Futuristic digital man, recovering PR guy, magic beansman, aspiring know-it-all. Chief Strategy Officer at Northern Army. More...

On Mediocrity

I was reading Julien’s post, The Complete Guide to Snapping the @#$% Out of It, and agreeing, as I often do, with much of what he had to say. Then, I came to the last sentence, which crystallized a central idea that had been stampeding through my brain for months, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Why would you work on anything else but what actually matters?

This idea here, this obvious little notion is exactly what has been bothering me for a while now. For some reason that I can’t quite understand, I’ve started noticing an epidemic of people doing exactly this – toiling away at bureaucracy, following corporate guidelines, checking all the boxes – doing the bare minimum for the sake of saying you did it. To be honest, it’d been depressing the hell out of me.

You don’t have to look far to see it. I guarantee it’s running rampant in your industry, your neighbourhood or your community. It’s mediocrity – the rancid discharge of doing work that doesn’t matter. Now, I’m not talking about saving the whales or speaking for the trees. I’m just talking about doing something awesome, or at least aiming for it.

Every day, I see businesses that fill the niche of mediocrity, never really striving for more – just making enough money to continue the lifelong journey to the centre of the bell curve. Personally, I’ve never seen the appeal of running an overpriced restaurant with bad food and lousy service, or a design firm that cranks out garbage just because people will pay for it. If it’s your business, surely you’d be happier doing something good, wouldn’t you?

The harsh reality of life is that talent is not equally distributed, but that’s not the ultimate factor. I’ve known people who were incredibly talented and extremely lazy who failed, and people who were fair-to-middling in the talent department, but worked their ass off to succeed.

There’s my answer, I suppose. It’s easier to get by than it is to be awesome. It’s easier to not mess up a good thing than to try to make it better. It’s easier to be mediocre than to matter. Those are the people history will forget. Those who work a bit harder and aim at something a bit higher may not become household names, but at least they can go to their grave knowing that they at least tried to make things a little better.

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  1. I agree with the broad strokes of this post but I think there’s an inherent assumption that’s fundamentally flawed – that the work someone does defines their relative level of awesome.

    From my perspective, I certainly strive to do awesome in my day-to-day work but the reality is that not every project I work on is going to change the world. Sometimes clients don’t want awesome, they want reliable or safe. I don’t love those projects but the reality is taking projects like that from time to time is part of the reality of working where I work.

    So why not work somewhere else? Because the job also allows me to do what I think is TRULY awesome: spend time with my kid. Be a good dad. Read her stories and tuck her in at night. Spend time with my wife. Be a good husband.

    Call it naive but I think the most important thing I can do right now is make sure I’m around to help raise one small part of the next generation. If that means working at a job where sometimes clients value safe over awesome then so be it.

    • Your point about awesome not necessarily needing to come from your work is apt, but given that I know you, I think you belie your own point. You don’t work for a shitty company or have a shitty job. You may not define yourself by your job (though, I’ll remind you that you do have a social media podcast) but I’d wager you’d leave your job if it didn’t give you satisfaction.

      My larger point was more about not understanding why someone would start a shitty company. I also think that mediocrity is rarely compartmentalized. If you’re mediocre in the rest of your life, you’re probably a mediocre parent, too. That’s just an assumption, though.