Is it Okay Being Mediocre?

Filed in Uncategorized by on December 8, 2013 10 Comments

second positionI’ve never excelled at anything in life.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that. And I’m not saying that as a “woe is me” statement to sucker empathy out of anyone. It’s just a matter of fact.

As a child, I was labeled as “having potential,” which just meant that some adult felt that I could always do better than I was actually performing.

When I was in middle school, kids were sectioned off according to whatever-means-they-use-to-label-kids’-intelligence. I was always in the “almost smart” group. There were 5 sections. And everyone knew that Section 1 was the smart class of kids–the future lawyers, valedictorians, and brain surgeons. Or, as we other sections called them, “the nerds.”

I consistently had my place in the Section 2 class throughout middle school. You know, that section of kids that “had potential” but never reeeeeally gave enough effort to earn their way into Section 1.

(And the Section 5 kids?? Everyone knew those were the “stupid” kids. Now, of course, I know they had learning disabilities.)

But it was a clear division, and it spoke loudly to what you were labeled as, and probably, where you were going to go in life, and how far.

Now, staring down my 36th birthday, I’ve come to the hard reality that I have never graduated from Section 2.

In fact, I’ve spent my whole entire life in Section 2.

 

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

I’m not going to pretend that my entire life I’ve given my best effort. Often times, I would quit before making an effort; that way, if I failed, I could say it’s because I didn’t try hard enough, not because I was incapable or inefficient.

In fact, I hated vulnerability (and still do).

Which leads me to present day in my current position and a rather disheartening situation.

I’m a Project Manager for a non-profit. I’m a newbie, having started just 5 months ago, and really, am still learning the ropes and the company culture, but have prided myself on taking the initiative in moving myself forward, learning the “ins” and “outs” of my program.

However, last week, my supervisor pulled me into her office and laid out all the ways in which I have not been performing to expectation–everything from forgetting to add or remove something from the shared calendar, to not responding quickly enough to an email deemed “important,” to not emailing her notice if I am running late.

As she touted off my inefficiencies, her perplexed face peered into mine, questioning if these things were oversights or me being insubordinate. In the same breath she said that she loved my initiative, my energy, and how impressed she was with me during my interview, and that I am doing a good job, and that I shouldn’t misconstrue what she is saying to mean I’m not doing a good job. 

Yet there we were.

The implied, “You have the potential to do a better job” and “You’re not performing to the level we’d like” and me, inwardly shaking my head.

Because little did she know that I was working my ass off, making the most conscious effort to give my best, something that was often lacking at other jobs in which I hated. But I enjoy this job. I’m good at what I do. I manage the demands of the project, and feel confident to make decisions to move the project forward. I’m a strong, energetic, passionate woman.

But in that moment, I was shuffled back to Section 2, all over again, inhibited by my “potential” and inefficiencies.

 

Letting Go of Perfection

The icing on the cake this morning was my supervisor requesting to be included on every single one of my email communications going forward. Although she explained away the request as a mere formality and systems approach, I know what it really implied: lack of trust. 

But I’m not perfect.

I make mistakes. But I don’t beat myself up over them. I try to learn from them. I take actions so that I can prevent it from happening again. And even then–you know what? Sometimes I may still flub something.

But my intentions are pure. I do want to excel and to exceed expectations.

But I also know that I don’t have to be perfect.

And that is the crux of the situation: If you’re giving your all, and are willing to try to learn from your mistakes, who gives a shit if you make a mistake??

 

Is It Okay Being Mediocre?

Answering “yes,” without exceptions, could be misconstrued as an excuse for laziness. Why forge ahead when you can stay in your comfort zone of not having to put yourself “out there” and potentially fail, right? No, there are acceptions. Yes, it’s okay to be mediocre as long as you have tried your best….that you always work to stay focused….that your ears are open to criticism without feeling like you’re being attacked…..that you always try to put new systems in place for improvement; that you’re not afraid to try new ideas and ways to get things done efficiently. And even after that, if you still F up, you’ve done everything right.

Maybe…just maybe….that’s all you’re capable of.

And that is perfectly okay.

 Photo courtesy Free Digital Photos

 

About the Author ()

Serena Appiah is a wife and mom to 3 boys in the Washington, DC metro area who enjoys writing about family, finances, and raising children.

Comments (10)

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  1. I guess the question I would ask is….mediocre compared to what? Within the last year I got caught up in the “comparing myself to my peers” game because I believed (still do) that I deserve to be promoted to the next rank. I started comparing myself to peers that have the coveted rank, and drove myself crazy trying to figure out why they have that title but I don’t. One day I saw a motivational post on facebook (that had to do with fitness but it can be applied to anything) that said “the only person I have to be better than is who I was yesterday.” I love my job. I love my job a lot. I ask my boss all the time what I can do to get better. Each time he gives me a suggestion, I attack it. I want to be better. Maybe I’ll get that next rank this year, maybe next year, maybe never – I dunno. But what I do know is that I strive to be better every day. Maybe I’ll be stuck in class 2 too, but if I am, I’m gonna make a hell of a lot of noise banging on the walls.

