How to Escape Mediocrity

escape mediocrity

“Mediocrity is the worst enemy of greatness.” – Icelandic proverb

Imagine you sit down on a hot radiator. In a few seconds, you will feel intense heat on your bum, jump up, curse, then go sit down somewhere else. And you’ll be ok.

Now imagine you’re in an uncomfortably hot room. But you’re feeling lazy, and the discomfort isn’t quite enough to make you get up and open the window or turn down the heating. So you stay, uncomfortable, for hours…

A lot of people live their life like that. Doing alright, not entirely comfortable… but not bothered enough to do anything about it.

And just like in the above example, that usually leads to more discomfort in the long run than the sharp painful situation. Because unless you know a few clever tricks (covered below), mediocrity will make you complacent.

A simple test to see how your life is right now

How you’re doing can be lumped in three basic categories:

  • awful
  • mediocre
  • great

(Yes, that’s a pretty obvious and arbitrary lumping, but you’ll see in a second how it’s useful.)

And as we saw at the beginning… mediocre can sometimes be worse than awful, because it doesn’t compel you to take action. It’s not great, but it’s not painful enough to make you get up and do something about it.

Okay, here’s the test:

When somebody asks you “How are you?”, what do you usually answer?

A friend of mine brought this to my attention recently. She pointed out that every time we meet and she asks how I am, I answer “Awesome!”.

So I gave it some thought, and I realized it’s because I AM doing awesome every time we meet!

There’s always something exciting going on in my life. Maybe I’ve been fire-breathing with my friends recently, or I took on a new batch of life coaching clients, or I went to a great swing dancing party…

I don’t mean to brag about how awesome my life is. I just want to see that how you’re doing will fundamentally affect how you answer the “how are you?” question. (And conversely, the words you use will affect how you feel)

Here are some typical answers I get from people for different zones:

Zone:How are you?
  • If you only had an hour…
  • Don’t even ask…
  • Not too bad
  • Alright
  • Fine
  • Good.
  • Could be worse
  • So so…
  • Just like yesterday
  • Awesome!
  • Feelin’ great.. and how are you?
  • Good!

Have some fun with this! One day, notice how many people answer in each zone :) (and keep a tally). You might be surprised by the results.

How to escape mediocrity

So you’re doing alright, chugging along. Your life isn’t awful, but it’s not that great either.

How do you give yourself that kick on the bum to get motivated to make your life great?

It comes down to the pain and pleasure principle, (which I’ll sum up for you in a moment).

Mediocrity is a horrible insidious trap, because it doesn’t quite give you the discomfort to get you moving and changing.

Sitting down on a radiator will get you moving in a few seconds, because of the intense pain which motivates you to change your circumstances. And a minute or two later you’re doing just fine. Yet you can sit in an uncomfortably hot room for hours.

Same with a mediocre life – you can get trapped for years, living an alright existence. It’s not something that will get you to jump up excited out of bed at 5 in the morning, but at the same time it’s not painful enough to make you jump up and shout “I WILL CHANGE!”

So let’s get you motivated to live the life you really want!

It’s all about the emotional motivation

You can think about the logical reasons for changing all day long. But motivation comes from deep in your gut – from your emotions.

As I discuss in more detail in How to Conquer Fear, the emotional part of your brain doesn’t respond to logical reasons. It responds to vivid images and movies you make in your head.

The key to kicking up your motivation isn’t to find more logical reasons. The key is to start imagining how great your life will be if you change, and how horrible it will be if you keep going the way you’re going, until you jump up and shout “I WILL CHANGE!”

Kick up the relative pain and pleasure (don’t skip this)

Take a few moments to answer the following questions, and really imagine the answers. This alone will give you a mighty motivational kick on the bum to move you towards greatness. And doing it right now will drive this principle deep into your subconscious, so you can benefit from it later. (I want you take away something real from reading this article.)

Okay, let’s get started:

What would change give you? What would your “great” life look like?

Take a few moments to imagine it. Earning money doing something you love. Spending free time doing something you love. Being with people you will love hanging out with.

Imagine it now.

Okay, come back.

Now take a few moments to imagine what your life will be like if you keep living in mediocrity. Keeping an “alright” job. Living an “alright” life.

Where will you be in 20 years, if you keep living like that?

Now image being on your death bed, thinking about your life behind you. How will you feel if you live a life in alignment with your core values? What will you have achieved?

How about a mediocre life. What will you see when you reach your deathbed? What will your life have been like? Would you be happy with it?

Escaping mediocrity is about what you want

Living a great life doesn’t mean influencing millions of people or being famous or being super-rich. At least not for everyone.

Living a great life is about living in alignment with your values. Doing something you love.

A great life is when you wake up excited every morning, and go to sleep content every night. A great life is when you know you’ve done a great job each day, each week… and that you’re truly living the life you want.

Isn’t that worth changing for? Facing a bit of discomfort?

That’s up to you to answer. Because in the end, your life won’t change until you want it to change.

Photo by dev null

32 thoughts on “How to Escape Mediocrity”

  1. Great post, Vlad. The second paragraph made me chuckle as it sounds so familiar ;-). Several aspects of your post definitely strike a chord, such as leaving your comfort zone and following your passion as a way to escape mediocrity. Inspiring writing.

