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.

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Surrender to Life!

believe172I’m sure that you’ve heard the saying about winning the battle but losing the war. Well, what does that mean, and how does it happen? Oftentimes I think those who wish to accomplish great success have a certain mind-set. This mind-set is rooted in the concept that in order to achieve you must be fighting an uphill struggle constantly. The problem with this philosophy is that, sooner or later, you will deplete yourself of all your resources. I’ve spoken about this in a previous blog post, but, as time has gone on, I have become more and more aware of how it applies to my own life.

An incessant struggle ends up causing you a lot of anxiety and fear, whether you’re always consciously aware of it or not. To be the authentic You, the You that you want to be to surmount obstacles and use your unique potential, you have to establish and maintain an inner sense of peace and calm. Waves of turbulence would be fine if you were an ocean instead of a person. But you are a person and therefore should treat yourself with a certain amount of gentleness.

First of all, it’s essential that you let go of all fears you have about not achieving your goals or making your dreams into a reality. Secondly, it’s crucial that you understand that you’ll have to let go of some things in order to bring certain other and better things into your life. We usually associate the word “sacrifice” with something negative. It implies that you’re giving up something that you want or need. If you go on a diet, you might speak of sacrificing chocolate candy or ice cream or french fries or some other food that you particularly enjoy.

However, the sacrifice I’m speaking of should be regarded as something entirely beneficial for you and your  life. You may actually have to sacrifice your inordinate desire to succeed in order to experience true success. If that sounds like a contradiction on my part, let me explain.

When you experience a hunger for anything–whether it be food or fame, money or sex or something else–your body moves into a mode of tension that will not let up until your need is satisfied. But, what if that need cannot be immediately satisfied? How will you cope with a state of ceaseless tension or anxiety? The answer is, in letting go. Even if it seems like you are miles away from achieving anything significant, until you acknowledge the success that you’ve achieved thus far, no matter how minimal it seems to be, you will not accomplish more. To remind yourself constantly of that which you haven’t done or are not yet able to achieve will diminish your self-esteem and create a psychological barrier between you and ultimate accomplishment.

For most of my life, I’ve been someone who might easily be referred to as an overachiever. At the times when I’ve not achieved something, I’ve still maintained the mind-set of an overachiever. What does this mean? Well, I’ve always had difficulty relaxing and enjoying life for the miracle that it is.

Instead of living in the present, I’ve lived between a past in which I feel I haven’t accomplished enough and a future in which I have envisioned myself not accomplishing even half of what I might desire. Naturally, this has prevented me from experiencing the level of success that I might have enjoyed otherwise. And at this point in time, I recognize that I’ve been walking down the wrong path. Instead of walking down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City of my dreams, I’ve been walking through a forest of painful memories and shattered dreams. Rather than a fairy tale, I’ve been living in a nightmare of my own making. So, where did everything go wrong? How did I end up locking myself up in a dungeon of misery and dissatisfaction?

I don’t honestly think that we can always explain the twists and turns of life. Nor do I think we can necessarily analyze our choices and reactions to the circumstances that take place–no matter how much we might want to. To try to examine every detail of our existence would be like attempting to explain an exquisite work of art or to analyze a symphony or some other piece of complex music. We can conjecture and come to a few conclusions. But, just as many literary critics perceive what they wish to see in a work about which they’re writing, so we, when it comes to our lives, can only make random guesses as to why specific things have taken place.  Although it’s important to take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make, it’s impossible to completely comprehend many of our actions.

However, what we need is to surrender ourselves to life and that which comes our way. We need to combine striving for excellence with letting go of our fears of failure. When we come to a fork in the road of our lives, we need to stand still and actually listen to our own heartbeat. We’ll find ourselves at one with the harmony of the universe. There we’ll accept ourselves for the person that we are, in spite of whatever flaws or shortcomings we possess. That moment–the moment when we’re completely fearless–is when we will leave an open window for magic to come into our world. Miracles can only happen to those who are receptive to them, and fear is a great inhibitor. As long as you fear anything, whether it be failure or even death, you will not be able to use your full potential or experience personal success or fulfillment.

When I think of a story that demonstrates how easy it is to give up almost everything you have because of a desire to have achieved more in life, the classic black-and-white film It’s a Wonderful Life comes to mind. If you have seen the film, you probably remember how close George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) came to ending his life. He had a beautiful wife he loved and who loved him as well as a healthy family and a host of friends.

But George reached that moment of despair when he could not look past the misery of the moment to the long-term consequences of a rash action. It was only through the divine intervention of an angel that he regained his faith in life and his desire to continue living. When that angel showed George what the lives of those whom he was thinking of deserting would be like if he committed suicide, George understood what a mistake it would be for him to end his life. In those minutes when George could only think of death, he also thought of all the exquisite dreams he had abandoned in order to live what some would think of as a humdrum existence as an “ordinary” husband and father and wage earner.  

