Hello everybody, welcome to episode 92 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. We’ve got a question on mediocrity today that I think is super relatable.
It speaks to all of our desires to stand out in one way or another whether it’s on a worldly scale or just in a household. Let’s break down what it means to be average and what true significance is all about. Here’s today’s question…
QUESTION: “I like to try new things. In the last year I’ve learned to make websites, fixed up an old car, practiced minimalism, done some carpentry work, and streamlined my finances. I love all these things, but as soon as I get to a moderate level of competence, I lose interest. I’m in my early 50’s, happily married 30 years, I’ve worked in the same industry 32 years. Life is pretty good, but I can’t shake the desire to be an expert at something I enjoy. I just seem to move on to the next thing before I get there. How do I learn to stick with something? Or am I asking the wrong question? Should I just learn to accept my mediocrity and be happy with the wonderful variety of my interests?”
Master Your Habits
Cool. I like this question a lot. I also enjoy getting swept into the adventure of trying new things. There’s definitely a sense of fun and accomplishment that comes with it. Thank you for sending this in and let’s see what we can do for ya. So first I’ll give you the easy answer, which is sort of a two parter. Then I’ll tell you what I suspect is sort of lying beneath this question.
Learning to stick with something is simply a matter of mastering your habits. This was covered a lot in the show’s first 15 or 20 episodes. I think we talked about habits 3 or 4 different times.
The first episode especially was highly concentrated on habits so for the formula of actually repeating certain behaviors (repeating the actions necessary to maintain your hobbies long enough to become an expert) I’d highly recommend listening to that episode. It might also be fun to take a walk down memory lane and observe how much better the show has hopefully gotten! No promises on that one, though.
Passion vs. Being An Expert
The second and more abstract part of sticking with something lies in passion, though, and while I’m sure you already know that, I worry that you might be forgetting from time to time. And passion is different from wanting to be an expert.
With passion there's no expectation or contingency, whereas the desire to become an expert puts a bit of a storm cloud over the activity in question.
Can they co-exist? Sure. But in that case, passion has to come first, and it seems like your bigger drive right now is to master something for the sake of mastering something. That can be exhausting, militant and not extremely fun.
Under these conditions, it’s normal to lose enthusiasm and bow out early as you have. Nothing wrong at all with trying new things like you have, and there’s nothing wrong with bowing out early either. But it’s more likely to happen that way if you’re not leading in with the desire to do things just for fun.
That’s the short answer. Learn the habits formula from episode 1 to make any task a part of your daily routine, and the more passion you have beneath it, the easier it’ll be for it to stay. But what I think is really getting to you is your need for variety.
Solidarity and Commitment
Here’s the thing: You have so much solidarity in your life. Arguably the two biggest commitments in life – work and relationships – you’ve mastered with 30+ years of commitment to both. This is a wonderful thing, and you seem to know that for yourself. We all crave the balance of certainty and uncertainty, however, and that desire strengthens the more lopsided we are. You’re very lopsided towards certainty in your work and your marriage. This is GOOD. These are the areas in life in which we want to have commitment.
So not only do you have commitment down pat, but you’re exercising your need for uncertainty very well. Experimenting with new hobbies is a much better way of expressing these urges than having affairs and quitting your job to travel the world and see what happens and letting the mortgage somehow figure itself out. I think you’re handling this all extremely well.
Your Need for Variety
The only rub is that your need for variety is going to war against your need for significance. And all I can say to this is that not only do you already have a lot of significance, but that significance is different from meaning any way.
Significance is something we all strive for in different ways. Show me someone who doesn’t crave respect and recognition to some degree for some thing. Like we do with many commitments, it’s also easy to take long-term sources of significance for granted. Maybe “for granted” isn’t the right word, but we forget how much these things really fuel us.
All I’m saying is that though you might resort to calling yourself mediocre, you’re anything but that where it matters most: like with your work and more importantly, of course, in your marriage. Comfort over the years have have tricked you into thinking you’re actually mediocre, but to them and any other longstanding commitments you may have, you’re of extremely great value.
The Mediocrity We All Have
Any actual mediocrity you have is no different from the mediocrity we all have. The truth is that we’re all average at most things, and that’s fine. It’s easy to see how much significance the experts garner, but those who do achieve incredible expertise inevitably have to suffer imbalance in life.
Time and commitment to one thing takes away from time and commitment to another. A bite size example for you would be that the more time you choose to devote to fixing old cars, the less time you’ll have for your marriage and your work. We all have 24 hours a day, and though creative choices can pair things together nicely sometimes, there always has to be some sacrifice to achieve an elite status.
Balance with Meaning
And for those of us who are not elite, we remind ourselves of the truth: those who are elite are not only making humongous sacrifices, they’re also not necessarily happy, many people will only respect for as long as they’re at the top of their game, they’re not allowed any margin for error, they aren’t guaranteed anything, and they’re few and far between. 0.1% of people get 99% of recognition, and countless people who have worked just as hard will never be talked about.
Significance can seduce us like this as an illusion. Don’t let it. Continue seeking balance in your life, but make that balance about meaning. It’s great that you’re looking to derive meaning from more than just a few different sources, just make sure that meaning is coming from a healthy place and that you already have immense value where it matters.
That brings us to the end, folks.
Sir, I hope I was able to help you out a bit today and just reassure you above all else. It seems to me you’re doing a lot more right right now than you may realize and I commend you for that. And that goes for all off you. Problems, mediocrity, the itch to stand out, it’s all a necessary trade off for living healthy, balanced lives.
That being said, if you have your own questions to ask, please don’t hesitate. We love hearing from you. Email your questions to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
We’ll take them there and do our best for ya. Sound good? Good. I’ll look forward to talking to you all next time. Have an awesome day, everybody.