Growing up in a small country town in North Carolina I learned much about the dangers of mediocrity. There are so many wonderful things about living in a southern rural community, but that is not what this blog post is about. Today’s post is more of a cautionary tale.
In our heart of hearts, none of us want to be mediocre, right? None of us want to look back at the end of our lives and say we lived a life that served no real purpose. At least, that’s what I imagine most people thinking.
Let’s define “mediocrity”. Webster says it is: “the quality or state of being mediocre.” Well, what is “mediocre”? Webster says it is: “of only moderate quality; not very good.” Synonyms for mediocre include: average, ordinary, unexceptional, unremarkable, amateur, forgettable. OUCH. Tough words you and I hope to never be defined by.
Now before you think I am here to bash apart small town living, let me pledge this disclaimer…People can live mediocre lives in the biggest or smallest of places. Mediocrity is a choice, made by a specific person, no matter where he or she may have grown up or currently live. However, in my personal experience I found that many people who spend their lives in small towns fall victim to the “small town complex” in which they do very little in the way of remarkable living.
SMALL TOWN COMPLEX: One attends school from primary to high in the same town, maybe ventures out of the area for a couple years for college (or perhaps never leaves), quickly moves back home and lands nicely into a comfortable job. They eventually settle down with a spouse, have a few kids, buy a house, keep working, settle into routine, live for the weekends and that one annual vacation, watch those kids grow up, keep working, plan for retirement, marry off said kids, remodel the house, enjoy the grandkids, obsess over landscaping, keep working, count down the months until retirement, watch the community change, keep working…And then finally retire at the ripe old age of 65 and expect to finally start “living” in a more exceptional way. NOW they can finally do all those things they’ve been dreaming of for years. And maybe they do those things, maybe they don’t. Maybe they’ve been satisfied for those years leading up to retirement, and maybe they haven’t been. Regrets begin to sink in.
There is nothing mediocre about getting married and raising a family or doing any of the other things listed above. Mediocrity is accepted when a life path is chosen by an individual because it is the “easy” or “expected” or “comfortable” thing to do. The minute you begin to follow a societally pre-determined life path for yourself because you refuse to consider any other alternatives, you have entered in to mediocrity. A more precise example could be your behavior at your workplace. Are others in the office lazy or disrespectful of the supervisor and you find yourself falling into the same behavior? You might be in danger of becoming a mediocre employee. Someone waring against mediocrity is always pursuing excellence, even if they are the only one. (Hint: To test yourself to see where you stand observe how well liked you are in your work place. Often times those who raise the standard are shunned by the mediocre.)
The fact is, we are all unique and wonderfully creative and inventive individuals with the ability to live extraordinary and meaningful lives. We were made in the image of our Heavenly Father after all! And there is nothing mediocre about Him. It is so easy to look around at the people in your community and assume that what everyone is doing should be what you should also do. But what was the old adage your mother used to say? “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?” Why are we not equally as weary of following the crowds now that we are adults as our parents were on our behalf when we were children?
I’ve watched many people choose the standard small town lifestyle and prove to be happy as clams about their choices. It came naturally for them. And then I’ve watched others who took their proverbial round peg self and forced it into the square hole that was societal standards surrounding them and the result was misery. For example, I can’t tell you how many women living in small towns have made aggressive attempts to steal away a man I was dating or the significant others of friends. Instead of supporting and respecting people’s relationships and working to become their best self until their significant other comes along women (and men) have climbed over, and betrayed each other as they frantically try to attain their prescribed life goals. This is fear and comparison manifesting itself through behavior.
The studying of ever increasing social media posts about new engagements in the community places enormous pressure on a person to “fit in”. Lack of identity and the sting of loneliness creates a stabbing pain within their hearts that demands action. But no matter what they do they still don’t quite feel satisfied. Of course this is only one example of what a small town complex can bring out in people. I want to ask those who have forced themselves into the trenches of achieving these prescribed goals for the sake of acceptance, “Is he/she/it everything you hoped he/she/it would be? Are you truly happy and satisfied?”
I want to pose an alternative to you round pegs who are feeling the weight of a square small town complex OR for those who have already forced themselves into submission to mediocrity. The alternative is this: STOP. Just stop! Recalibrate! You don’t have to settle! You don’t have to give in to feelings of desperation or despair! You don’t have to make decisions out of fear! You don’t have to get married, right away or ever! You don’t have to have kids! You don’t have to work the same job forever! You don’t have to stay in that town! Whatever you do, DO NOT SETTLE! DO NOT BETRAY YOURSELF!
(Remember: I am not speaking to people who love the life they have chosen, I’m speaking to those who DO NOT.)
Some days it will feel so sweet and comfortable to just give in to what feels good and take the easy path; the path that everyone else is walking down and all the people around you have advice for. Other days anxiety will kick in and you’ll feel panicked to make life happen for yourself. There’s almost a “rat race” of sorts in the small town world; a race to being settled. Don’t get caught up in it! Don’t give up on yourself! When I say recalibrate I mean change your thinking. You need to get in a “clean room” away from followers and let yourself think about who YOU truly are and what gifts and talents have been placed in your life that you have been overlooking or disregarding. Tap into these resources, take risks, push and challenge yourself, and for God’s sake get out of your comfort zone.
One of the greatest quotes I’ve heard said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I promise you that people were not designed to start living their dream life when they retired at age 65. You do not have to remain miserable or dissatisfied. You don’t have to force something to work that’s just not working. You can move. You can change jobs. You can begin to do that one thing you’ve always wanted to. You can totally revamp your marriage. YOU CAN CHANGE. Don’t believe otherwise. It takes will power and devotion, but you can change just about anything in your life that you’d like to. The question is, will you let yourself?
Now, I’m not encouraging people to become rolling stones or walk away from their responsibilities. What I want to do is breathe life into your bones and hope into your heart. I want to remind you that there is a another way. Your misery and mediocrity has probably drawn out the worst in you because it isn’t the way you were meant to live.
Somedays you may not even recognize yourself. I get it. Trust me, I’ve been there and still battle the pull of a “simple” life on a regular basis! But I want to be your encourager and challenge you to shake off malaise and apathy. The simple life is good for some, but that isn’t what everyone is called to. Just because you grew up in a small, simple community does not mean that same lifepath is your destiny. (*Bonus: Your life does not have to copy that of your parents! Sheesh.)
Set goals for yourself; not societal standards but your very own personal goals. Cast a vision for your life. Write it down. Make it plain. Achieve. It won’t be easy or perfect, but stepping out of mediocrity gives you a chance at true peace with yourself and a life of real meaning. If you need to…move out of that town, break up with that person, quit hanging around with those lazy friends, quit that dead end job, stop listening to and watching everyone else. Absolutely refuse to settle (and only you know what settling looks like for you).
I would encourage you to go read Matthew 25:14-30 and study the parable of the talents as told by Jesus. It can paint a pretty awesome picture of what God hopes to see His people do with the talents, abilities, and resources He’s placed within them and also offers a stiff warning to those who choose to live in fear and stagnation. God wants you to build, conquer, achieve, take risks, and succeed. He wants you to be happy and pleased with what you can accomplish. Don’t wait for the world to give you permission.
Here’s to shaking off mediocrity,
And for all you girls settling for that boy you keep making excuses for, please watch this: