Mediocrity is totally undervalued. Without mediocrity we’d never have yellow crayons, fun-size candy bars or the Chevrolet Cruze. We’d never have a small order of fries or a preschool in a bowling alley. That’s right, bowling alley preschools used to be a real thing. I know this because I attended one. The preschool in All Star Lanes to be exact. And I was eventually thrown out of that bowling alley preschool. No, I didn’t eat more than my daily allotment of paste. I was thrown out of the bowling alley preschool because of Poor Attendance. Throwing a kid out of school for poor attendance is not the most logical punishment if you think about it. But, as we all know too well, at bowling alleys the rules are the rules. I got booted out or, more accurately, bowling shooed out of the All Star Lanes preschool because I was guilty of not being there. I share this infofleck™ for a few reasons.
- In the 1960s, bowling alleys were widely accepted as the epicenter of suburban civilization.
- This punishment turned out to be eerily prescient considering the remainder of my education.
- All Star Lanes shuttered in 1985, the same year I was politely asked to leave Columbia College...for poor attendance.
What does any of this have to do with mediocrity? Very little, except for Columbia College. The point I’m wasting time in trying to make is that the All Star Lanes preschool may have had strict attendance rules but, on the whole, they were not delusional. They knew they weren't the most prestigious preschool in the Chicago metro area, but they also knew they were the best damn preschool inside that bowling alley. They owned that and if you didn't respect it, you were out.
There are a million instructional guides out there to help you strive to be the best. Books, flashcards, on-line classes and squeeze balls designed to teach, inspire, motivate, con you into doing whatever it takes to become THE VERY BEST. But guess what? By definition there can only be one best version of anything. The BEST of anything means excelling all others. The BEST is that which is the most excellent, outstanding or desirable of something. The one and very, very, very only best. I have some news for you.
Chances are someone else has already become the BEST. Possibly many years ago and probably a lot better than you’ll ever be.
Maybe these facts don’t concern you. Great! Love it! Reach for the stars and never give up! You can do it! Never quit! Try your best and you can be the best! You are probably an idiot!
Apologies if you’re not an idiot. Or if you are an idiot. I’m just saying that if you want to be successful and killing it on the regular, you should never hope to be the best. That is a trap. Never aim to be the best. Aim to be your best. You can totally do that and nail it like a person who nails things. Because…
There’s a 99.9999999999% chance you will never be the best at anything. Except one thing. Being you. And right at this moment, without doing a thing, you are already the best version of you. You are the best!
That’s right. You and only you can rock you super crazy hard. Everyone else in the world cannot come close to the bespoke, awesome and kickass one and only version of you. No one will ever come close to being you. You are the best at being you and you will always be.
Yes, it is true that Dolly Parton once lost a Dolly Parton Lookalike Contest. But you can bet the unnamed drag queen that took home that trophy isn’t pocketing the profits from Dollywood’s Fantastic Foot-Long Corndogs and Signature Tater Twirls. That grease-soaked windfall is going straight into the bugle-beaded pockets of the one and only gen-u-ine Dolly Parton. The original and best Dolly Parton.
No one else is better than you at being you.
Why does this even matter? Great question, thank you for asking. This matters because you probably don’t realize that you’re comparing yourself to others all day long. Your coworkers, your neighbors, your college roommate with the book deal. We’re comparing ourselves to others while we get dressed, watch TV or fight our way to the front of the Prosciutto Poppers sample line at Costco. Why do we initiate this torture?
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Totally true. Comparison IS the thief of joy. Sadly, everyone compares Teddy Roosevelt to his 5th cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a much more popular President and held the office for like 40 years.
But that’s them, not us. Comparison is a losing game. When you compare yourself to others you do it from a place of weakness. Stop doing that. Instead, realize that you and you alone are the undisputed, best version of you. No one else can be better. Don’t compare yourself to anybody. Especially those who are the best. Compare yourself against you. Did you have some lame ideas yesterday? Maybe. Can you do better today? Yes, you absolutely can. Lucky for you, no one has the exact point of view as you. No one has your same ideas or your exact skill set. Your inherent weirdness is what makes you, you. And if you can figure out a way to be brave enough to believe in your own stupid ideas, no one will be able to beat you at being you: 100% authentic, brave and stupidly prolific! That’s more dangerous than Michael Jordan in the low post.
You will never be a better basketball player than Michael Jordan. However, Michael Jordan completely sucks at being you. So technically, it’s a draw.
Stop comparing yourself to others, especially others who are vastly superior at things. Stop trying to be the best. Stop worrying about what others think of you because that’s none of your damn business. Forget about any possible comparisons anywhere because there is no comparison once you realize that you’re the only you and therefore best version of you. Game over. Embrace your inner youness™. Shine, you beautiful unique, original weirdo! Shine like no one is watching you and even if they are, you don’t freakin' care. Commit to being the most awesome version of you on your own epic terms. No one will ever be better at it than you.
Don’t scoff at mediocrity. One day you might need that stupid yellow crayon. Sometimes a $9 slice of airport pizza is the best possible option. Do yourself a favor and snub endless ambition instead. It’s a losing game. It freezes some from ever starting anything because they fear their work will never be as good as the amazing work that’s already out there. Stop worrying about other peoples’ work, it has absolutely nothing to do with yours. Stop comparing your unwritten screenplay to Chinatown. David Hockney doesn't know you, so don’t let his success stop you from painting. Don’t worry about George Clooney’s staggering good looks and accomplishments. DO YOUR OWN THING. You’re playing with house money. No one can do a better version of your work than you! No one. Let me repeat this: No one can do a better version of your work than you. No one.
So start writing, start painting, start acting, invent that thing, build that web site, start that business, do that crazy ambitious thing you’ve been afraid to do. Comparing yourself to the most successful people in the world is a convenient way to prevent yourself from creating anything. It’s also ridiculous. Steve Jobs didn’t compare his ideas to yours, so why should compare yours to his? If you approach everything from the position of knowing that you’re already the best you, then you’re already winning before you start.
Don’t try to write the best novel in the world. Write the novel that only you can write. No one else can do better than that. Don’t try to be the best at anything, unless it’s the best you.
Everything after that is easy.