Swimming in Mediocrity

Swimming in Mediocrity

“The secret to happiness, you see, is not in gaining more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” –Socrates

This morning, my spouse sat on the edge of the bed and said, “I don’t want to go into the office and do it all over again.” Maybe it was the below zero temperature or his list of tasks that drove the desperation in his voice. Most days he loves his work. But today, it was too much. Showering. The mundane. Packing the lunch. The routine. Waiting for the bus. Out of the blue it can just seem unbearable. It takes so much self-discipline to choose to fall in love with the rhythm of our lives. It takes creativity and audacity to see the morning coffee as a loving companion and the bedtime routine as ritual that has life at its core.

No one prepared me for the monotony of adult life. I go to David Foster Wallace’s speech on a regular basis to help:

When I was younger, my calendar was more densely packed than it is now. Then I needed to be needed. I neurotically strove for recognition through public accomplishments. My will power pushed me to serious workaholic tendencies. I used to dream about getting into a car crash or getting seriously ill just so I had an excuse to take a break. The routine was so stifling that a crisis would bring not only endorphins and a break in the monotony, but an excuse to rest. If I couldn’t break the monotony with mountaintops I could do it with catastrophes. I was a little sick to say the least, and I continue to do the work to change.

For me, the sinister furnace fueling the fear of monotony is the fear of being mediocre. “What if this is it?” translates into, “What if this is all I am?” When I was younger, it was yet to be seen what I would become. The world was my oyster! Now I am older than most Olympians and trending movie stars. As I self-limit my life path, I’m settling into to the idea of finding joy in the monotony, embracing the mediocrity, relishing in the routine. Isn’t there something comforting about having limits? About getting to the work of being a good person in the grocery line? When we find we find our limits and knock up against them a bit, can’t we be more playful in the space that remains?

I still find moments and afternoons and days and weeks when I struggle to be actively in love with the ordinary, the utterly ordinary. Because I struggle to fall in love with my utter ordinary self. But I truly enjoy my routine most days. It’s not something suffocating I have to escape, but something comfortable I can settle into. I have more time to reflect on it. The activities that fill it are more in tune with how I am wired. I am more introverted than I once thought, for example. My daily life is much more private and internally driven. And I think that liking the monotony more means that I am more light-heartedly curious about and comfortable with my own mediocrity. And I like that. Comes with the grey hairs, I guess.

A whole industry of self-help books tells us to want more, to fight mediocrity and be great. But there is no more. This is enough if we choose it to be. This is it. This is water.

  • Ali N

    LOVE…Also made me think of this quote from a book I just read, “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” from the tween narrator: “It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. . . . Then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. You broke your arm climbing a tree and you ruled out being a baseball pitcher. You failed every math test you took and you canceled any hope of being a scientist. Like that. On and on through the years until you were stuck.” Although it’s much nicer to think of freedom within self-limits, rather than getting “stuck.”

    • Ellie Roscher

      Thanks! Narrowing, or self-limiting, can be either suffocating or comforting depending on the mind set behind it. There is grieving involved in saying yes because it is also saying no to other things. Your comment also made me think of the difference between freedom from and freedom for. We often think of freedom as running away from things and not being held down, but it can also be seen as committing to things with a self-limiting love.

  • Julia

    This kind of blows my mind. I’ve been striving to be more conscious and MAKE these choices. But David Wallace puts it into words/concepts so well! I also try over and over to explain this choice to others, who sometimes seem mired in unconscious natural states, but now I can just refer them to this video! People seem more swayed by something on a screen these days anyways… (she types jadedly =)

    It seems that what we’re all talking about here is mindfulness, right? Its good stuff. Thank you for sharing! It’s really comforting knowing that others view our existence as monotonous at times, also. I’m not crazy.

  • Amelia McGinley

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve thought about this since watching it, and how often it’s come up in conversation as well. Really good stuff. Best kind of stuff for a graduation ceremony speech. Best kind of stuff for all of life.

  • Kara O’Halloran

    “I wish so to live ever as to derive my satisfactions and inspirations from the commonest events, every-day phenomena, so that what my senses hourly perceive, my daily walk, the conversation of my neighbors, may inspire me, and I may dream of no heaven but that which lies about me. A man may acquire a taste for wine or brandy, and so lose his love for water, but should we not pity him?”
    Henry David Thoreau 🙂