The Art of Mediocrity

Photo via Rauch Bier

“You will achieve your dreams. You are unique and special. You can change the world.” As much as celebrities and our parents love to tell us these things, reality tends to be a bit more honest: We’re all pretty average at most things.

This is rather self-evident when you think about it. If you gathered everyone in the world to play a game of golf, you’d have Tiger Woods at the top 1% of the spectrum and a guy who couldn’t hit the ball off the tee somewhere near the bottom. Most of us would fall somewhere in the middle.

This is true for everything in life. Some of us are born with a high capacity to learn. Others are born with great physical skills. And some of us even have superhuman genes. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Some of us are born with mental and physical disabilities that limit the facets of daily living. Others are just naturally unskilled at certain things. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

For me, my strengths include having the artistic ability to write interesting songs and a deep understanding of philosophical issues. I excel at these things because I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy into them. Through countless repetitions and exercises I’ve been able to learn and expand my knowledge. I’ve molded my own sculpture.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember we are all limited in the time and energy we have in this world. If you’re like most people, you spend your attention on a few important things: Your social life, school, work, a significant other and maybe a couple of hobbies. However, this comes at a price. The truth is that the more things you value in life, the less time you will have to improve the quality of what’s most significant. Quality and quantity are always a trade off.

So what about those exceptional people? The people that are the very best at what they do? The Michael Jordans, Tom Bradys, and Paul McCartneys of the world? These people are 1) incredibly lucky and 2) focus almost purely on quality. #1 is obvious. For #2, all of their energy must be focused on their specific discipline so that they can maintain being the very best at what they do.

This means they must neglect the quantity of many other areas in their life. This is true for all successful elites regardless of the distorted perceptions you may have about them. If you want to be the best in any specific discipline, you must sacrifice the opportunity cost of nearly everything else to achieve it. And even then, it’ll require the luck of environmental circumstance.

So to the average person out there(which is most of you), here’s a few words of advice:

Accept that you must make sacrifices in order to excel in the things you care about the most. Accept that other people must do the same. Accept that even then, this doesn’t guarantee success. Accept the luck of being born with your specific genes, environment and opportunities which have led to this very moment. Accept the art of mediocrity- a part of being human.

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