. To hold on to individuality in a universe of conformists requires strength and courage. Even those who seem to rebel against the confines of society are often in prison cells of their own making. They do not realize that they aren’t free because the bars of their prison obscure their view, thereby preventing them from seeing their lives and the circumstances of their lives clearly.

For a long time, my favorite quotation has been one that the poet E. E. Cummings once said: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” When I first read this quotation, I found myself asking, why should being ourselves be our hardest battle? Why is it so important to everyone that we all conform to the preconceived image of what they think we ought to be?

It’s ironic, really, that rebels and those who step away from the crowd are ever admired or held up as role models, considering how strongly we are all urged to be like everyone else. Of course, many who have been courageous enough to embrace their individuality and live authentically have been vilified and maligned by the world, at large. Throughout history, this has been the case, and from Jesus to Martin Luther, King, Jr., we have seen the revolutionary leaders cut down, oftentimes in their prime. It is easy for people to criticize, mock, and demean that which they do not understand. And we can all point fingers at those who choose to forge a new and unchartered path for themselves, particularly if we are one of those unfortunate souls who remains entrenched in a life of mediocrity.

Oddly enough, I have encountered so much criticism and mockery at this point, that none of it touches me anymore. I am like the bird who will not be deterred in its migratory flight. But a friend of mine has recently been attacked for some of the choices she has made. When I read the negative comments others made about her, I realized how true it is that those who try to tear others down only end up tearing down themselves. Those who create beautiful castles do not build their masterpieces by destroying the castles that other people have built. 

When we were children, sometimes we may have done things that hurt others without meaning to. Perhaps, we wanted to be liked by our peers. Or maybe we just had not yet learned that there can be lasting consequences to our actions. However, when we grew up, we learned that even those things that are seemingly insignificant can have lasting affects on not only our lives but also the lives of others. And unless we derive satisfaction from cruelty, most of us do our best not to injure other people. At the same time, there are exceptions. If we knew why this was the case, we would be able to solve a question that has been puzzling cognitive scientists, psychiatrists, and philosophers for centuries. As it is, we can only speculate and try to content ourselves with the very plain yet frustrating truth that there are many mysteries in life that will never be understood.

From now on, I am making no more efforts to turn enemies into friends or detractors into fans and admirers of my work. If someone doesn’t like the articles I write, I would suggest that he/she stop reading them. A person’s life  is too short to spend time on things that he/she will never make a choice to appreciate or understand. We each have our own journey to take. Therefore, I encourage everyone to go his/her own way, with both my blessing and my request that he/she gives  me the freedom they are giving themselves. When we let others walk their own path, we should be secure enough in our own choices that we feel no need to criticize them.

I tend to think that those who feel the need to tear down others do so because they have so little power in their own lives that they feel they must try to take the power away from others. This is why you will oftentimes notice that those who are at the top of their chosen professions are more caring, generous, and gracious than those who are living what Henry David Thoreau would call “quiet lives of desperation”. When we feel content in our lives and we are truly aligned with our own purpose, we want those around us to be engaged with life the same way that we are.

But when we are not happy or fulfilled and we see others who seem to be leading lives that are successful and joyful, some of us start subscribing to the idea that we have been shortchanged in some way. Why? Because it’s easier to turn ourselves into victims than to take responsibility for our lives and the choices we have made. If we can blame someone else for our mistakes and our missed opportunities, even if it doesn’t do any good, it can leave us with a temporary feeling of satisfaction. But can it satisfy us on a long-term basis?

Some people speculate about what the driving force throughout the world is. They debate whether it’s love or money or both. Well, although I am still examining this issue, I am relatively certain that it’s neither love nor money. Rather, I believe that it’s desire. If you will look around, you will notice that most of the choices we make have begun with a desire. The problem with this, of course, is that in allowing desire to control our choices we are being moved by passion rather than by critical thinking. Yes, there is something to be said for intuition and “gut feelings”. But by its very nature, desire is a force that should be used with care and caution.

