Can we talk about the word ‘mediocre’?

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what-is-mediocre2

Good grief I’ve seen the word mediocre used a bit this last week. Maybe because I’ve been on the lookout for it since I read this Wendy Squires column.

There was so much ‘YES’ for me in Wendy’s column – and I said as much on Twitter.

Bits like this one:

“You know, I can’t recall the last time – actually, any time – I got a medal for just making a deadline, or a certificate for attending a meeting. But I can recall the last time I spoke to a friend who thinks they aren’t good enough, rich enough, successful enough or beautiful enough. It’s most people I know.”

And this one:

“It was me, too. I mindlessly believed that I too had to strive for recognition and success. And so I climbed the golden ladder to become a magazine editor. I thought that’s what I wanted, what I should do, only to find that last rung was a lonely one. I didn’t like the view from the top. Podiums, I decided, were overrated.”

Yep. Been there, done that!

And as you all know – I am still a serial striver.

Which prompted a friend to ask on Twitter (when I professed my love for Wendy’s column):

“How do you square this with your competitive nature Kel?”

What she was really asking was:

Can competitiveness ever be at peace with the concept of mediocrity?

Well I say yes.

But first you need to acknowledge that mediocrity is but a tool of comparison. And comparison is the thief of joy.

No matter what we do in this world, there is always going to be someone better than us at it. Even Olympic medallists enjoy only the tiniest moment of time atop their podiums. So the second we allow ourselves to compare ourselves to others and base our self-worth on the performance of others – we’re screwed.

That’s why we need to learn to strive for success without bringing comparison into the mix.

And the only way to do this is by ensuring the only person setting the standards you strive for is … you.

Now I know what you’re all going to say. You’re going to say that no one sets higher standards for your own achievement than you. And when you fail to meet your self-imposed standards … you feel mediocre.

Here’s what’s happening here. You’re taking a mediocre performance on your part and extrapolating that out to equal you being a mediocre person. And when you think you’re a mediocre person, you feel … a bit shit. Which is a bit shit!

This is why I have been at pains to point out in the past that there is no such thing as a mediocre person.

And it’s why I think it’s simpler to just eradicate the word from my vocabulary entirely.

 

What do you think? Is it time to eject the word ‘mediocre’ from our vocabularies?

 


Comments

  1. says

    Well said…my father always says, “Be your own competition. Just try to improve on what you did last time”. I believe in it and try to live by it. You are right, comparison is a thief of joy, not just for professional success but for that matter anything in life.

  2. Helen K says

    Thanks Kelly, really wise words. We were talking about this last night with my school mum’s bookclub, in reference to Barracuda (yes, nice to have the same book for two groups!). You could really see, in the writing, the problems that constant comparisons against others to measure your own worth and success that book – and you see it in real life particularly recently in the struggles of former swimming ‘legends’. We were talking about it in the context of our own primary school aged kids, and how best to motivate them, without creating undue stress or conversely, letting them develop an unrealistic view of themselves.

    I agree with you that if we can develop in ourselves and our kids our own inner drive to continually refine and improve, against your own measurements, that is far more important. It is important not to PROVE your worth, but to really VALUE your worth / talents / opportunities / individuality. It also enables you to overcome areas of weakness if you are doing it for yourself rather than to ensure people will think more of you (and as such, should be a way of building yourself up, in order also to be able to give to others). Not meaning to sound moralistic – thus ends my lecture!

      • Helen K says

        Thank you! I can’t really claim it for myself – I heard a variation on this in a sermon in the last couple of weeks (very related topic ?ie, if Christians are ‘saved’ why is it important that they do good works? Not to BE saved (or prove / justify their worth), but because they ARE saved (and therefore to value the freedom / gifts they now have). And putting my judgmental hat on, many of us don’t do what we should, including those in power who claim to be Christians who could be a great example and really improve people’s lives in a practical sense. Anyway, a topic for another day as I can feel a rant coming on, and no one needs that).

        That’s probably why I thought it might have sounded a little moralistic, but I do really believe it – I just need to remember it!

  3. says

    As wrong as it is, comparing ourselves to others is unfortunately human nature, and I think a great deal can be learned if we compare ourselves without putting ourselves (or the other person down).
    I never think of myself as mediocre though, not because I think I’m great but because I think mediocre is a horrid word. To me it implies not trying, lack of effort or just ordinary.
    Rather than harshly criticize myself when comparing I try to compare my effort. Did I do the best I can? Did I follow my heart? Did I put in the effort? Did I stay true to my values? I would never want to be mediocre and as long as I can answer yes to the aforementioned questions I will be satisfied.
    Great post Kel, as always (certainly NOT mediocre) ;)

    • says

      I definitely cringe every time I hear someone use the word mediocre to describe themselves. I’ve done it … but I’ve stopped that now!

      I am with you on the effort thing. Did I try my best? Yes? Then I just can’t ask more of myself than that

  4. says

    Urgh on my list of words I dislike when used in the context of someone’s abilities or how someone sees themselves. A life and wanting to continue living is dependant on the value you instil within yourself worth and avoiding comparisons as much as possible. I had to comment on this as in high school when I was 14 my English teacher wrote in my report that my writing was mediocre as was my attitude.

  5. says

    Haha! So repeating the word all those times in that post was like your last purge?

    It’s taken me a long time, but I don’t aim for 100% in everything I do anymore – my default when I was growing up, why wouldn’t you if you could? The reason why I don’t now… because I realise everything comes at a compromise.

    • says

      Yep – you are dead right. We just can’t go full bottle at everything we do – especially once we have kids. It’s just not fair on those around us!

  6. says

    You know the older I get, the more I think society uses words like mediocre to keep people from being truly happy.

    Society wants to people to always try to reach for the higher level (the brass ring) and punishes people who don’t reach it. Those who do reach it find out that it may not be what they think it is.

    I think that if you do your best, show up everyday (in life), work hard, work at things, always are learning than you are ok. This creates inner peace which can never be taken away.

    Of course, this is an old speaking who trying to follow his own words.

  7. says

    I was very competitive when I was young and then, when I had children I became competitive about them. I didn’t like myself at all back then. Now that I’m older I’m happy to say the vicious competitive streak has faded and I like myself much more. Comparing yourself to others brings forth horrible, destructive emotions like jealousy and vindictiveness. We should all be happy to succeed in our own unique way and in that sense no-one is ever mediocre.

  8. Anne says

    ha ha Nathalie – with your teacher saying you/your writing was mediocre. Funny how some comments stick.
    It was 33 years ago that my arch nemesis (my Art teacher) wrote ‘Anne works well when prodded’ on my report card. For a previous ‘A” grade student this was very hard to read. After copping a (somewhat deserved) cobbling from my parents, my next report card read “Anne’s work has improved – but she is still subject to her little moods….’

    In hindsight you could say the teacher was the first man who truly knew me….but it took a long time before I could admit that! Since then I think I’ve improved. I at least try. And without prodding….

  9. says

    Like so many of life’s dilemmas, it all depends on how you define ‘success’. For me, success is contentment, quiet joy and keeping happiness company more often than not. It’s giving rather than taking and striving to do my best, not my most. The rest is all circumstance and ego, when you really think about it. x

  10. says

    this is so true! even outside of a career it’s so futile to compare yourself to anybody else. I’m particularly guilty of this when it comes to looks… I have to remember this!!!

    • says

      It’s a hard habit to break Susie because in both subtle and unsubtle ways we’re all taught to do it from such a young age! But practice makes perfect I find :)