This I Believe

Janet - Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 19, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65


I believe in mediocrity. After you pick yourself off the floor laughing, please let me explain. Mediocrity is defined as being mediocre. Now mediocre has several definitions: neither good nor bad, barely adequate, rather poor or inferior. But I propose to use the word in this essay to mean average or ordinary. As a teenager and as a young woman I struggled hard to be even average. I wasn’t smart enough; I wasn’t pretty enough; I was painfully shy. My mother, my biggest fan ever, praised me continuously to boost my self esteem, but somehow it didn’t work because she didn’t have a lot of it herself. It didn’t work either because I thought she had to praise me because, after all, she was my mother. Now after looking in the mirror at my sixty year old face and white hair ravaged by chemotherapy, when I look at pictures of my younger self, I think, “Not bad. Mind you, not good, but not bad.”

Somewhere in my early twenties when I was away at college, I joined a sorority and made some new friends. I also had a steady boyfriend so he helped my own self worth, even though as an older woman I find that I do not have to have a man to feel good about myself. I married my steady right out of college and immediately had a baby. So that iota of college mediocrity faded as I simply became someone’s mother and someone’s wife. I remember when the “hot pants” craze was in. Since I always prided myself with great legs, I wore “hot pants.” Only to have my husband tell me that women who are wives and mothers do not wear “hot pants.” Never once did I tell him that he couldn’t do anything because he was now a husband and father. Life just wasn’t fair.

When my daughter was preschool age I went to work. Slowly my self esteem began to build as I became good at my job and advanced through the ranks. I became a computer programmer for the Navy. Eventually my job took me across the US and around the world from New Orleans to San Diego to Pearl Harbor to London to Japan and Guam. It was exciting, but unfortunately it took a toll on my marriage. The man who told me in my early twenties what a wife and mother could and could not do could not do could not take my sometimes busy working and travelling schedule. Even though he had a significant other outside of our marriage, he waited until our daughter was in college to leave. So once again, the self esteem suffered; I wasn’t smart enough; I wasn’t pretty enough, etc. . Besides his special someone was a close friend and a confidant. Talk about a double whammy!

After a few counseling sessions (the only ones who make out on divorces are the counselors and lawyers) and years of work on myself I thrust myself upon the dating scene. I dated some winners and (mostly) losers and had a few sessions of having a wounded heart or at least a wounded ego. At the same time my last parent, my mom, died. So finally I was a full-fledged adult. For the first time in my life I could do what I wanted to do. Since my daughter was grown and I no longer had a husband, I did not have any artificial restrictions on me. But what did I like to do? I honestly didn’t know because I never had the leisure to think about it. So I proceeded to do a variety of things. That was when I developed my philosophy of mediocrity. I learned to play bridge, I took art lessons, I sang with a choir, I concentrated on improving both my cross country and downhill skiing; I started to hike; I started to bicycle; I joined a singles club. Since my interests were varied as I experimented I always wanted to obtain some degree of proficiency in any of my endeavors so that I could do them with a variety of people. I do need people because I’m primarily a social being. So in the stage when one is obtaining a degree of proficiency, one cannot be discouraged when the skill does not come easily. Accept yourself; accept your low degree of mediocrity. If you stay at it long enough your degree of mediocrity will improve. You may even reach a high degree of mediocrity. For example, if you ride a bicycle 3 – 4 times a week building up your speed, endurance and distance, and getting your butt calloused, in three weeks you will easily be able to ride 25 miles. Now if biking is your passion, go for it! Get past mediocrity. However remember that most things fall into a bell shaped curve with 2/3 of the people considered average (+ or – two standard deviations). You can be great, if you have the talent, the passion, and the dedication. To become a Lance Armstrong or a Tiger Woods, you have to put blinders on and live and breathe nothing else but biking, golfing, or whatever. Also to be great you probably would have had to start out as a child. Think of the Olympic gymnasts and ice skaters. They are sent away from home at nine or ten to train. So unfortunately, you will probably never be great.

Enjoy your mediocrity, and don’t get down on yourself. It’s really a comfortable place to be. The thing about mediocrity is that you can enjoy any number of activities with any number of people because after all they are only mediocre too. You want to achieve a proper degree of mediocrity so that you don’t hold people up in their pursuit of any activity. Perhaps it’s lowered expectations. Try it. You will find yourself in the middle of many different kinds of adventures because you will not fear failure. I know that the word mediocre still bothers some folks. I’ve searched for a better word. Perhaps I should call myself “well rounded” or maybe just average. But I like the term mediocrity because it just throws people for a loop and makes them smile. It also opens a conversation, and when I explain my theory most people think that it’s not a bad philosophy, or it is at the very least a mediocre philosophy. My second husband always likes to add that I must have married him because he was mediocre. Now that is absolutely not true: I lucked out; he’s the “best”.