Famous ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This factual statement emphasizes the power and importance of the daily micro choices you make and the habits you form in determining who you are and, ultimately, the kind of life you live. In like manner, if pursuing a remarkable life is a habit, so is its opposite — pursuing being mediocre.
In last week’s Passion Struck podcast episode, I argued that mediocrity is okay as an end state of all our best efforts. But, it is bad when we intentionally strive to choose to be mediocre.
I tackled the first part of that statement in that episode. In this article, I will tackle the second half of the statement.
What does being mediocre mean?
Mediocrity is a state of being in which people settle for average ability or performance. It infers being comfortable with the bare minimum and not doing anything to improve, whether in your personal life, workplace or in your contributions to society.
It results in a lifestyle that fails to maximize your potential. When this happens, you likely feel unhappy and stuck. You are settling for the opposite of a remarkable life where you are in a job you don’t like, have friends who don’t inspire you, date people who don’t bring out your best, and I am guessing you likely struggle just to get through each day. In the end, you fail to consciously do anything to improve your health, relationships, finances, or responsibilities to benefit others.
The unfortunate truth is that most people live their life like this. The reason that people stay stuck in this state of mediocrity is ultimately the result of their choices. In a nutshell, average choices lead to mediocre results.
It all comes down to this premise. If you aspire to achieve success, you need to make daily choices that align with your goal of creating a remarkable life. The problem is that most people don’t make great daily choices. Most of the time, they fail to make even good ones. And this is where mediocrity creeps in.
Most of us fail to pursue becoming intentional with our decisions. Instead, we follow the herd when we make daily decisions, and it results in living an unfulfilling life.
In this article, I will highlight habits most commonly found in those who pursue mediocrity. I will then provide you with eight things you can do to start making choices that lead to living an intentional life so that you can achieve your best in all areas of life.
I will do this by sharing the story of famous American neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, whose achievements prove that anyone can become excellent in what they do if they choose to.
How Ben Carson transitioned from a state of mediocrity to living a remarkable life
Benjamin (Ben) Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 18, 1951. His mom married very young and only possessed a 3rd-grade education. Carson’s parents divorced when he was eight years old. He and his older brother lived with their mother, who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.
From the start of Dr. Caron’s education, he was an average student. Then in the fifth grade, he became a very poor student. In his speech at Perspectives on Leadership Forum, Dr. Carson admitted he was the “worst student you’ve ever seen in your life.” Because their mother spent most of the time away from home and at work, Ben Carson and his brother would spend all their time after school playing or watching TV.
Dr. Carson was content just doing the bare minimum. As a result, his grades worsened, and his mother knew she had to do something drastic to keep him and his brother.
She observed successful people and encouraged her sons to emulate their behaviors. So instead of watching TV, she made the boys read books. Even though they couldn’t afford many books, Dr. Carson’s mother realized they could borrow them for free from the library and made them read two books each week. As well as requiring weekly book reports to monitor their progress.
As Ben started reading about people and their accomplishments, it became clear to him that “the person who had the most to do with what happens to you in life is you.” Carson knew he could change his circumstances and become better at that point.
In class, he began to do better in his tests across all subjects and was soon topping the class in his seventh and eighth grades at Wilson Junior High School. In succession, Dr. Carson became a laboratory assistant in his high school’s biology, chemistry, and physics labs in grades 10, 11, and 12.
After this phase, he began actively pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor. Through hard work, he got a scholarship to Yale University, earning a B.A. in Psychology in 1973. Afterward, Dr. Carson enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School to study Neurosurgery.
Ben Carson initially struggled academically when he entered medical school because of the workload. He did so poorly on his first set of exams that his faculty adviser even suggested that he drop out of medical school or take a reduced academic load allowing himself longer to finish. However, Dr. Carson chose not to settle and was intentional about improving his grades.
By the second year of medical school, Dr. Carson started to excel academically. Instead of attending lectures, he focused on studying from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. textbooks and lecture notes. Ben Carson graduated in 1977 from the University of Michigan Medical School as an Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society member.
In 1975, he married Candy Rustin, with whom he has 3 kids. The two of them moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where he became a resident at John Hopkins University — a dream job because of its prestigious Neurosurgery department.
In 1983, Dr. Carson took a position as a neurosurgeon at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Nedlands, Western Australia, and returned to John Hopkins the following year. At 33, he became the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, making him the youngest major division director in the hospital’s history. He also became co-director of the John Hopkins cardio facilities center.
As a surgeon, he specialized in traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors, neurological and congenital disorders, epilepsy, and trigeminal neuralgia. On September 4, 1987, using newly developed techniques, Dr. Carson supervised a team of 70 doctors, nurses, and a support crew in a 22-hour surgery to separate two 7month old Siamese twins, Patrick and Benjamin Binder, who were joined at the back of the head. In 1997, Dr. Carson also performed the first entirely successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in South Africa.
Throughout his career, Dr. Carson became a neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery, and pediatrics professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for over 29 years.
In 2001, CNN and Time magazine named Dr. Ben Carson as one of the twenty most prominent physicians and scientists, and the Library of Congress selected him as one of its 89 “Living Legends.”
Dr. Carson published best-seller books, including Think Big, Take the Risk, and The Big Picture. He created the Carson Scholars Fund and has awarded thousands of dollars to students for excellent academic performance and demonstration of humanitarian qualities.
In 2010, Ben Carson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, considered one of the highest honors in health and medicine. He has been granted more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees and numerous other awards, including the U.S highest civilian award, the presidential medal of freedom, which he received in 2008.
In 2013, he retired from his career as a surgeon and turned his attention to politics, launching his official bid for the Republican nomination for President on May 4, 2015. Although he stepped down in the primaries, he was selected as the 17th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021.
In 2021, Dr. Carson joined Galectin Therapeutics to assist with the development of drugs and procedures that could help in the treatment of cancers.
Ben Carson strives for his best at each phase of his life, and his story inspires us to do the same.
Why mediocrity is a choice.
I started this article by mentioning that being mediocre is not just something we do but a choice we constantly make. Finding success in your life isn’t a secret that only a few can attain. It is simply building consistent habits that support choices that expand your life. If you want break-out success, you must establish practices and routines that lead you closer to that goal.
The reality is nobody desires the label of being mediocre. You want to feel that you are unique, exceptional, and talented. However, until you create an environment that sets you up for excellence, you will continue to make daily decisions that take you further away from your goals.
What are the habits of mediocre people?
The following is a list of attributes common with people exhibiting mediocrity. These include:
They are lazy.
Laziness is the foremost attribute of people who live mediocre lives. It is the constant unwillingness to do the necessary work to be one’s best and choose pleasurable and easy things like entertainment over hard and important ones like learning and creating.
They become complacent.
This refers to being wrongly comfortable with yourself and things and not making any effort to improve. It is resting on one’s laurels and living off past achievements rather than aiming for new ones.
They lack accountability.
Often people who find themselves practicing mediocrity fail to take accountability for their actions. Instead, they find someone to blame and are good at making excuses.
They are resisting feedback.
When you constantly crave social acceptance, you will begin to lower your standards and settle for less than your best. This will inevitably lead to living a mediocre life.
Feedback helps us to understand our failures and shortcomings. When you reject and discard input, you simply will be unable to learn from your mistakes and make adjustments for improvement.
They lose self-confidence.
When you do not believe in yourself and your ability, you will naturally be conditioned to think you cannot do outstanding work. This feeling of inadequacy will cause you to aim low and withdraw from giving your best.
They choose a poor environment.
One of the most common choices made by people stuck in mediocrity is surrounding themselves with an environment that breeds a mediocre mentality. Undoubtedly, your environment influences how you think, believe, and live. When you place yourself in a non-optimal environment, it affects your mood and ability to take action, facilitates discouraging interactions, and creates stress.
They lack perspective.
If you want to escape mediocrity, you must revise your perspective to one of maintaining a high standard of intentionality and adherence to your core values. When you alter your mindset to one of growth, you build a sense of achievement based on the importance of understanding you were true to yourself.
Eight vital ways to overcome being mediocre and unlock a remarkable life
Now that we have established the factors primarily responsible for the habit of mediocrity, let us look at the ways through which we can effectively tackle it and become free to live out our full potential.
1. Living on purpose.
Unlocking your purpose is one of the most important things you can do in your life. When you are “living on purpose,” you are doing what truly matters to you in alignment with your values and beliefs. By leaning in and being intentional about your purpose, you will make daily choices that take you closer to your goals and aspirations.
2. Being proactive.
When you are proactive, rather than waiting to respond to a situation, you control it by making something happen. Being proactive will enable you to tackle things that could potentially cause significant issues at their early stages.
More so, it will give you the advantage of insight into distant possible challenges and help you plan ahead to manage them well. This way, you can consistently get ahead of impending issues.
3. Opening yourself up to feedback and criticism.
During an August 2013 Google for Entrepreneurs Hangout, Business Tycoon Elon Musk urged the audience to “take as much feedback from as many people as you can about whatever idea you have.”
Feedback (or criticism) helps you see your faults and shortcomings, which may not have been evident to you, and opens your mind to improving that thing with better insight. It will help you quickly move on from poor, average, and even good to the best version of what it is you’re making or doing.
4. Investing in yourself.
Life continues to evolve over time. Our world today is far different from what it was a century ago and even a decade ago. The need for constant learning is more essential today than ever.
So, invest in yourself and intentionally grow by reading books, listening to helpful podcasts, and cultivating good habits that will facilitate your success. A natural effect of this is you will become capable and well equipped to handle significant responsibilities in your personal life and work.
5. Tackling procrastination.
It is often said that the thief of time is procrastination. Try to figure out why you’re procrastinating. Maybe the idea is not ready to be implemented, you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you need to delegate, or you just need to take a break. Whatever it is, ensure you tackle the issue of procrastination so it will not keep you mediocre.
Manage your time well. You only have so much of it.
6. Leaning into hard work.
The importance of hard work in achieving anything worthwhile in life can never be overemphasized. Staying above average will require much effort and time, and you must be prepared to give them.
The story of every successful person in history is never complete without the attribute of hard work. So, ensure you embrace it, and you will be amazed at how far it can take you.
7. Building resilience through commitment.
There is no success without commitment. Living above mediocrity will demand that you constantly try to break free from your limiting habits. There are days when it won’t be easy and times when it won’t be convenient, but you must keep at it. By doing so, you will be able to build up the resilient spirit that will eventually make you strong enough to overcome the obstacle of mediocrity.
You’re in it for the long haul, so keep giving it your all.
8. Surrounding yourself with the right people.
The people in your circle significantly influence the things you do and how you do them. If your environment is focused on mediocrity, you will likely be mediocre. And if they constantly strive for excellence and pursue being their best selves, that’s what you’ll be.
Also, find mentors, people who believe in you, encourage you, and constantly cheer you on as you strive to live above mediocrity. Their help and support will be vital in pushing you towards your goal of living your best.
Exceptional choices deliver exceptional results.
Successful entrepreneur, author, and speaker Jim Rohn said, “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” Ben Carson went through the pain of discipline to rise above mediocrity and achieved his life’s goals because of his choices.
Examine your life right now. Have you been making exceptional choices recently? Or have your choices been mediocre at best?
Modify and tweak your behaviors and habits repeatedly until they align with your core values and who you desire to become. Be intentional about the little things because they ultimately grow into more essential things that determine your legacy.
Finally, I leave you with these words from Award-winning author Jim Collins who wrote, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice.”
The reality is that most people make average choices, and so they experience mediocre results. Do you want a remarkable life or one that was average at best?
If you truly want a remarkable life, you must choose to make it happen by being intentional about your choices.
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.
- Read my recent article on how to overcome the culture of exceptionalism.
- Check out my interview with Virgin Unite President Jean Oelwang if you want to learn how to build powerful partnerships.
- My interview with Sara Mednick Ph.D. on the power of the downstate and its impact on performance and health: https://passionstruck.com/sara-mednick-recharge-your-brain-body/
- My interview with Katy Milkman Ph.D. on how to create lasting behavior change: https://passionstruck.com/katy-milkman-behavior-change-for-good/
- My interview with David Yaden, Ph.D. on self-transcendence, psychedelics, and behavior change: https://passionstruck.com/david-yaden-on-self-transcendence-experiences/.
- My interview with Michael Slepian, Ph.D. on the secret life of secrets: https://passionstruck.com/michael-slepian-the-secret-life-of-secrets/
- Read my recent article on why the real prisons exist in the mind and what we believe.
- Are you having trouble prioritizing yourself? I discuss where you invest your love; you invest your life in Episode 104
- I explain why materialism is impacting your success and happiness in episode 96.
- Do you know the science of healthy habits? I explore this in-depth in Episode 108.
- How do you strengthen your relationship with your best self? Explore episode 110.