Embrace Mediocrity

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.

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  1. I'm savin' it too! One of my precious two is just like this student and I love him for it! Thanks Heather!!

  2. Heather,
    This is my first time here and I have to say I loved this post! I have a post about not trying to reach perfection, especially to keep up with everyone else.
    There is a fine line between accepting who we are and striving to be our best. You did a great job of putting in into words. I'll be saving this one just as the the commentors before me are!
    The post above is one of my earliest posts. Feel free to hop around a bit to learn more about me! I will be hopping on your blog!


  3. Heather, I'm the culture editor at HighCallingBlogs.com. I'd like to think I'm the best at it, but I know I'm mediocre (even though there are no other culture editors to affect my ranking!). Maybe some day I'll be the best at accepting this mediocrity. Right now, I'm only mediocre at that, too.

    I found your blog while looking through the Faith4Thought session descriptions and thought I should say hello. You're a blogger and a writer; I'll be hosting a session on blogging.

    I like this topic and how you handled it, which made me wonder if you're familiar with HCB. It's a vibrant community of readers and writers – many mediocre and some really quite good. We're always looking for good folks, and I highlight member's material that sticks out to me – like this post here. Check us out here, or here for a recent culture feature on pilgrimage, and let me know if I can highlight this post.

    Either way, I look forward to meeting you in October.

  4. Hello Heather,
    I found you through a comment you left on another blog, and am so glad i checked yours out! just wanted to compliment myself with you for this great post, that really struck a chord.. i've recently had a related epiphany myself – i could pursue a high-flying career in my hometown, or could move to another country to be with my boyfriend and risk not having much of a career. spending time with him this summer made me realise that i'd been putting so much pressure on myself to “have it all”, as most women do these days, i think, that i wouldn't acknowledge just how happy he makes me. now, our plans to be together can be much more concrete.
    from now on, i'll be keeping an eye on your blog too 🙂

  5. Hi Heather. I wandered over from High Calling. Lots to think about for someone like me with control freak tendencies who sometimes makes an idol out of excellence. Good perspective.

  6. Great story. Exceptionally mediocre: I like that. I'm the B+ kid who loves stories and is thrilled to have the right answer now and then. My parents gave us permission to do our best no matter what the grade was. Grace, that. Now I'm going on 45, homeschooling a single daughter who's going on 10 (my best year, I tell her, was when I was 10), and trying not to correct everything but love her more. Thanks for this post on what's important and the other one I looked at on love notes which I also needed very much indeed. May God bless you for passing on what you've learned!

  7. Hi Heather,
    I'm coming over from High Calling Blogs, and I just wanted to tell you that I loved this post. It reminded me of my mother-in-law. She was a stellar human being — selfless, serving, humble. But if an outsider were to look at her life, her accomplishments, they might label it an average life, or an average existence. But anyone touched by her would know that just wasn't true. Sometimes it's all about perception, I think.

    Lovely to meet you here!

  8. Hi, I found you through your comment on the Huffington Post. Thank you for your meditation (for that's how it felt to read it) on embracing mediocrity. I've been chafing with rebellion against conformity at work. Your blog made me realize the irony in my always struggling to stand out, which might actually be a form of conforming to the expectations of others! Now I really need to rethink my frame of mind.


  9. I am so deeply touched and inspired…. Why doesn't it always have to be about relentless rising to the top, never about just being. Embracing one's mediocrity seems much more natural than trying to be the best at what you are not so good at.