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Speaking out: Play by your own mediocre rules

Speaking out: Play by your own mediocre rules

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What if all I want is a mediocre life? That’s the title of a blog post a friend sent me a few weeks ago. It was in response to a column I’d written about not having to change the world all in one swoop. My example was donating to charities -- that small donations can make a large, albeit different, impact just like very large ones. But this blog got me thinking more deeply, and it really hit home. Since then, I’ve shared it with other women who also report that it resonates. Who knew there were so many struggling with perceived mediocrity?

As young girls growing up in the 1980s and '90s, we were bombarded by the idea that we could do anything, be anything. To dream big, to push the glass ceiling and eventually there wouldn’t be a glass ceiling at all. And look! Here we are some 30 years later, there’s a woman vice president, there are more and more women-owned businesses and young girls feel embraced in the sciences. These are wonderful, important things.

Then I look at myself: I’m not editor of a major magazine. I’m not an astronaut or a doctor or a congresswoman. I don’t make a lot of money or have power or influence. I’m not going to break any boundaries, or revolutionize anything, or be first at anything. I’m just me.

I spent my 20s working 50- to 70-hour weeks trying to advance my career, trying to do and be all those things I thought I was supposed to in order to “make it.” My primary focus was myself. What I was working on, what my goals were, what I needed to do. Yet, no matter how many raises or how many titles or how many successes I earned, I mostly felt exhausted, anxious, and even sometimes angry. Then at 34 years old I had our first child and remember the overwhelming relief it was to have someone else to put first.

It took me a few more years and a few more kids to make a big change, to stop seeking so much fulfillment from professional achievement. For me, these have been good and necessary changes. But now instead of running hard toward the next big thing, I find myself wondering, “Am I doing enough?” Is my life of school drop-offs, meal planning, sports sign-ups, and bedtime snuggles blended with a part-time job enough? Am I now just mediocre? It’s a nasty pendulum.

At first blush, people will always be reassuring that yes, a quiet life has a lot of meaning and that there is no more important job than being a good parent. That sentiment is mostly garbage, though, because there are very few places in this glass-ceiling-breaking world of 24/7 achievement that a good marriage and good parenting trumps self-success.

What’s the answer then?

The blog author encourages herself to embrace her limitations and make peace with who she is. I’ll take it a step further. It is also about blocking the world out. I have to be accepting of who I am and what fulfills me, but I also have to be honest about what the world is and what it wants. We live in a loud and demanding time where unless we’re a bossy lady, we’re underachieving or worse -- a disappointment. We’re encouraged to compare ourselves to others, which means we will always find a way to put ourselves down or criticize someone else. I can’t play a game with those rules. I will lose and then lose and then lose again.

Instead, I choose to make my own game -- a game that I actually want to win. It might seem like mediocrity to others, but chess can seem pretty boring, too, if you don’t know the rules.

Ultimately encouraging young people to dream big is critical, but those dreams need to be theirs. They can’t be what the world tells them to want or what anyone on Instagram is doing. It must come from within. Otherwise we end up with a generation of wonderful humans doing worthy things who simply feel mediocre.

When not living it up as a wife and mom of three, Amanda Godfread is regional director of Make-A-Wish North Dakota and a co-host of the podcast, "Welcome to Our Box."

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