Yet, since desire is what I believe rules this world we live in, it is being misused and abused in ways that most of us would never even be able to imagine. And, it is what brings about most of the pain in the world, too. For it is a desire for power and control that prevents people from giving other people the freedom to lead their own lives and make their own choices. Even crimes like murder and rape are rooted in desire . . .  the desire to take the life of another person or the desire to have sexual and physical power over another person. Neither love nor money is involved in either rape or murder, but both of these vile acts are more prevalent in the world we now live in than ever before.

Do not misunderstand what I’m saying and subscribe to the erroneous idea that I’m saying desire is a completely negative force. Desire can be very positive as well. I think the question we all need to examine is this: are we controlling our desires or are our desires controlling us? When we tear down other people, it isn’t because we are powerful but because we are weak. When we criticize, complain, and demean, we are relegating ourselves to the role of victims, rather than victors. We are saying, “My sense of self-worth is so low that I have to try to make others feel less valuable in order to feel good enough about myself.” Once we realize that this is the message we are sending out, it forces us to rethink our behavior—or, at least, it should.

Like everyone else, I have had moments in which I have offered criticism when support and encouragement was what was called for. But this is because I am human as opposed to being a divine being. Thankfully, I’ve learned that I will never have freedom in my own life if I do not let others have their freedom, too. We cannot expect to have something that we try to take away from other people. And we can expect that we will be criticized if all that we offer others is criticism, just as a spirit of hate provokes strife and malevolence breeds disdain. Life seems to have a way of giving us back what we have given to others, which brings us once again back to the issue of choice.

In the past, I have shared certain aspects of my personal story in my SuccessDiva articles. But since everybody has a story, I feel that more can be accomplished if I do not share all of mine. I would rather focus on you and the changes I can inspire you to make if you choose to let my words enter into your soul and bring your deepest and most exquisite dreams to the surface of your consciousness. 

What do you want to accomplish in your life? If you must end your life with regrets, which regrets do you want them to be? Would you rather regret not reaching a goal in spite of all your efforts or would you prefer to regret not ever having tried to reach the goal in the first place? Do you want to regret having stayed in a relationship that never made you happy because you were unwilling to give up your security? Or would you rather take a chance at finding the man or woman of your dreams, even if you never find him or her?  

Yes, life really is about choices. And the choices you make today truly will influence not just tomorrow but also the rest of your life. Choosing wisely isn’t enough—you also have to choose courageously. Taking risks is part of what will bring you the life you want to live. None of us have a user’s manual to help guide us through our lives. To imagine that we will never have self-doubt or fear or moments of panic and anxiety isn’t realistic. What the determining factor in each of our lives is is whether we overcome all of these things. Do we let society dictate our needs and desires? Do we let other people make our decisions for us? Do we waver in our choices, even when we know we are making the choices that are right for us?  

A life of purpose is a life that is lived with a sense of conviction. A person who wants to live freely and authentically must be brave enough to break free from the boxes that others try to keep him/her trapped in. He or she must understand that it is better to be rejected for his/her authentic self than to be accepted for a role that he/she is playing. The approval of the multitudes matters not when we have lost all genuine respect for ourselves. And how can we respect ourselves unless we are being authentic?

One reason I have ceased to care what others say about me is because I have tuned in to who I really am. When you reach this point, you become aware of the fact that it doesn’t really matter who says what about you, if the things they say don’t match up with reality. We may all see the world through our own pair of glasses. But if we take the time to examine ourselves, we can get to the truth of who we are. If we don’t like that person, no matter who else may like us, we will be unhappy. But if we do like that person, then no matter how many people don’t like us, we should be content.

I only like the authentic me . . . the me who does not want to be identified with a specific persona or “image”. And because of this, I have chosen to let go of the image of me to embrace the authentic me. This is a choice I will never regret—not now nor at the end of my life.

What choice are you not making right now that you know is right for you? What’s holding you back?

Live today as if there will be no tomorrow . . .

Until soon,

Alexis, your SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva Pages is written by Alexis Wingate (C) Copyright 2010 by Alexis Wingate. All Rights Reserved