Road to Mediocrity

This road looks innocent enough. Unfortunately, that’s the problem.

If you don’t require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.” -Seth Godin

Is there anyone out there who desperately wants to live a life of “moderate or low quality and value?”

Anyone?

Good. What you just read was Merriam-Webster’s official definition of “mediocre,” and unless you’re borderline insane, there’s no reasonable reason why you would want a life like that for you or for your loved ones.

The good news is that we all agree on this (we do agree on this, right?)

The bad news is that “not wanting” a mediocre life isn’t even close to the real problem. Let’s be real, no one here needs to be convinced that choosing to live a mediocre life is a terrible idea.

The real problem is that many people are living mediocre and unfulfilled lives that they absolutely don’t want, and they don’t know why.

Even worse, it’s usually because they’ve been taught to put their faith in some seriously faulty beliefs.

These beliefs are ones that I used to deeply believe in, and if you believe in them now, the goal of this blog post is to hopefully change your mind, permanently.

Below are three seemingly harmless (but incredibly dangerous) “needs” that will lead your life down the dark road of mediocrity faster than you can imagine. Some people may even advise you that these needs are the keys to living a happy and peaceful life.

They’re dead wrong.

Here’s why.

1. The Need For It To Be Easy

I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Out of the three needs that I’m going to talk about in this blog post, none of them will steer you down the dark road to mediocrity faster than this one.

If you’re a fan of The Positivity Solution’s Facebook page, you probably know that I like to post some of my personal thoughts, some motivational quotes, positive videos/articles, or basically anything that will help you to feel inspired, motivated, and positive on a daily basis.

From now on, I want you to notice something.

After I post something on the Facebook page about doing something big (for example: Going after your deepest dreams, removing toxic relationships from your life, facing your fears, or stopping the life-destroying habit of chronically complaining, etc.) you’ll notice something interesting.

I’ll almost always hear from someone who will consistently say some variation of the same tired tune:

“Yeah, if only it were that easy.”

“Umm…easier read than done, Shola.”

“I wish that it was easy to actually follow that advice.”

Let me be clear about this:

There is nothing more pathetic, pitiful, and embarrassing than a person who will do what’s necessary to improve their lives, only if it’s easy.

Why such harsh words?

Because I used to be a guy who needed it to be easy, and it almost ruined my life. I’ve gone down that dark, lonely road before and I don’t want the same fate for you or for anyone else.

Living an epic life, a life that we’re proud to use as an example for our loved ones, and a life that maximizes our potential on this earth, will never happen by consistently choosing the “easy” road.

Don’t believe me?

Ask a person who made the agonizing decision to permanently walk away from a toxic relationship with a family member.

Ask a single, working mom who found the time to accomplish her lifelong dream of getting a college degree while raising two little boys.

Ask a person who found the discipline to make better food choices, kept showing up to the gym even though she was severely overweight, and as a result, lost 70 lbs and fully regained her health.

Ask a person who found the courage to stand up to his abusive boss who was making his life a living hell.

Ask a person who looked at his paralyzing fear of public speaking square in the eyes and gave a successful presentation in front of 100 complete strangers.

One thing that you’ll never hear any of them say was that it was “easy.”

If these things were easy, everyone would be doing them. But they’re not easy, and not everyone is doing them because they’re hard as hell. In some cases, these things might be the hardest things that you’ll ever do in your life.

Actually, scratch that.

The hardest thing that you’ll ever do in your life is making the life-destroying decision to only do what’s easy.

It may not seem that way now, but if you choose that road, there will come a day when you’ll look back on a mediocre life lived with the most intense regret imaginable.

And trust me, that won’t be easy to deal with.

2. The Need To Play It Safe

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” -Abraham Maslow

This “need” is generally accepted by most people as a good thing because “playing it safe” is what responsible adults do.

Only weirdos, maniacs, and people who place little value on their lives do wildly dangerous things like juggle chainsaws or wrestle live crocodiles just for the hell of it.

But none of that craziness is what this is about.

People who choose a life of “playing it safe” are the ones who don’t apply for that amazing job opening in their department because there’s a possibility that they won’t get it. They’re the ones who refuse to ask the cute girl in their apartment complex out on a date because there’s a chance that they could get shot down. They’re the ones who will never launch their blog, record their album, write their screenplay, or start their business because there’s a chance that they could fail or look silly in the process.

Since there is a risk involved in all of those things, these people justify their choice to stay on the sidelines of life as “playing it safe.” And on the surface, that almost sounds true.

Except that it’s not.

Playing it safe rarely has anything to do with “being safe.” If we’re going to be honest here, it’s really only about one thing:

Fear.

