On Mediocrity

John Calipari is an incredible modern-day basketball coach. He coaches the Kentucky Wildcats, national champions last season, and easily one of the most dynamic teams in college basketball in recent times.

This season, however, is different.

The Kentucky Wildcats are a brand-new basketball team, literally. Not a single player on the roster started a single game last season. Even more amazing — only one player was part of the team’s ROTATION options (for non-sports fans, that means coming off the bench).

In a competitive college basketball world, the inexperience is tremendous. To go from a national championship squad to a team chuck-full of freshmen, some transfers and a rotation player — it’s a total shift in every sense of the word.

Prior to the start of the season, ESPN showed a brief video of Calipari in the locker room, pumping his team up to practice.

He told his players, “I have nowhere to hide you.”

Despite all of the inexperience and pressure surrounding that locker room, there is a pre-established expectation that the Kentucky Wildcats, no matter who they put on the floor, will win basketball games and advance far, if not win, the National Championship game.

If a player is bad, mediocre, or underperforms, that player can’t get off the big stage that is Rupp arena.

Calipari needs to build a winner. This year. Starting completely fresh.


It’s easy to hide in a corporate company. Having spent time with friends who work at corporate companies, there’s rarely a time when I don’t hear a story about a co-worker who slacks off, or leaves immediately at 5pm, or takes 2 1/2 hour lunch breaks. I’m not saying that there aren’t dedicated, great people in corporate companies, but there are ways to slip through the cracks.

Compare that to a startup, where you may be one of three, five, ten, twenty people. It’s impossible to hide. Slackers who don’t contribute value to companies are quickly shown the door. Startups feel pressure to gain an advantage over their competitors — including the slow-moving corporates they may chase. Having the right talent is a core way to get an edge.

Even though Calipari wasn’t talking about startups, he was absolutely right. As an employee, if you’re in a startup, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. If you’re bad or even mediocre at your job, challenges will arise and will inevitably snowball.

The worst part about mediocrity is that mediocrity indeed breeds mediocrity. Say a person is mediocre at their job, and knows it. The person may be inclined to take on more and more to compensate for whatever he/she may not be delivering on. Even though a person may break through and find a specific area where he/she really fits, there’s an equal, if not greater chance that the person will be mediocre at whatever they take on (training and pre-established skills aside).

In other words, you have mediocre people taking on more work, doing it mediocre. And that simply isn’t good enough.

Early on in my career, I received some great advice from a friend. His words: “Stay in your own lane.” Know where you can deliver the most value, while at the same time growing your abilities, and you’re set.

It’s cliche, but it really is important to be great at a few things rather than mediocre at a lot of things, which may never add up to your end personal or career goals. In other words, steer clear of being the “jack of all trades, master of none.” Truly being excellent takes time, hard work and focus on area-by-area. Over time, you become a force in your area (or areas) of expertise.

Here’s one way you can test for mediocrity:

First, ask yourself, “Am I excellent at what I am doing?”

If the answer is not a resounding yes, ask yourself, “In what areas of what I’m doing am I the strongest in?”

The answer to the second question is what you should focus on.

You should only think about moving on to the next task after you answer the first question with an affirmative.

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