Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Which I Try To Be Mediocre Rather Than Awesome


If you know me in real life (or have, um, ever read this blog before) you're probably aware that I'm a Grade A Try-Hard.
  As an eldest child of Germanic heritage, I'm a perfect storm of productivity and robot-like over achievement.  And thus, I spend huge amounts of time trying to become Totally Phenomenal at things which I am Already Pretty Effing Good At.

I've been writing for ages and it's how I earn my living.  But I work every day to get better at it.
I've taken tons of different dance classes, was on my high school's dance team and even danced in a Citrus Bowl halftime show.  Whatevs.  Must keep getting better at dancing.
Traveling through 28 countries on my own?  I'm not really sure how one gets 'better' at traveling, but by God - I'd like to learn how.

Hilariously, there are about a million things I am not good at.  But with the advent of smartphone apps, GPS systems and good old fashioned avoidance, I've been able to pretty successfully not do any of those things at which I suck.

No more, friends.

I've decided that 2012 is the year that I stop aiming for awesome and start climbing towards mediocrity.
  Instead of trying to become awesome at things that I'm good at, I'm going to become mediocre at things I'm bad at.

Why?

I don't like having to use my phone (or a pen and paper) to do triple digit subtraction.
I hate that I have to depend on a GPS system to help me navigate my own city.
I'm embarrassed that I can't catch or throw things properly and miss out on heaps of fun stuff because I'm busy shrieking "Not in the face!"

Also, I can't imagine that becoming phenomenal at things-at-which-I'm-already-good would have much effect on my life.  But becoming passable at something I've been avoiding for the last 10 years of my life?  I bet it would be life changing. 

Either way, I'm going to find out.  And isn't there a bit of glorious, free-breathing freedom in only aiming for mediocrity and knowing that you'll be really bad for a bit?  I don't need to become the best player on the softball team, I just don't want to drop the ball or strike out.  I don't need Anderson Cooper-caliber knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, I just want to be able to name leaders and identify countries. 

What are you bad at?  Have you ever made an active effort to get better at it?  How would your life be different if you weren't avoiding that?

photo by victoria alexander // cc // via unsplash

29 comments

  1. I like this post. Came just at the time when I felt overwhelmed because my neighbour does really well at school and I'm just trying to get things in on time. So I will get things in on time!!

    But you should still work at things you're good at in addition to the things you're not good at! After all, you must be passionate about things you're good at and life is about learning more. Maybe I'm just not at your level of awesome for anything yet.

    I can't think of things I'm bad at. I just think of things I've yet to improve upon. My cooking is not bad! Could be better! So's my driving and playing billiards.

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  2. I successfully avoided science throughout undergrad, believing I was terrible at it and that it was boring. In fact, I fulfilled my only undergrad science requirement with the class "History of Science," which, as you can guess, was more about historical figures than beakers and equations. Yet I decided to go to grad school in health care and struggle every day with the full course load of histology, biochemistry, etc. and I LOVE IT. Because it's a huge challenge. Because I get to start from scratch and learn things I've never thought about before. For once I'm not getting super grades and I'm okay with that. Every day I get to learn something new!

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  3. 1. love the post!
    2. "NOT IN THE FACE!" for being an "athlete" you wouldn't believe how many times I have shouted this myself. That line definitely earned an at-work lol.

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  4. My dad has always said to me that everyday is a school day. Ever day I try to learn something new. Sometimes it's something that I really want to learn - like a new feature of a programme I like to use at work... some days it's more mundane things like the best way to get mud of my new shoes. Mediocre or wonderfully challenging and enjoyable... as long as you're learning it's all good :)

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  5. This post resounded a familiar tune...I'm very much like the way you describe yourself. I'm always trying to improve talents that are already good. And I also try to improve upon things I'm not so good at.

    Reaching for mediocrity? Not a bad plan. I guess when I know I'm bad at something- like cooking- I make small efforts to improve. I'd go all out-- but kitchen disasters are costly and I need time to recover financially from my disasters. The effort is always there--and I'm better than I was before. Like this time-- I only burnt up a toaster oven worth 99.00 as opposed to 20 years ago when I burnt down half the kitchen costing 17000k. You know-- so I'm totally not avoiding (perhaps I should?) but baby steps!! Ha Ha!!

    Really enjoyed your post :)

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  6. Well, next month I'm taking swimming classes for the first time at 25 years old. I guess it will be pretty awesome to be able to float and not sink in the water for a change. I'm not even aiming to be the best swimmer ever, I will be grateful if I can survive in the water!
    Great post, couldn't agree more.

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  7. Try unicycling! The Twin Cities Unicycle Club has classes all the time, and they'll let you borrow the unicycle. You could be mediocre with just 5 hours of practice!

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  8. I'm horrible at drawing, or pretty much anything that requires dexterity (i.e. - painting my own nails, handwriting...). And quite frankly, no, I've never really tried to get better at it. There are a lot of things that I *am* really good at (I'll spare you that list), so I'm ok with the fact that I'm not good that. :)

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  9. I've recently decided I want to get better at investing and growing my money. I'm damn good at frugality and not spending unnecessary money, etc., but anything involving weird combos of numbers/letters and leading to money grown over periods of time leaves me feeling like a moron. Suddenly, I want to know how to do it, instead of just playing to my strengths. Broaden up a little!

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  10. i definitely lol'ed at "not in the face!"

    and i really like this post. i, too, have tended to avoid my weaknesses (or things i'm flat-out bad at) instead of working on them. so, if i were to give it a go, i would:

    1. learn to rollerblade
    2. learn to dance (like, dancing dancing, not club dancing)
    3. learn to use photoshop, or some other photo editor.

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  11. Hi Sarah!

