On mediocrity

My greatest fear is that of mediocrity, of ordinariness.

This ranks even higher than that of diabetes, which, given my family history, has the best chance of eventually killing me. 

But I would rather be killed trying to stretch myself than live as deadwood.

This is why I am usually so weary of all the well-meaning advice about work-life balance. My friends complain that I am too old school and don't care about physical or mental health. Apart from the key fact that I only work for myself and choose to do what I do (a privilege many people around me doesn't have), the whole work-life balance, for me, is a bourgeois consumerist trope to keep people looking elsewhere for meaning. My heroes - people who moved civilisation forward, Tagore, Gandhi, Einstein, Leonardo - wouldn't have time for such luxury. At the other end of the scale, 90% of the humanity wouldn't have any choice either, living hand-to-mouth or (for women in particular) work being the daily life itself.

But, beneath all my rationalisation, lies my fear of mediocrity. Of not being able to achieve anything meaningful, create anything, make any difference! This is what keeps me awake - always! This was with me in my school days, in a way coping up with my bullied childhood self, and it remained long thereafter.

And, yet, I live an utterly ordinary life, fitting in, doing usual stuff, living in a sequence of daily compromises, never uttering what I truly desire, bending over backwards not to break anything. I am always agreeable, which I later turned into politeness. This is perhaps the greatest contradiction of my existence: That I live two lives, one to become mediocre and the other in constant fear of it.

So, as the penny drops, how I am planning to get out?

A friend pointed me to an Eleanor Roosevelt maxim: "Do one thing everyday that you are scared of". That is currently my way out. I am slowly peeling away all my little compromises, my desperate attempts of hiding what I truly feel or do. 

This came as a shock therapy. I faced an existential moment, when I felt betrayed - in fact, worse, ignored! But also felt a great sadness like nothing i faced before, something that comes from peering into complete pointlessness, of all the things I ever dreamt about. It was, in short, what I always dreaded. 

And it inevitably came and my world fell apart. My mind stopped functioning - peeling away all my carefully constructed indifference. Of course, there are things I couldn't overcome - I couldn't be impolite or forceful - but I faced a rare moment of honesty. Too late, indeed: By then, I have lost what I lost, which was never mine in the first place. But, just at that precipice, I, for the first time, could overcome my pretence and was not afraid to show myself as I really was.

That, I now feel, was the moment I gave up being mediocre. Not work-life balance, but my lust for life came back. I felt alive, even within that moment of despair, of really wanting something. My burn-out from my previous entrepreneurial outing and the consequent debt seemed to have disappeared at that moment. I crossed the bar, from safe harbour of mediocrity to the open sea of possibilities!

Final words then: Mediocrity is a self-imposed condition, one that comes from fear, of not wanting to break anything. I lived in a shell forever fearing that but what is to break, would most certainly do so without any effort from my side. I am trying to be a bit more irresponsible, a little more interested in life and living. In the meantime, the army of work-life balance is marching the opposite direction - into mediocrity and to oblivion!


Anonymous said…
Just saying....

I loved your reading always
I think i have been following/reading this blog for more than a decade

Its been always inspiring...as an educationist I find always in agreement with you

Preceptor said…
I feel your pain! Your writing (and your life) has touched more people than you think.Your best and most productve years have yet to come. You are now in a position to bring about truly meaningful change as people recognise your humanity. You are not alone - there are tens of millions of like-minded people who are working to make this world a better place. Now we have a connected, digital world we can eradicate corruption, poverty, and hungar and we can create wealth and well-being. There is not a lack of resources but there is a moral problem about the way they are distributed. If it is true (and it probably is) that Data is more valuable than oil imagine what would could be achieved if we added information to create useful knowledge so that collectively the millions of like-minded we could act with wisdom (rather than stupidity - research stupid decisions made by politicians).
The connected, digital world allows us to distribute & harness the thinking power and collective wisdom so that we can make this world a better place and pass it on to the next generation for them to enjoy.
This is a hope thatis grounded in reality nor mere optimism. Smallpox has been eradicated and we can eradicate corruption that horded up resources in the hands of just a few people and make economic slaves of people, restricts their access to a quality education to the abundance of food that is available.
What do you think?

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