Ok it’s a strange title for a blog that looks to support readers in building bigger, better, and great careers. But the concept of magic in mediocrity has been on my mind for a while. After all, most of us ARE just average, in fact 66% of us, the stats don’t lie!
There is joy in accepting the average nature of ourselves and our lives.
We are like most people, unexceptional. Apart from our DNA, there is nothing unique about us.
This is not an excuse to lay back and do nothing, we have a responsibility to leave the world and ourselves a better place, irrespective of our ‘averageness’.
Moments, rather than lives, are exceptional, and we all have access to those.
The demand to be extraordinary.
Avivah Wittenberg Cox in her excellent piece In Praise of Moderation writes about this brilliantly. She talks about how extremism has become a badge of honour.
“Wherever you look, whatever you do, performance has gone extreme, often policed by a tracking app or competitive peer (sometimes masquerading as a friend). Moderation, in any form, is seen as nothing but amateurism, a slacker who won’t commit 10,000 hours of practice to master something.”
From the other end of the career phase spectrum, a young writer Natasha Kisila, not yet 20, writes a great piece entitled Stop trying to be remembered .
She refers to the philosopher Marcus Aurelius who argued that as human beings we put too much weight on life, fame and fortune. We spend more time trying to be remarkable than we do living. And it’s true.
“When we crave to be remembered on this floating ball of gas (earth), we’re often unappreciative of the present. Many people don’t even try their hand at new interests because they are blinded by the belief that if they can’t be the greatest then what’s the point?”
This concept is further amplified by Catherine Grey in her book ‘The Unexpected Joy of the Ordinary’. She points out that it is seen as uncool to be delighted with the humdrum of life, because we live in a society that says ‘no, not that shelf, reach for the higher one!’. It’s one of the most radical things you can do, not reaching, if you don’t want to.
Heard a lovely story on the radio recently of a British couple in Silicon Valley trying not to ‘over parent’ their kids, against the pressure to provide 24/7 extra curriculum activities for them. They displayed a car sticker with the words- “proud parents of the only average child in silicon valley”!
Spoiling the ordinary.
It can be the joy of the ordinary that makes it extraordinary, if that’s not a huge oxymoron.
But we can often spoil it.
On Instagram, the way we almost exclusively brag about our extraordinary moments negates the ordinary loveliness in between.
Being in the moment vs capturing the moment.
Catherine Gray shares a lovely piece of research on this idea as it relates to taking photos. Some experts think that capturing it, or manually taking photos for social media impairs our ability to remember the moment. They call this ‘photo taking impairment effect’. They discovered this by leading a bunch of students round an art gallery and noting who photographed what. Afterward they discovered that the students who had merely look at, rather than photographed the paintings, remembered them more vividly.
She goes on to say that it’s not so much about the photo per se, but how the photo is taken. By all means take the fun instantaneous photo to remember the moment, but don’t overthink or over choreograph the shot. Focus on the moment, not the shot.
It’s a question of ‘being’ vs ‘having’. It relates to careers as well.
Recall ‘the dinner party test’ – “and what do you do (for a living)?” We have a cultural obsession with that question! We would rather have a job worth talking about than a job worth doing.
The same with success. We have distorted what it means to be successful. Success is no longer simply about getting better and achieving some end goal. You must do it relative to others. You must be the best. You must win.
Think of the TV show ‘The Great British Bake Off’. We love that show in our house. But to my point; it’s not enough to like baking and take joy from it. It’s not enough to learn and get better at it. You must be the best. You must win!
Of course, I am not knocking competition. Striving to be bigger and better and the best is admirable, and competition can be fun. But we can’t all be best. Only one of us can be best. Let’s not throw out ‘good’ and ‘better’ in our pursuit of ‘excellent’ and ‘best’.
In addition, success depends on the starting point. More specifically your starting point and your desired end point. Stay in your own life and run your own race. (More of this in the blog on Stay in your Own Life).
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Don’t let the pressure to excel stop you from trying something new or enjoying something that you do.
Embrace your averageness.
The power of enough.
I really can’t remember the original source, but some years ago I was called upon to reflect on what my three favourite words were, and why.
‘Enough’ was one of them.
More specifically – You are enough, you have enough and ‘enough of this’ for now.
You are enough.
This is less of a self-affirmation of greatness and more about making the most with the ‘ingredients’ that we have. Consider yourself as a basket of wonderful ingredients which include skills, knowledge, attributes and attitude. From these you can drum up a pretty good human being capable of doing great things in a lifetime. Less about what you can’t do because of your limitations and more about what you can do because there is ‘enough’ of you to do it. You are enough for now. You don’t need to change; you just need to bring out the best version of you to find yourself in the world. This is not to say that you don’t ‘grow’ and develop. The best version of you is never quite done. It needs time and attention. Like a soil that has great nutrients but needs sun and water if the flowers are to blossom. But make sure you enjoy the flowers as they grow.
You have enough.
“There are two ways to be rich. Have a lot of money or have very few needs.”
Always liked this quote, not sure where it is from. It might have been my Dad. It was the sort of wise wisdom he was good at sharing.
It is so easy to get into a hedonistic treadmill of wanting more. The dopamine hit of acquiring vs having.
We would do better to want what we have rather than continually strive to have what we want.
‘Enough of this now.’
Love Actually is one of my favourite movies. Andrew Lincoln plays the role of a distraught young man in love with the new wife of his best friend. His secret unrequited love has been going on for some time. Until, finally, he realises that it is time to move on. He confronts this issue, reconciles his loss and with a knowing look to the camera announces, ‘enough now’.
How many times do we hold onto emotional baggage that no longer serves us? We rerun past stories that torment us. We fill our valuable present-day moments with thoughts of what might have been. The concept of enough of this now can free us to move from one place to another and to new beginnings.
“Could I do more? Yes. Should I do more? Maybe not.
There are thousands of people who do things better than you, and thousands of people that don’t.
Stick to your own race and enjoy the run.
I’ll leave the last word to Avivah Wittenberg Cox who advocates for ‘extreme moderation’:
" finding a balance between doing nothing at all and doing too much. Worshipping at the altar of ‘good enough’."
I am with her on that one. Finding my own ‘healthy average’ and enjoying it!
Thanks for reading.
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