I had a conversation with someone recently who is killin’ it. Financially, spiritually, everything in between. They’re not perfect. They willingly admit their flaws. But mediocre is the last thing I would use to describe them. Phenomenal, inspirational, exceptional. These are better adjectives. It was the easiest conversation I’ve had in a long time. And now as I stare at my screen wondering what to write about for the day, a question comes to mind: why is mediocrity the norm?
Why was our conversation so rare, so magical, and so not easily found in other encounters?
Could it be our shared interests? That certainly helps. But there is something more fundamental at play than just commonalities. Could it be the expanse of possibilities that comes with any new relationship? Sure, but I make it a habit to meet new people often. So I can say, that type of meeting comes infrequently at best. So what was it then?
It was that they cared.
The parts of you
Life is multifaceted. You are multifaceted. At a glance, you have a:
- Financial responsibilities;
- And physical health.
There are a lot more aspects to you. If I wanted – which I don’t – I could bump out that list to be 15-20 items long and that may still not be enough. There is a lot to you. Work may take up 70% of your time right now, but that doesn’t mean those other parts of yourself don’t exist. You may just not be addressing them. Which brings us back to the question at hand: why is mediocrity the norm?
Consider what the opposite of mediocrity is. You could say it’s passion. If mediocrity is lethargy, its counterpart is action. But I believe it goes deeper. The opposite of mediocrity is purpose, meaning, fulfillment. And down into the rabbit hole we go.
It’s not just about work
If the opposite of mediocrity is fulfillment, let us consider another question then: why aren’t more people fulfilled? The more fulfilled you are, the more excitement you have for life, the more you exude that joy when with others.
This is where it gets tricky. Fulfillment isn’t a simple thing to attain. Not only is it complex, but it can also be elusive. What gives you meaning today may not give you meaning tomorrow. However, let’s pretend it’s fixed. So what you find fulfilling today you will still find fulfilling 50 years from now. Why aren’t you fulfilled then?
It’s not because of your job. Well, it is, but not how you’d think.
Fulfillment in your work is important. But work is only one aspect of who you are. A big one, absolutely, but only one part. So if you love your job, but everything else in your life is a mess, how wonderful of a life will you have? Again, say work takes up 70% of your life. If you ace the work portion of fulfillment but fail at everything else, where does that leave you? With 70%. That’s a C. It’s literally average. It’s mediocrity as a letter grade.
The farm is calling
So why is mediocrity the norm? One answer is because people generally fail to address the aspects of their life as a whole. They may go all-in on parenting but neglect their career. They may give everything to their dream home, but let their marriage fall apart. It’s not just cultivating meaning in one thing, it’s cultivating meaning in all things.
That leads me to the second answer. Why is mediocrity the norm? Because fulfillment is hard.
I write about fulfillment for a living. About creating an intentional life for yourself. It’s what I do for work. I read books about it, I write about it (both for my blog and for myself personally), and I think about it. A lot. And I can tell you from experience that it is difficult. Not only creating it but maintaining it requires a lot of effort. It’s like starting a farm. It’s one thing to grow corn once. But it’s another thing entirely to grow it year after year through droughts and floods alike.
Your life is a farm. Most people don’t want to till the soil.
What can you do?
Mediocrity is the norm because fulfillment requires a great deal of effort. And on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fulfillment is the last thing you need to worry about. So where does this leave you? With a choice.
- Take action,
- Or don’t.
It’s your choice, but action is what you need to get started. It’s the first step in building a meaningful life. But what kind of action should you take? Let’s return back to the conversation that inspired this article. What was it that made them shine? It was that they cared. They had developed a fulfilled life for themself. Not just as a career, but as a parent, world-traveler, and more. So where should you start? Start by figuring out what you care about.
Write down every aspect of who you are. Write out what fulfillment, what meaning, looks like to you in each of those areas. Then, work to bring those ideals into reality. One way to do that is through goal setting.
What is your ikigai?
As you move along the path, you will encounter obstacles. That’s where books come into play. Struggling with your fitness? Read a book about it. Having a tough time with your toddler? Read a book about it. Reading has dramatically changed my life and it will do the same for you as well.
What are some good books to start with? I’m finishing up the book Ikigai by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles right now. It discusses how the Japanese, particularly those that live in Okinawa (a Blue Zone), view fulfillment. I highly recommend it. But that’s only one book in one niche though. For whatever aspects you want to cultivate, go to Amazon. Look at the best sellers for the genres you want to build upon. Buy them. Read them. Apply what you learn.
Depending on where you live, you can also get books for free through the app, Libby (by OverDrive). The app allows you to download books through your local library. I use it all the time.
Move forward with meaning
Why is mediocrity the norm? There are two major contributors. First, because people fail to address the many aspects of their life. Second, because cultivating that fulfillment takes a lot of work. However, you can rise above if you so choose. To do so:
- Write down what fulfillment looks like to you across all areas of your life.
- Set goals to make that fulfillment a reality.
- Read books to improve your understanding in each of those areas.
- Be patient and keep going.