“Potential. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.”

Things we do wrong: Avoiding mediocrity.

At adolescence we all tend to think we have to be the hot shit, some of us even think they are the hot shit.

For me at least, it compelled me to say things like “The opposite of success is not failure, its mediocrity”.

We want to be good at sports but also score top grades. We want to be there for our friends and be respected by our elders. Run student clubs and volunteer. Anything but sitting at home.

Author and entrepreneur Sandra Naylor argues that this perfectionist mindset isn’t an appropriate one once you finish college and real life education begins.

“When you’re 17, it gets you into a top college. However, at some point in your 20s or 30s… This message is exhausting. It’s also dead wrong. At least, once you finish your education, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Why do these moments happen and why are they most prevalent in our twenties?

Developmental psychology tells us that this adolescent attitude is what makes us grow into adults who achieve things. At adolescence we want things and this is mostly fueled by a craving for social gratification that acts as our acceleration pedal. But somewhere along the way it got messed up when we stopped teaching children real life skills and they started going to school for longer amounts of time; delaying the brakes and the steering wheel development. The developmental psychologist Ron Dahl puts it as follows;

“The adolescents develop a gas pedal and accelerator a long time before they get steering and brakes.”

Alison Gopnik, a child-development psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that children in pre-mandatory schooling systems had lots of chances to practice exactly the skills that they would need to accomplish their goals as adults, and so to become expert planners and actors.

“In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle-childhood and early adolescence — tuning up the wiring you’d need as an adult. But you’d do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood where the impact of your inevitable failures would be blunted.”

Ryan Holiday author of Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle Is the Way gives another perspective on why the young 20 yo will fall into the illusion that they can do it all by stating simply that

“Because we think we know everything. We think we matter and that we’re special — but we’re not. Ego, basically. Ego is why we need to be confronted with our delusions.”

In a Quora answer he argues that confrontation at a young age is vital to make us realize that following the Ego is not the answer. Even stating that there isn’t a nicer way to learn this lesson than by getting our assess kicked when our self delusions take over us.

“If you remember in Fight Club, Tyler Durden blows up Jack’s apartment. It’s the only way he can get him to realize that his life is miserable and that he needed to make a change. Sometimes people have to do this for us to. The Reverend William A. Sutton observed some 120 years ago that “we cannot be humble except by enduring humiliations.”
It would be nice if it didn’t have to be that way. If we could nicely be nudged to correct our ways, if a quiet admonishment was what it took to shoo away illusions and bring us self-awareness. For most 20-somethings, this isn’t so.”

In another answer Sandra Naylor gives a more self-acceptance form of answer telling us to “Stop trying to be so good at so many things. Pursue strategic mediocrity.”

“We’re trained as teenagers to believe that we should be good at everything[…] In adulthood, success comes when you are most fully yourself. More yourself than you think you can be. More yourself than you think you can get away with.”

Her message is of radical self-acceptance. A commendation for us to be ourselves and pursue things based on authenticity and value as recommended by us and us alone.

“Webster’s defines mediocrity as “not having the special ability to do something well.” None of us wants to be mediocre at everything in our lives. What’s easy to forget, though, is that we have to be mediocre at many things to excel at what truly matters.”
Achievement. You can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination, and an endless supply of expendable labor.”

In a mindset where strengths and weaknesses can both count as good things in their own way, an indecisive person becomes a thoughtful person who knows how to weigh all sides of an issue, and impractical can become visionary.

“The goal of adulthood is not to become a well-rounded success machine. The goal is to polarize yourself. The goal is to take bold actions that allow your tribe to recognize you as one of their own. The goal is to double down on your strengths and build a career around them, rather than trying to shore up your weaknesses.”

Our collective schooling experience tell us repeatedly that we can do whatever we set our mind to, but no one tells us the limit of how many things we should set our minds to.

Motivated by a deep sense that we often assume we are broken and damaged goods, she argues that we try to fix things that aren’t broken, often becoming defensive and depressed just by simple self reflection.

“The truth is that only a few things in life are really worth succeeding at. It is the work of a lifetime to figure out what those things are for you.”

Mediocrity has taken a large space in our list of things to be afraid of right next to “settling” and “boring”. Often highlighted in yellow and underlined in black sharpie. Our ideals and ambitions are carried with us from our teenage years to our 20’s and 30’s causing many forms of anxiety and often depression at a loss of drive and want for life.

Mediocrity at many things can be indicative of excellence at a few things. Perhaps the secret to prioritizing and deciding at what we excel, can be done by first deciding what we allow ourselves to be mediocre at. By allowing our individual and unique experiences we received as teens growing up into adults to indicate what we value and what we don’t. Life could certainly ease up.


A ❤ goes a long way.

I write stuff sometimes. Psychology + life

My last article was about how young adults in the world (and especially the middle east) are the way they are because of the parenting environment they are in.