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Picture of an Arab woman for the John R. Miles blog who realizes being average is ok and the culture of exceptionalism is bad

Embracing Your Unique Path: Finding Beauty in Mediocrity


I want to lead you through an exercise that quickly gets to the core of your sense of legitimacy and well-being: throughout your childhood, did you experience a feeling that you were — on balance — OK with who you are? Or did you derive the idea that you needed to be exceptional to feel satisfied with who you are somewhere along your journey? And, are you now happy with your status in life? Have you become obsessed with the culture of exceptionalism or filled with a so-called feeling of being mediocre?

Today, nearly every self-improvement pundit constantly pushes the concept that we must be exceptional in everything we do and who we are. They say mediocrity is the enemy of being extraordinary. It’s accepting to live in a state of being ordinary and the status quo. Some will even tell you that mediocrity is fatal. Just Google mediocrity, and you will see hundreds of quotes on the topic. Here are just a few quotes from prominent self-help gurus:

“Average performers accept mediocrity. Iconic producers are obsessed with mastery.” — Robin Sharma.

“All too often, the security of a mediocre present is more comfortable than the adventure of trying to be more in the future.” — Tony Robbins.

“Mediocrity begins the precise moment you swap love for challenge with love of comfort.” — Brandon Burchard.

“A life of mediocrity is a waste of life.” — Colleen Hoover.

“Most of the world is seeking comfort and familiarity, which are traps that cause you to settle for the mediocre.” — Grant Cardone.

“Everyone chooses one or two roads in life — the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women alike. One is the broad, well-traveled road to mediocrity, the other the road to greatness and meaning.” — Stephen R. Covey.

Fictional and real-life accounts create these bigger-than-life heroes that embody excellence in service of our aspirations. The glorious tales of billionaire-turned-superhero Iron Man, the Bill Gates

of the world who go off and save the world at night while running a billion-dollar enterprise or foundation during the day.

But, the reality is that, for the most part, we are all pretty average. We all intuitively understand this, but rarely is it talked about or thought about.

Is there merit in just being mediocre?

So, that begs the question, is their merit in just being mediocre. Is it OK to strive but be at an arm’s distance from achieving your goal of being the best or the greatest? Maybe being average or above-average is not only OK but also underrated.

Despite how it is played up in society, being intentional about your purpose is very personal. I have found that to become truly exceptional at something, you must dedicate enormous time, passion, and energy to its pursuit. Because we all have finite time and resources, few of us ever become genuinely excellent at more than one pursuit, if anything at all. And, that’s OK.

The reality is that most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Any healthy person is capable of climbing a mountain, running a marathon, or writing a book. But how many of us ever do? And, more importantly, do you even want to?

Even if you’re exceptional in one area — like science, playing guitar, kicking a soccer ball, or making money off cryptocurrency — chances are you’re average or below average at most other things. We all have our inherent strengths and weaknesses. That’s just the nature of life.

Think about it. Tony Stark does not exist. He is a made-up comic book icon. Brilliant musicians often destroy every element of their personal lives. A ton of professional athletes struggle to find any success after their sports career is over. And many successful entrepreneurs and business executives feel lonely, hopeless, cynical, and resentful at home, at work, and in their social lives.

So, then what is causing this extreme pursuit of exceptionalism? Maybe it’s because we like the idea of living in extremes. After all, it’s the extremes that get all of the publicity.

We live in a culture of exceptionalism.

Think of the ideas we’re programmed to pursue: how to be “most intelligent,” “most likely to succeed,” “most popular,” most… anything. This rise of exceptionalism and feeling that we must be in a constant state of pursuing excellence and falling short raises questions about our purpose and value. I also think it leads to the chronic hopelessness that so many are experiencing today.

There is so much pressure bestowed upon us that we have to be the best. All-day, every day, we are bombarded with exceptionalism. Non-stop. This flood of extreme information from all angles: pop culture, social media, books, the news, movies, podcasts, and societal conditioning, makes us believe that being average is a blemish on personality.

But there are people who wear this “blemish” with pride. You can love to learn and not be the most brilliant person. Love to sing and not be the greatest singer. Have a passion for drawing but not be the greatest artist. Love to play baseball and not be a major league baseball player.

This leads to a vital point: Mediocrity, as a result of all our best efforts, is OK. But intentionally striving to pursue being mediocre as an end goal is a poor state of being.

Few of us understand this. And even fewer accept it. Because troubles emerge — severe problems like “my life isn’t worth living if I am not achieving my potential or pursuing being exceptional.” Or those who believe they were born with a silver exceptionalism entitlement spoon in their mouth.

In reality, for every Adele or Lada Gaga, millions of singers are playing in small venues, coffee shops, and bars and never getting a recording contract. For every Tom Brady and Babe Ruth, thousands of kids believe they can be the next GOAT and never play in college, much less professionally. Millions of kids grow up wanting to be the next Serena Williams or Rafael Nadel, but only a handful in the sport can be mentioned alongside their names. And for every Adam Grant or Ryan Holiday, many writers strive to create the next great novel and never receive a publishing contract.

Why being mediocre is perfectly fine

Author Joseph Heller famously wrote in the novel Catch-22: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

Picture of a man along a graffiti that says being mediocre is insulting for John R. Miles blog

His intention was clear: mediocrity must be avoided at all costs. Yet most people go on to live what, by most standards, are pretty common lives.

Maybe you feel mediocre at everything you do in life. You are a good software developer, but not the best. You are a good tennis player, but not the best. You have gotten a master’s degree and made huge strives in your life, but you feel like your not achieving your potential. What if you don’t feel like you are exceptional at anything. All you see is mediocrity everywhere. I have yet to get my dream job, and I’m afraid of ending up stuck where I earn mediocre money and live a mediocre life.

What’s so wrong with identifying with being average?

People often define mediocre as being average. When you look at any bell curve, exactly half of that graph is below average, and the other half is above average. Looking at it through that lens, there’s nothing wrong with being mediocre at many or most things in your life. The secret is finding the one or two things you excel at. But, how do you do that?

First, look deep within yourself to find a direction that you are passionate about. Second, be intentional about the process of achieving that objective. The key word here is intention. To live with intention is to make daily choices that get you closer to your goal. All that matters is that you are doing what is most deeply yourself and doing it with all of your might.

As I discussed a few weeks ago in episode 148, the journey matters, not the destination. If you are on your journey and pursuing your passion, then you are already succeeding. Self-acceptance and inner happiness occur because you have given your best. The trick is to dare to accept mediocre results even after you have given your best. That is true humility. I believe it is also the only road to lasting inner peace.

Think about how your life might be different if you can enduringly acknowledge that while you have strengths on the net, you are pretty average.

You will have a growing fondness for life’s essential ventures. You will learn to gauge yourself via a new, healthier lens: realizing that you have a choice to live exactly what you are called to do every day.

Maybe, you do not feel exceptional at anything, but perhaps you’re mediocre for a reason. In a much deeper sense, you feel whole and profoundly centered in your journey. You are making a significant contribution to society in a way that is distinctive to you. It is deeply satisfying.

The most vital thing is to pursue your ambitions intentionally without judgment or towering expectations.

And, if you are doing that, don’t ask yourself if you are exceptional. That has already been decided. The rest is just details.


This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles. Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPodcast AddictPocket CastsStitcherCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.

  • 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.
  • Suppose you missed my interview with Jen Bricker-Bauer on Everything is Possible. Don’t panic! You can catch up by downloading it here.
  • How do you strengthen your relationship with your best self? Explore episode 110.



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