In Praise of Mediocrity
I believe that I am mediocre. To say that out loud the first time is almost as hard as saying one is an alcoholic or addict. The synonyms for mediocre in a typical English dictionary include middling, average, second-rate and ordinary.
But I also believe that with the sobriety of mediocrity comes clarity, a sense of who I really am.
In 1980 I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to Oregon; 1600 miles, give or take a few steps. I started this youthful vision quest believing that the mysteries of life would be revealed to me, that I would have the answers. I ended it without a single revelation. Of course I never knew what the questions were. I simply walked, day after day, through the stormy and wondrous reaches of the high country. I sometimes felt small and inconsequential to the point it hurt. I realized that in the immediacy of this immense and indifferent physical universe there was no transcendence. I could not change channels. It was intensely liberating to recognize that there was so much more to the world than my own expectations. It was an intimate experience that infused me with a deep and abiding respect for the routine of life, the splendor of uncontrolled everyday occurrences.
I have since produced television documentaries in places like Russia and Africa and currently work in Antarctica, experiences that some have called special or even extraordinary. Closer to my heart, I treasure my children and my marriage. I treasure the joys and sorrows that come with keeping a home and making a living. Life has often made me feel special but not made me special. I believe there’s a difference.
At times, I find it hard to hold to the quiet middle ground in a consumer driven society. There is no television drama, no celebrity status in mediocrity. The messages that encourage achievement and success all too often enable a host of self-fragmenting and destructive behaviors. Competition and consumption all too readily supplant awareness. I must constantly remind myself that I am just me. It’s not easy.
I do not wish for those I love to be successful, only that they are happy or perhaps more accurately, at peace with themselves. In other words, I wish them a life of a well lived and vigorous mediocrity.
The Latin origin of the word mediocre is “halfway up a mountain.” This is a place of endless possibilities and climbing to the top is but one.
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