Your Mediocre Life

Bill Paxton died this week. If you don’t know him he’s the hilarious dude scavenging the Titanic wreckage. Some may know him from Twister when he goes around chasing storms and cows and crashing trucks. You get the picture. He was an actor. He was good. Now he’s gone.

As I was Internet-search mourning him, I discovered something: Bill thought he was mediocre. Check this out:

It’s always a little frustrating when you’re reading a script after ten guys ahead of you have had a chance to pick it over. You can almost see the bread crumbs. I haven’t had a role that’s propelled me into major stardom. Sure, I’ve had roles that put me on the playing field. A lot of base hits. No home runs.

– Bill Paxton, 1998

Bill Paxton said this. Thirty-million-dollar net-worth Bill Paxton. I-can-buy-whatever-I-want Bill Paxton. By the world’s standards he was exceptional. How in the world could he have thought he was mediocre?

And if he was considered common, where does that leave the rest of us average-looking, average-earning, average-thinking minions?

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In the face of all the feel-good advice you heard growing up (“You can excel at anything you want, Johnny!” Which is weird because I’m a girl and my name isn’t Johnny.) the fact is most of us are mediocre. We’re lucky to get by. We simply aren’t amazing. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but statistics say most of us do: 68% of the 7+ billion population falls within the range of average: we’re neither below-ordinary nor extraordinary – just ordinary.

I’ll volunteer my example: I haven’t excelled at anything except mediocrity. My career has been average. My relationships have ups and downs. My looks are so-so. Most days I struggle to get up, put words together, maintain a functional household and get food on the table. Such is the average existence of most of us, but most are too ashamed to admit it.

And why wouldn’t we be? The world continuously assaults us with the message that ordinary is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t believe me? Google “mediocre life.” You’ll find a plethora of advice how to steer clear of it.

We’re shamed for being common. But common is what most of us are.

The Rising Echo

Along with that Google search you’ll find a few honest articles tucked in the madness. One such article by Krista O’Reilly on her blog A Life in Progress (which was wildly popular and she was featured by BBC because of it) echoed the growing sentiment in defense of mediocrity:

What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up. And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, Spirit, Soul healthy. Am I enough?

– Krista O’Reilly, What If All I Want is a Mediocre Life?

Another blogger (I don’t support his worldview or colorful language but appreciate his honesty) said this about mediocrity:

We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. But the fact is, most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re truly exceptional at one thing — say math, or jump rope, or making money off the black gun market — chances are you’re pretty average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.

– Mark Manson, In Defense of Being Average

Despite all the hyped-up advice guiding us into an exceptional life, there are a few brave souls who tell the truth: most are average.

The Result?

I don’t know about you but this doesn’t sit well. The truth that I’ll likely never be extraordinary – well, this entitled Gen X-er is especially shocked. The world sold me a shady bill of goods.

Factor in most my effort is unmatched by results. I expend lots of energy and restraint to stay in shape but am still a frump. My goals and effort consist of excellency. My results, however, are low to mediocre. Talk about frustrating.

Incorrect Scale

A while back I was in a phase of constantly weighing myself. Each day, sometimes multiple times, I’d step gingerly on the scale and pray its numbers were correct. Most days were okay until one cold morning I tiptoed in the dark bathroom. I shivered and teetered on the scale and couldn’t believe it: I’d gained 6.7 pounds! Overnight!

I threw myself downstairs and ate eighteen biscuits. Why not? My liquid cabbage diet didn’t help so I may as well enjoy myself.

This frustration lasted about two weeks until my husband casually mentioned, “Babe, I think the scale is broken.”

Wide-eyed, I swallowed my PB&J. “What?” I replied.

“Yeah,” he said flippantly. “I think it’s broken. I re-calibrated it. It was reporting a huge weight gain, something like 7 pounds. I fixed it. It’s correct now.”

I nearly choked. I would’ve reached down my throat to retrieve the 780,000 calories I’d consumed since my scale mishap. I couldn’t believe it. The scale had been wrong this entire time!

That’s our problem. Our scale is wrong. As a result most feel terrible and don’t even try. Our measure of success is incorrect and, like my scale, needs re-calibration. Or better yet thrown out altogether.

What’s Our Success Measure?

What’s our motivation? Money, fame, Facebook followers, Instagram likes – it’s different for everyone. For blogger-authors like me it’s blog views, book purchases, and speaking engagements. For pastors it’s membership, tithes, and buildings.

So what do you do when you don’t get the results you desire? Run head-first into a wall? Down eighteen biscuits and call it a day?

The problem with measuring success by outcomes is that they’re uncontrollable. You cannot, for the most part, control how much money you make. Yes, you have power over contributing factors: you go to college to get a good job, but what if your degree’s in International Fly-Swatting? Or what if your degree is a Bachelors of Saving the World but one morning Superman appears and no one needs your skills anymore? Are you a failure?

Or what if you’re a pastor and no one comes to your church? What if they’re bored with Christianity or don’t have money to pay tithes? Are you a failure?

What if you’re a parent and do everything right but your kid still hates you? What if they run away and join the Air Force? (Sorry Air Force, I’m Army and I’m required to laugh at you.) What if they smoke drugs and sleep in alleys? Are you a failure?

We’ve little control over the fruit of our labor. As employees sometimes our bosses are tightwads. Authors may write books people throw up on. Pastors can’t predict empty pews. Parents may give birth to monsters. Our work’s results are often delayed, sidelined, or perhaps never come to fruition for whatever reason. What then? Are we failures?

Tune in soon to read Part 2 of this message which explores how Christians should, instead, measure success.

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