Allow me to voice the rare word in favor of mediocrity. My friend and fellow church member Andrea recently posted on Facebook a link to a blog called “A Life in Progress,” which is written by a woman named Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui.
In the blog entry to which Andrea had linked, O’Reilly-Davi-Digui poses this question: “What if all I want is a mediocre life?”
She discusses the never-ending pressure our culture places on us.
“The world is such a noisy place,” she writes. “Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.
“But what if I just don’t have it in me,” she continues. “What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?”
Wisely, she decides to make peace with who she is — an imperfect person who’s never going to build an orphanage in Africa or develop rock-hard abs or earn a six-figure income or maintain a fairy tale romance with her reliable but unthrilling husband of 21 years.
Beneath Andrea’s link to this blog post, I saw that my own wife had commented, “YES!! When people say ‘go big or go home,’ I think excellent—I wanted to go home anyway!”
To all of which I say amen.
It’s long been my opinion that obsessive work and material success are entirely overrated.
I’ve rarely found people who agree with me — we do live in the United States of America, a land built on the Horatio Alger ethos— but I’m sure I’m right.
Coincidentally, after I read Andrea’s Facebook post, I saw an essay in the New York Times online titled, “Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” It was written by Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “The Power of Habit.”
In it, Duhigg talks about what an eye-opener it was to return for the 15th-year reunion of his MBA class at Harvard Business School.
His classmates were the business elite.
What struck Duhigg was how unhappy most of them seemed as they reached middle age and mid-career.
He describes, among others, a classmate whose job entailed investing $5 million a day — which doesn’t sound bad, as Duhigg notes. But the man complained about coworkers who routinely undermined each other as they jockeyed for promotions.
“It was insanely stressful work, done among people he didn’t particularly like,” Duhigg says. “He earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office.”
The guy said he felt he was wasting his life.
These are the fabled one percenters, the brightest people in any room. They’re the ones with legitimate shots at becoming CEOs or billionaire entrepreneurs.
The majority of us poorer schleps have no shot at a Harvard MBA or the CEO’s office suite. We’d be pushing our luck to imagine rising to middle management and paying off our mortgage on a cookie-cutter house in a decent subdivision.
But apparently, even those lucky few who do hit the life-lottery aren’t any more satisfied than the rest of us.
This being the situation, why not be that person who, like O’Reilly-Davi-Digui, decides to just step off the hamster wheel of ambition and frantic self-improvement?
I know, it’s almost blasphemy to say such a thing. But I urge you, embrace your mediocrity in its tarnished glory.
If you possibly can, find work you enjoy among people you like, even if it pays less. Make sure your schedule allows you time to haul your kids to school and attend their dance recitals and cheer like an idiot at their Little League games.
Marry someone who’s kind and predictable and who gets your stupid jokes, even if said spouse isn’t movie-star attractive or socially connected or a member of Mensa.
Embrace a God and a church who love you despite those 25 extras pounds around your waist or your habit of cussing like a muleskinner or your psoriasis.
Be thankful you have a modest roof over your head and enough food to eat and a 12-year-old minivan that gets you from point A to point B. Half the world’s 7 billion people would consider your good fortune the impossible dream.
If you do these things, you’ll avoid the grinding weariness that comes from striving and overwork. You’ll get to know your children, and they’ll come to appreciate you. Your small home will serve as your refuge. Your spouse might cherish you despite your own paunches, quirks and blemishes. You’ll find peace with God and peace in your heart.
If you learn to love yourself as you are, then of all people you may be the most blessed.