    • Serena says:

      Hey Travis! Great to hear from you, as always! I have seen that post and I think about it sometimes, too. If I use that post to evaluate things, then yes, I am better than the person I was yesterday. No doubt about it! I will try to keep that in mind as I move forward in everything because it’s so easy to start comparing to others, and that’s not the right thing to do. Thank you for reminding me of this!!

  2. Sharon says:

    OMG I KNOW!!!! the old adage jack of all trades master of none is the story of my life. I can learn to do anything and do it decently well. But. never master anything. Feel like I spend my life at 95%. One day I just want to be 100% at something.

    • Serena says:

      You hit the nail on the head, Sharon! EXACTLY! When I look at my life, especially the things I am interested in, the problem is that I am interested in everything. LOL. I want to try, learn, do everything, so that I end up being half-ass at it all. Maybe it’s a lack of focus. Maybe it’s just deciding that you’re going to spend your life mastering X instead of X, Y, and Z. With a lot of focus and discipline, I bet we could become masters of SOMETHING, right? 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  3. Portia says:

    Did you write this blog with me in mind?!! This has been my entire life! The only good thing is I am CONSISTENTLY mediocre, which could be good, right? LOL

    Really, really like your blog. I just stumbled upon it. Lucky me!

    • Serena says:

      I hear you! I feel the same way, Portia. With my blogging, however, I am really doing my best to try to pull ahead of the pack and stand out as “exceptional.” I guess it just depends on how much focus and attention and practice you give to something! Someone just forwarded to me an awesome article about how it has taken all the great composers, like Mozart, 10 years of practice before they ever wrote a masterpiece. WOW, that stunned me! I mean, we think greatness is immediate, but it’s not. It takes years of practice and intentional focus! I’ll do a blog post about the article!

  4. Coco says:

    I, too, feel like I am stuck in the Jack of all trades class. As a matter of fact, my boss once introduced me that way to a client (!!!). I went to law school, didn’t finish, moved to another country, started working as an engineering assistant, am now a production coordinator/everybody’s problem solver and started my translation business(which was recently praised as having “a lot of potential”) on the side and a few weeks ago I seriously considered dropping it all and becoming a physical therapist because I am sick of the office jobs and believe that my social skills could make me and exceptional therapist, only to find out it will take me years to get there and I will again be faced with competing with hundreds of people more qualified than me. It’s so discouraging.
    Do you guys also catch yourselves thinking Oh I am really interested in this other career/life, but the time for it has passed and you wish you could get to start all over again and this time really excel at this ONE thing? In Germany, we call it “Sehnsucht”. This addiction to the yearning for something else, something more and better.. Never feeling like you’re good enough for society, having to justify your mediocrity and funky curriculum vitae at an interview every single time.
    And has anyone noticed how hiring managers are all very mediocre but feel and act incredibly superior??

    • Serena says:

      Hey Coco! I’m just now seeing this comment. I’m sorry I’m so late! YES!! I had so many things I yearn to learn, to do, to try– to see what I excel at. But usually, the amount of time and practice to achieve that isn’t possible. Just last week I watched this awesome interview that Arianna Huffington did with Marie Forleo, and she talked about that–how you have so many passions and goals and things you want to learn. And that at some point you just have to say, “You know what? That’s never going to happen. And I’m okay with that.” Here’s the link to that video if you’re interested in watching. It’s a pretty amazing segment!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpyeggenq2U

  5. Mariah says:

    Hi Serena!

    It was really refreshing reading this article! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one in the world who turned out the way I did. I used to think that being mediocre or being okay at something was unacceptable. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Will Ferrel move, Taledega Nights ( its a shamless comedy, but hilarious and has a pretty good message) but I was stuck in the mentality of “If you’re not first, you’re last” for my whole life! I have a sister who was an extremely talented athlete when we were kids; as in she was on the fast track to the olympics at fifteen kind of talented. She had dreams but eventually things were too easy for her, so she quit and pursued “less boring” hobbies. I was so jealous of her! The only dreams I had ever really had as a kid were ones deemed impossible for me to actually accomplish or unrealistic and they just sort of winked out with time. After that I never really had any dreams, and anything I showed any potential in I didn’t enjoy enough to do it all the time or to put all of my heart and soul into it! Now I’m 25 with a job I’m okay at experiencing what YOU did as a project manager pretty much on a daily basis;married to someone who treats me alright and who helps when he’s asked, and I’m pretty functional. I always make my bills, enjoy time with my friends, and just do the best I can. I think there may have been a time where I could have put forth enough effort to “tap into my potential” but maybe that was never where I was supposed to go in life. But thank you for letting me know that I am not alone out there!

    • Serena says:

      Oh darn, I just started typing you a long response and lost it. Grrrr….. I was saying, Mariah, I know just what you feel! I’m reading a book now, however, called The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What To Do About It, by Michael Gerber. 2/3 of the way through the book he references himself and how he was 40 before discovering what he truly loved. And he talks a lot about Ray Kroc (founder of McDonald’s), who didn’t get started with the McDonald’s business until his 40’s or 50’s, I think. I think Martha Stewart was even in her 40’s before she discovered what she is now! 🙂 So, at 25, you have time. I’m 37 now, and just finally started to feel like I have found my calling: blogging (at ThriftDiving.com primarily) and public speaking.Hang in there, Mariah! The best is yet to come!!!

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