Mediocrity Is the Mother of Nothing: Are You Actually Happy or Just Comfortable?
To feel truly fulfilled, pursue your goals with passion and persistence. Never settle for anything less than greatness.
Everyone wants to be happy, but this assumes that everyone knows what happiness is. Success, wealth, love, a sense of fulfillment — these are words that come to mind, but until you experience a true sense of happiness, you have little basis for comparison. While a lucky few end up attaining these goals and recognizing what it means to be truly happy, many mistake contentment or comfort for happiness.
To really feel alive we need to fuel our passions by determining a purpose and pursuing it full on. Trying, failing and learning from those mistakes allow us to develop the confidence to make decisions and take definitive action towards our goals. This kind of happiness makes the difference between a life of mediocrity and one of greatness.
Greater happiness comes through discomfort
Settling for what feels comfortable may be easier, but it holds us back from our full potential. In one of my favorite films, Whiplash, the ambitious young drummer’s mentor explains that there are no two words more harmful than “good job” because unless you push people beyond what everyone expects of them, you deprive the world of the next great genius. While the drummer’s mentor may have appeared, at times, a bit of a zealot, his insistence on driving his students far past their comfort zone to achieve greatness did get results.
Happiness comes through growth, and growing pains are a part of that package. I once worked fundraising for human rights’ issues, with a burning passion to make the world a better place — but my boss viewed that burning passion as only a flickering candle. With it, I became one of the top fundraisers in the world, but for my boss, it was never enough. Every day, he reminded me that the world was going downhill fast and that somehow that responsibility rested on my shoulders. No matter how much I outperformed the others, it always fell on me to do more. The stress was intense and burdensome, and anyone would have understood if I just walked away.
But in the end, not only was I the top fundraiser in the world, but I also sometimes outperformed all of the others on the team combined. My boss’s expectations of me to do more, even when I was excelling beyond the rest, were brutal, and I wanted to quit every day, but they also pushed me to do things outside my comfort zone that I never thought I could do. Instead of reacting to the pressure he was putting on me to perform, I learned to transform that energy into an intense focus so that I could rise to meet anything he could dish out and do it even better than he expected.
Overcome discomfort from the inside out
Accepting mediocrity comes from a fear of failing as well as not being willing to deal with others tearing you down, but you can choose to do what you love and fight to be the greatest at it regardless of what anyone else says. A victim mentality makes it easy to get stuck in life, but the behavior of others only makes you their victim if you let yourself be affected by it. When petty criticisms dictate how you live your life, you become a slave to them.
Too many people today think any word or action that makes them uncomfortable warrants getting offended. It’s become the new “excuse-de-jour,” so in the end, some people spend more time being offended than being determined. If all it takes to knock you off your path of achievement is a negative word thrown in your direction, you’ll find all sorts of mediocre people eager to try. As Einstein said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds,” but you have to act in your own best interest when those content with mediocrity try to crush your will.
Instead, make yourself impossible to offend and immune to the petty criticisms of others, and you soon realize you are the writer, producer, director and star of your own life's movie. Stop wasting time and energy on your feelings and, instead, dedicate it to developing your talents. People who deny themselves their own desire for achievement criticize others who achieve because they fear failure, and as John Steinbeck said, “Only mediocrity escapes criticism.” These people give you nothing, so instead of giving a damn about them, use their mediocrity and even their criticisms as encouragement to always do more and better.
Seek out people who challenge your fears
Instead of the mediocre naysayers who resent your happiness and want to drag you down with them, surround yourself with people driven to succeed. General Colin Powel once said, “Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.” People content with their mediocrity expect you to stay there with them, so only give your time and energy to those actively pursuing self-improvement.
Try never to be the smartest person in the room because this means you’re in the wrong room. Associate with people who are smarter than you and better at the things you do best. Put yourself in positions where you admire and respect the skills of the people around you. This is not to make yourself feel dumber but to create opportunities for you to learn and give you the motivation you need to achieve more. While surrounding yourself with mediocrity may be contagious, so is surrounding yourself with success.
Never settle for a “good job” when you know yourself to be capable of much more. Neither money nor fame can ever bring the kind of happiness that comes from achieving the goals most important to you. If you want to be the best at something, work at it with an undying passion, and you will. The best leader, friend, lover — whatever you do, do it with burning passion or don’t bother. Never stop honing your craft and moving people with your work if you want to discover the satisfaction and pride of real, long-lasting happiness.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor