Fear of Mediocrity

(and Learning to Let Go)

“What are you afraid of?”


I’d meant it as a joke, but once the thought had been voiced aloud, I realized it was true. My fear of ending up only mediocre in life was ranked pretty high up, nestled just underneath a fear of drowning and a little above a fear of heights.

Growing up with insanely high expectations, the mindset of always trying to do more and be more inevitably becomes internalized. Trying and failing is okay; complacency is what’s dangerous. The constant pressure to perform becomes familiar. The idea of a challenge simultaneously spurs excitement at the prospect of accomplishing something new as well as a reserved confidence in the ability to do it.

Bet a lot of you out there feel the same way. Millennials, maybe. The children of immigrants, possibly. “Smart kids” and high achievers, perhaps. Medium readers. Anyone. Everyone.

Growing up, there were always set metrics to strive for: higher grades, more awards, top universities. The real world doesn’t function that way — success is less defined, more individualistic, less understandable, more elusive.

What is success? Happiness? Satisfaction? Fulfillment? Making a difference? Having an impact? Positive contributions?

I can’t tell you definitively what success is or isn’t, but I can describe it as both deeply personal but inextricably public at the same time. As much as we’re competing only against ourselves, we can’t help but be drawn to the Hegelian recognition by others as verification for the self. We’re always striving to be unique, yet constantly seek commonalities, subconsciously looking for duplications in the experiences of others to validate our own. There’s comfort in the communal.

As people living in the fast-paced present society, as determined individuals, and as humans, we’re constantly trying to optimize everything, approaching situations strategically in an attempt to maximize efficiency, benefits, and outcomes. Better sleep, better fitness, better to-do lists — there’s an app for basically everything.

But optimal, just like success, is a fluid concept. There’s only so much we can do. At some point, recognition of the limits of what’s within our control becomes necessary — and so we can optimize up until that point (get up real close, even) — then we need to let go. Once the plane has been built, it needs some space to try to fly.

“I never lose. Either I win or I learn.”

If there’s no way to lose, then there’s nothing to fear.

If success is fluid and so is mediocrity, then so is perception.

If we’ve given it an extraordinary shot, then we can move forward with no regrets.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Joseph Campbell

Self-awareness is half the battle. Perseverance, determination and motivation are the weapons to conquer the other half.

Ask enough of the right questions and some right answers will be found.

We’re going to be a-okay.