My So-Called Life: Why There is Value in Mediocrity
People hear the term “mediocre” and think “failure.” We live in a society fueled by high expectations, and anything less often is deemed unacceptable. I am here to argue against this perception. In my opinion, it is damn fine to live a mediocre life—a life, that is, that may strike many if not most people as “adequate but not very good.”
When I was younger, I believed no goal was unattainable. I was a fast runner. I played piano. I rode, and swam, and went to school and did pretty well. But a funny thing began dawning on me during my middle school years, solidifying in high school: I realized other people did these things better than me. I was OK, but there was always someone distinctly superior in virtually every area. I felt deflated. I felt…mediocre.
At 18 I left my family—parents, brother and sister waving from the front porch—and drove the packed Ford Fairmont station wagon to the state college that had accepted me. I toiled dutifully toward my journalism degree, welcoming the diversion of weekend parties.
I made friends equally enamored of journalism, and these college buddies snapped up summer internships. I returned home and worked at the library, applying bar codes to the inside back covers of countless books and saving my pennies. One friend interned at the Wall Street Journal, gaining experience, making contacts, and larking about New York City. Another tanned between writing stories at a Boca Raton, Florida, newspaper. I remained pale among the stacks in my hometown, yearning for freedom.
Sometime during my senior year, my friends—the ones of the nifty internships—began finding jobs. I didn’t. OK, so I aimed a tad high: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Rolling Stone. But the rejection letters kept piling up as my spirits sank. Fortunately, those tests I had taken in Washington, D.C. toward the end of my final year paid off. Was I federal material? I was! I graduated college and became an editor for the government. My friends teased me, destined for a lifetime, they implied, of navigating endless hallways in a Kafkaesque maze of semi-pointless government paper pushing. Well, they were only partially correct, and I found that in general, being a government word drudge suited me.
Those early professional years segued into meeting the man who would become my husband (not famous), establishing my own home and family (nothing unusual there), and embarking upon the classic balancing act. Two decades have passed. There’s been drama, but nothing you’ll read about in People. Now my editing work is for a nonprofit, but my idea of excitement remains finding just the right rules to apply from within the hallowed pages of the Chicago Manual of Style.
Hanging on to the edge of your seat? I thought not. My life story induces snores, not gasps. Nothing about it could be seen as exceptional by a discerning eye. Yet within this manic world of soaring highs and drastic lows, adequate feels like a blessing. “Not very good”? Wrong. It’s lovely.
I’m not advocating aiming low, mind you. Or even to the middle. Effort should decidedly not be mediocre. Nor am I saying that goals shouldn’t be significant. Aiming high is great; my message simply is that there is no dishonor if you find yourself, through circumstances or fate, firmly landed among the great mediocracy. If you’ve arrived at this middling place with integrity, the rewards are vast. Welcome!