    1. How was it in that suncsreen song? Oh yeah – “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

      That’s a great thing to try (maybe a 30-day trial?). Really gets you habitually going out of your comfort zone!

    1. Glad you liked it, Kate!

      I find that change does take effort… but if you approach it with the right attitude, it’s the good kind of effort! (Like playing sports with friends.)

  2. Love the article … mediocrity is insiduous. Once we accept it as, well, acceptable, our version of mediocrity can slowly deteriorate until we are willing to put up with what others might consider barely tolerable.


    1. Yeah, exactly, the worst is how insidious and sneaky mediocrity is.

      There’s no big surprise pain hitting you over the head making you say “This must end NOW!”

  3. This was a great article and very timely, too. I needed this kick in the pants this morning!

    “Isn’t that worth changing for? Facing a bit of discomfort?” –> very true. It’s so easy to let day, weeks, years go by without really asking ourselves if we are living our lives, and not just existing.

    I enjoyed reading this.


    1. Funny thing, Karen, when I was writing that bit you quoted, I was thinking of Morpheus in The Matrix, saying:

      “What if… tomorrow… this war couldn’t be over? Isn’t that worth fighting for? Isn’t that… worth dying for?”

      Of course, that didn’t really fit, so I had to rephrase it slightly :p

  4. The main problem is that saying ‘awesome’ can be unwise. It might give your co-workers the impression that life for you isn’t as bad as it should be, so you’re not working hard enough. Much easier to moan and complain… like everybody else!

    So when I say ‘alright’, I generally mean ‘a bit busy right now, but overall cannot complain and actually quite happy’.

  5. Vlad…what a quinky dink to see you here.

    We are trained by repetition to accept mediocrity as the norm. Yet once we discover a passion or really harness our values that mode changes.

    Sometimes society tries to get in the way, sometimes it is the ones that love us…but, if we persevere, we no longer have to live a mediocre life.

    One note, sometimes, some people have had a lot of life events that make it hard to climb the ladder…there are factors like fatigue, health and oppressive people that stand in the way. Then sheer determination is not always enough…a good foundation helps.

    1. I’m not sure what a “quinky dink” is, but I’ll take it as a compliment ;)

      Yeah, some people have it harder than others. Then again, look at Stephen Hawking…

  6. I think that what motivates change is how seriously people think about things. Take customer service, for example. When you call up that hotline, someone on the other end usually recites lines from a script; sometimes they answer your question – sometimes they don’t. It’s a pretty mundane experience, and most of the time you can count on getting frustrated.

    But, every once in a while, you get that exceptional person who is really going out of their way to help you. They offer you a discount for being a good customer, or do things for you so that you don’t have to do them yourself. In other words, they take what they do seriously. They are in customer service and they are committed to helping you.

    I think that this is how we should all view things. What could we do better? Why don’t we go the extra mile when we do things each day? If we are going the extra mile, that’s a sign we enjoy what we are doing, so it’s important for us to figure out how to get there.

    1. I first heard about “going the extra mile” from my high school economics teacher. He used to get frustrated that I always did the bare minimum required on any test/work, and never a bit more.

      Then I heard about it from Napoleon Hill, in “Think and Grow Rich”. That finally made me realize how deeply powerful the concept is.

      If I had that knowledge in high school, would I have gone the extra mile in economics? No. While it was one of my favorite subjects, I didn’t really care that much. Which brings me to my conclusion on this:

      When you find a job/hobby/whatever where you want to go the extra mile, then you’re doing it right!

  7. Fantastic post my man.

    I absolutely agree with the idea of “great” comes from chasing what we desire.

    Being completely honest, I have to say my life is “great” right now. :)

  8. Mediocrity is indeed the most miserable feeling of all. Being mediocre. Doing a mediocre job. Saying the mediocre thing. Either don’t do or do it with all the greatness in the world. Love the post. It resonates with how I live my life…..never getting complacent. Thank you Vlad!

    1. “Mediocrity is indeed the most miserable feeling of all” – you must be a very fortunate person if you truly believe that. I would give anything to have a mediocre life, and I’m sure millions of others would too.

    1. Living aligned with your core values does NOT feel mediocre. Trust me on that ;-)

      (For example, I know a guy who’s really committed to being “the best f***ing house husband” he can be. He takes real enjoyment in what he does, and it makes him come alive.)

  9. Hey Vlad,
    Awesome post, but it raises one overpowering question how do you start? I feel I am living my core values but my earnings and more importantly my life are still not meeting my expectations. I all too often answer the question with Alright or worse “meh”

  10. What if obtaining the goals and life that you want takes years of meritocracy to achieve? For example: If I want to go build a house in the country and for the most part live off the land, you still have to spend years of your life at a mediocre job and mediocre lifestyle to obtain the thousands of dollars it’s going to take to do that, plus much more to last into and throughout retirement. It seems the system is set up so that people HAVE to do what they don’t want to do, just for the glimmer of hope that they might get what they want in the future.

  11. mediocrity to me is much worse than most of the deadly diseases. how would one know that they are not comfortable and yet they don’t have enough confidence to pull themselves out of that situation. This article couldn’t have come at better time to my life than this. I don’t want to live a mediocre life anymore.

  12. Nice piece. I’m glad I stumbled upon this, I have a friend who thinks being on the average(putting it nicely) is cool. he thinks being exceptional (great) is demanding too much from life. I’m so sending him this link😀.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *