Joyful mediocrity. It's a thing. It's what I feel when I’m playing my guitar, amped to the max. I don't need to be the best at it. It can bring me joy even if I’m just Ok.
How about you?
Do you really have to strive to be the best at everything you do? Can’t you just enjoy whatever makes your heart sing, regardless of how good or proficient you might be? Is everything necessarily about improving, and fighting to be better than others? Is life optimization a constant duty and demand?
Maybe not. Perhaps the truth is very different from that. We should consider the possibility that life is really not an endless competition in every one of its nooks and crannies. It’s not in all respects an Olympic track where we’re supposed to be racing and struggling to beat everyone else, or even our own past and fleeting personal best. It’s often a buffet, a playground, a quiet river, a dance, a meditation mat, or a comfortable room where you can pick up that musical instrument and just mess around.
Do you have a mug that says “World’s Best Dad?” Or “World’s Best Mom?” Guess what. You’re not the only one who was presented with that noble award. And you could then ask: Was it really something like a 3 million person tie? Or is it Ok to just be a wholehearted, kind, supportive, loving dad, or mom, or spouse, or friend, or boss, regardless of any competitive metrics that might be conjured up and imposed on you?
Don't get me wrong. Personal growth is one of the reasons we're alive. Getting better at anything can be enjoyable. Getting great can be just that—great and soul stirring. But it's not necessary to import this perspective into absolutely every area of your life.
I love Frisbee, and I'm average at it, at best. Mediocre would be the right word. But it's fun, even joyful.
I love to joke around. Am I a world class comic? Not by a long shot. Do I care? No! How about throwing a football? Fun, fun, fun. How good am I? Passable. See what I mean about the humor? I like to grab my wife and dance terribly until she makes me quit, about 5 seconds into the first awkward twirl. And I could go on. But she won't let me. Just kidding.
Fun. Soul elevating stuff. My heart sings while I recite Shakespeare. And I'll never be cast. But downcast? Never!!!!!
Am I alone in championing this concept of joyful mediocrity, or do you also have an experience of it in your life? If so, what’s it for you? What’s your love and joy—regardless of talent, acumen, praise, or skill?
A friend told me recently that he’s really bad at golf, but loves it. It’s his joyful mediocrity. I know people who love to play cards, but don't even think about winning. They relish the experience, the chit chat and just the time together. Sometimes, I get a kick out of whipping up a meal. And I usually dive into the result with enthusiastic gusto, although I wouldn’t expect anyone else to do so, and I’d really hate to see any review of my culinary achievement on Yelp.
Our entire culture seems to goad us on to work hard at everything, hone our chops, and rise to the top. But what if there’s a different way of rising, altogether, and it has nothing to do with any top?
In a culture of striving to be the best, perhaps sometimes it's best to just be.
So. Cultivate joyful mediocrity now and then. Unless you're my airline pilot on the job. Or a president in the Oval Office. But in other things, it's Ok to be average, or even bad, if what you're doing gives you joy. And if others can take joy in it, as well, even by laughing at your wonderful, delightful incompetence, then that's good, too.