Sometimes I go around the room and ask students to introduce themselves by telling me what they were known for in high school. I learn so much about how students perceive themselves through the lens of other people.
Valedictorian. Lead role in the school plays. Class President. Eagle Scout. These students have been groomed from birth to be the best.
A few days ago, one incredibly bright student said:
“I was known for being good and not great. I was known for being mediocre.”
When I asked for more information, he said he played every sport but was never the star. He did well in all his classes but was never the best.
He didn’t mind. He didn’t have to be the best.
I couldn’t help but smile. He was exceptionally mediocre. We laughed and affectionately call him “Mediocre Man.” Everybody likes this student. He makes us all feel relaxed and lighthearted.
I thought about the philosophy of life already governing this student’s attitude. He wants to excel, but he knows his limits. He rests in what he can do well, even if it won’t win a Nobel Prize or put him as quarterback on the team. He’s thinking of who he can serve in his career, what he can contribute, and what he can change–even if he’s not the star of the show. His identity has nothing to do with rising to the top. He’s already outside of that paradigm.
He could have quit back then. Why bother–some would argue–if you can’t be the best?
Not him. He’s working at top capacity despite the odds. Despite the label.
I like that. I love that.
As I look at my life and the lives of my children, I know we’ll have days upon days of just being good and not great. But we can be exceptional in that. We can be the best at being who we are, within the boundaries of what God allows for our lives, and not despair when we aren’t winning the prize. We can be exceptionally humble, exceptionally loving, exceptionally willing to serve and change our world. A mediocre life may seem ordinary, average, or even inferior. But to whom? Who decides?
Let me be exceptionally mediocre today. Let me excel in leaving the spotlight and embracing a humble life that wins the sorts of prizes God doles out at another time, in another economy, that values who I am and not what I produce. In that land, the mediocre folks might just be the ones with the most flair.