In a way, the novel Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates echoes this same theme. It tells of a man and woman who end up living a life that neither of them would have chosen, simply because of a certain set of circumstances that came about. But whereas in Revolutionary Road the husband and wife don’t learn to accept their lives without constantly yearning for more, in It’s A Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed manage to be content with what they have. Granted, a great deal more complexity exists in Yates’ novel than there is in the nostalgic holiday film. But each has a valuable message we can apply to ourselves and our lives.

Moreover, I think a valid point can be made–namely, that we can destroy ourselves by never being satisfied with what life has brought us. This lack of satisfaction is one reason that society is full of people who live in a continual state of unhappiness. They assume that another child, a new car or gadget, a new house, a trip to Europe, or something similar will give them the joy and satisfaction that they have not yet found. But, joy begins with a state of mind that lives in the present–a state of mind that can look at the beauty in everyday existence rather than at that which hasn’t yet been accomplished or acquired.

In another blog post some two months ago, I spoke about the importance of having a “vision”. Well, to have a vision is necessary. But not if it means that you’re incapable of enjoying today. You must surrender yourself to the present in order to get in touch with your destiny. And you must also surrender your ideas about how things must be in order to leave room for your subconscious to guide you. Unlike your conscious mind which acts like a self-critic, who is always there to tell you what won’t work or what you cannot do, your subconscious mind allows you the freedom to explore a myriad of possibilities in every aspect of your life.  When you’re guided by your subconscious, it’s like being a child again–fearless and intrepid, without mental tapes playing in your mind telling you about all the things that are unrealistic or unacceptable or just plain “bad”.

There will always be critics out there to try to make you feel less capable than you are. A few naysayers have told this Success Diva that I’m too compassionate and that I care too much for others. I’ve also been criticized for calling myself a “diva” since the term can have negative connotations.  But it’s our lives we’re leading–not someone else’s. We have to do what we think is best. When you start freely using such words as “Powerful” and “Successful” about yourself, some people will actually back away from you. But it’s only because it evokes feelings of inadequacy and/or insecurity in them.

Do not ever be afraid to go after that which you want with gusto and determination. Those who sit or stand on the sidelines watching the show are there because they did not dare to take part in the production. Seldom is it a lack of talent or intelligence or good looks or personality which prevents someone from achieving his or her goals. Generally, it is fear–either fear of criticism or fear of failure, or a little bit of both. Although it’s rarely possible to be completely impervious to other people’s opinions, it’s nevertheless crucial that you follow your own instincts and make the choices that you know in your heart are best for you, regardless of what others may think.

One thing that you must be prepared for is abandonment by some of your friends and, perhaps,  even family members. When you start to transform yourself from a timid or fearful person who felt incapable of making big dreams come true into someone who’s willing to step onto that path that will take him or her to his or her dreams, you’ll notice that some people simply can’t handle it. It isn’t that these people want you to fail, per se. They simply do not want you to succeed.

As difficult as it may be to comprehend, they would rather see a stranger excel in your chosen field than they would you. Of course, they will only end up bringing unhappiness into their lives with this type of mind-set. However, everyone is at a certain place in his or her life. And some people truly are not yet at the place where they can allow others to succeed when they themselves are not successful.

Every year, many people turn on the Academy Awards Ceremony to see actors and actresses whom they revere win coveted  gold statuettes that they themselves wish they could possess. Oftentimes, those who watch these award shows with such intense interest covet the fame and glory that these celebrities have gained. Yet, would these same envious onlookers be willing to make the sacrifices that those actors and actresses have made? Would they have been willing to wait tables just to pay for acting classes? Would they have given up spending money on things they desired, but didn’t need, in order to pay for training in singing, dancing, modeling, or acting? You might be surprised to learn how infrequently people are willing to sacrifice their immediate wants for their long-term dreams.

This brings me to what I said about winning the battle but losing the war. What are you holding onto in your life right now that you would need to give up in order to start making your dreams come true? Would you have to stop watching so much television? Would you have to stop drinking excessively? Would you have to make dietary changes or start managing your finances more shrewdly? Only you know what changes are necessary, and only you can decide whether it’s worth making those changes. If you would rather just survive instead of thrive, then you can continue living as you are now. However, if you would like to experience the sheer ecstasy of thriving, if you would like to stop being tormented by the chaos of the world around you, if you have goals that seem more like wishes because you see no hope of them coming true, tap into that courage and resilience that you already have within you and surrender to your destiny!

Make the most of today and cherish every moment! Live with passion, enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. Live Without Limits, Success Diva style!

Until soon,

Your Success Diva

 

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This page and all written material at the Success Diva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate. The Success Diva