We all succumb to the ‘do more, be more, excel’ mentality. But is it always possible to be everything we want to be?
Mediocrity – such a loaded word. But if the reaction to Canadian blogger Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui’s post ‘What if all I want is a mediocre life?’ is anything to go by, it’s fast becoming something acceptable, rather than shameful. In it, O’Reilly Davi Digui questions a ‘noisy’ world, with its ‘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. Have a huge impact on the world. Make your life count.’
The post instantly went viral and, judging by the legions of commenters who thanked O’Reilly Davi-Digui for speaking their truth, it was clear that there was a low-level rebellion brewing in ‘the middle’.
‘Sometimes all this rhetoric about efficiency is just unbearable, so people like to have a chance to ease up a little,’ says researcher and philosopher Gloria Origgi, co-author of an Oxford University paper on mediocrity, or what she and co-author Diego Gambetta call – wait for it – ‘kakonomics’ (kakos being Greek for bad!).
So the case for mediocrity appears to be a reaction to the pressure to excel… But what is so wrong about aspiring to greatness?
‘We all have our strengths and weaknesses,’ says Mark Manson, a popular blogger on personal development issues, ‘but the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do. And even if we’re truly exceptional at one thing – say math, or jump rope, or making money off the gun black market – chances are we’re pretty average or below average at most other things.’ Manson uses a bell curve to illustrate how the truly exceptional – good and bad – occupy the furthest (minutest) ends of the spectrum, with 60% of us making up the bulging middle. To become truly great at something, he adds, you have to devote time and energy to it. And since we have families to feed and kids to ferry to soccer practice, not to mention the Two Oceans to train for – and limited time and energy (it’s the ‘middle’ that does all the work, after all) – ‘few of us become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all’ he says.
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