    Great and thoughtful post.! Was interesting to read!

    can you say in other words that "being mediocre" is just another way to look at your fears (some of them actually or smth that makes you feel bad as depending on a GPS system etc.) and deal with them by learning, improving your skills in it?

    Like accepting these fears, embrace them and deal with them?

    have fun with it and yes, it gives a wonderful feeling of inner freedom when you know that you would not become/ have to become the best player etc. :)

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  12. I've never been much of an athlete. I have run a few 5Ks in the past, but was closer to the back end than the early finishers.

    I have to have knee surgery in a few weeks due to an injury sustained in January. For at least 6 weeks I can't even put weight on it. I was discouraged at first, thinking of how I won't be able to walk, let alone run or jump or climb a flight of stairs.

    I decided to change my attitude and get through the rehab as safely and efficiently as I can, and recover as well as I can. I may never be an athlete, but I can get back to where I was. (And when I'm laid up, I can also learn to do other things in the process, like sew buttons on my coat or start a scrapbook!)

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  13. wow! I think this is one of the most inspiring/intelligent articles I have ever read. Springing from obsessively documented Germanic heritage and obsessive type A parents.. 'doing my best, better than the rest' is practically tattooed on my face.

    I think playing up our strengths and trying to hide our weaknesses could be human nature in general.. what an eye opener to think you could work on your less-than-awesome talents and skills.. instead of constantly pushing the ones you easily excel at.

    Talk about 'well rounded education'. :) I'm going to give this a go!

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  14. This is a *great* idea. Usually, people try something and are bad at it...and decide that they will always be bad at it.

    There's a whole thing in the psychology literature (Dweck is the main author) about expandable versus solid intelligence. That is, those that think you can improve your intelligence show greater persistence than those that thing intelligence is simply what you're born with.

    So just keep telling yourself that practice makes perfect, because it really does ;)

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  15. I love this idea! Taking a look at your life from that angle can be a bit eye-opening!
    I need to up my cooking skills (frozen pizza is NOT cooking) and my running skills (I've signed up for a 5k...now I just need to be able to run that far).

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  16. I definitely spend the vast majority of my childhood blocking my head whenever anyone (read: older brother) would toss a ball my way. I have finally challenged that and I can say I am now just slightly above mediocre at catching/throwing :D

    I also think make up is a huge one for me. I finally wanted to embrace it about 2-3 years ago. I love wearing it but I am just mediocre at applying it (fancy eyeshadow is mostly the challenge)

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  17. That is probably some of the best advice ever! I can't math! haha And I don't know how to find North, and I am not very good at camping or gardening or knitting. There's a lot of stuff I could work on!

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  18. Such a good post! I'm notorious for shying away from things I'm not very good at. But I try to keep reminding myself that without challenge, you don't grow. It's good to feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes!

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  19. Ballroom dancing. Almost all of the social events in my new city (that I'm aware of) revolve around dancing, and only ballroom/swing/'real' dancing is acceptable. I've been avoiding it because I am so so bad at it.

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  20. I'm pretty much the same way about avoiding things I'm bad at... and I'm bad at a LOT of things so that means I do a lot of avoiding.
    But about 10 years ago, I took up running. I had always hated running in school and would pretend to be suffering from cramps/a knee injury/the plague/pretty much anything to get out of running in gym class.
    But after years of avoiding any sports, I was really overweight and needed to do something. I figured running was the only sport I could do where I wouldn't have to worry about hurting other people.
    I kept at it and started doing races. I did a full marathon two years ago, and this year I'm gearing up to do a race on the Great Wall. I still really suck at running, but I find I almost enjoy it. And I haven't injured anyone (not even myself... much), so I figure that's a bonus!
    Maybe one of these days I'll take up a sport that requires hand-eye coordination. Or not.

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  21. This reminds me of the Calvin and Hobbes comic in which Calvin tells Hobbes he likes to set the bar low for himself, that way people are thrilled when he fulfills even the least of their expectations. :)

    Only, your approach is much healthier.

    I really like this idea. You're absolutely right about gaining competence in important-to-everyday-life areas. Good on ya.

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  22. "I'm embarrassed that I can't catch or throw things properly and miss out on heaps of fun stuff because I'm busy shrieking "Not in the face!"

    OMG, I thought I was the only one who does this. I thought it was because my husband can't throw. I am always yelling at him, "Why can't you throw it at my hand?"

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  23. Honestly, many of my best adventures have involved the goal of totally sucking as something - and glorifying my failure. Often times, I think "you know, there was someone here who thought they were the worst at this. But now I'm the worst, and they're no longer feeling bad about themselves."

    Truly... GREAT adventures can be had when you decide to just go for it, knowing you'll fail and just not caring.

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  24. Sarah Von! I adore you & your thinking & ideas!! How brilliant! I've always sucked at 'the maths' & I'd never realised I could just get to competent & be happy with that rather than trying to be a maths genius!
    Ps: I've never had time to scream 'not in the face!' because I've been too busy running away!!
    From crappola to mediocre - I hear the call!

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  25. I love this so. much. I'm always avoiding things that I'm bad at, but this reminds me of a quote I read from Jillian Michaels (of all people): "No one ever died of embarrassment." Ugh, so true! I try to remember that when I'm doing terribly at any sort of athletic activity.

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  26. Running. I used to be convinced that I would never be good at it. Until I saw a woman out running at a turtle-pace, and well, she didn't look too ridiculous. I thought: "well, I can do THAT" and set out to be a mediocre runner. I still am, but I'm an increasingly good mediocre runner and my health thanks me for it.

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  27. oh my germanic sister.... trying for mediocrity sounds like fun. seriously!

    i can't wait to see the things you try.


    i'm already looking into tap dancing lessons.

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