I cannot stress this enough–absolutely nothing meaningful in this world’s history has ever been accomplished by “playing it safe.” Absolutely nothing.

Let’s use an example that hits close to home:

Think of the greatest accomplishment in your life.

Seriously, take a moment to think about it–not just a minor accomplishment, think of the greatest accomplishment in your life to date.

Do you have it in your mind? Good.

Now, be real with me–didn’t it involve some risk? Wasn’t there a very real possibility that you could have failed? Didn’t it involve facing your fear in some way? What if you chose to “play it safe” by choosing not to go for it? How different would your life be if you went down that road instead?

The good news is that you didn’t go down that road.

Even though you might have been worried, scared, or both, you still rejected the need to play it safe and you did it anyway. As a result, you were able to enjoy the greatest accomplishment in your life to date.

It’s worth keeping that fact in mind the next time (and there will be a next time) your fears try to keep you on the sidelines of life, instead of in the arena enjoying even greater accomplishments that could come your way.

Remember, “playing it safe” is turning down a request from your snake-handler buddy to pet-sit his poisonous snake for him while he’s on vacation. However, turning down an offer to share your art (writing, paintings, singing, acting, etc.) with the world because people might criticize it (and/or, you), is not playing it safe.

That’s fear.

And unless you’re interested in living a mediocre life far beneath the one you’re capable of living, I can safely say that you’re going to need to get over it, quick.

There’s only one way to do it (and you know exactly how to do it too): Face whatever it is that scares you.

Just like any bully, once you decide to stand up to your fears, you’ll see how quickly those fears will back down and get quiet.

Also, just like any bully, if you keep running from your fears, your fears will happily continue to emotionally torment and torture you for as long as you’ll allow it.

If you choose to go down the second road, just know that there’s no amount of “playing it safe” that will protect you from being bullied by your fears for years and years to come–possibly until the day that you die.

Maybe “playing it safe” really isn’t all that safe after all.

3. The Need To Be Comfortable

A man grows most tired while standing still.” -Chinese Proverb

I’ve touched on this need before, but it’s too important not to address again.

So many people live their entire lives with a dream of living comfortably as the prize at the end of their rainbows. Maybe you have that dream too. If so, I’m going to desperately plead with you to strive for a much bigger dream than that.

You’re not here on this earth to be comfortable. You’re here to live the greatest life that you possibly can, but your greatest life possible will quickly become impossible if you’re cool with simply being comfortable.

The biggest roadblock to experiencing our greatest lives is, and always will be, the need to be comfortable.

There’s a reason why new homeowners are told to immediately fix the big flaws in their houses as soon as they move in (e.g., broken tiles in the bathroom, a hole in the wall, or a creaky floor board), because if they don’t, something disturbing happens:

Eventually they’ll get to a point where they barely notice the broken areas of the house anymore, then they learn to accept it, and worst of all, they finally become comfortable with it.

But let’s forget about your house for a minute. The stakes raise considerably when it’s your life that we’re talking about instead.

What if you learned to become comfortable in an emotionally-destructive relationship? What if you learned to become comfortable carrying around 40 extra pounds that you didn’t have this time last year? What if you learned to become comfortable in a miserable job that is slowly killing your passion, your creativity, and your soul? What if you learned to become comfortable with the idea that happiness, success, and inner peace are for other people, and not for you?

This is the very dark side of comfort.

Comfort is awesome if you’re fortunate enough to find it on a cramped, cross-country flight stuck in the middle seat, but as the default mode for living your life, it’s pretty much the worst strategy ever.

Thankfully, I’ve had quite a few mentors in my life who were willing to keep it real with me when it came to my stubborn need to be comfortable at any cost.

The following is a piece of advice from one of them that I’ll never forget:

“Staying comfortable means refusing to grow, because all (not some, all) personal growth happens outside of your comfort zone. If you’re serious about improving your life in any way, it will never happen for you until you find the guts to step out of your comfort zone.”

She was right, and if that wasn’t enough, she then found this quote online and emailed it to me:

Comfort zones are plush lined coffins. When you stay in your plush lined coffins, you die.” -Stan Dale

From what I’ve heard, coffins are really comfortable. But what good is that comfort if you’re willing to die just to experience it?

What’s Really at Stake

So, why I am so focused on getting as many people as possible off of the Road to Mediocrity? The hint is in the Seth Godin quote at the beginning of this blog post. If you missed it, here it is again:

If you don’t require the journey to be easy or comfortable or safe, you can change the world.” -Seth Godin

As many of you already know, I desperately want to change the world. In order to make the dream of creating a kinder, happier, and more positive world a reality, I know two things for sure:

1) We have to do it together–the more people who are willing to join the positivity movement, the better.

2) The people in this movement cannot be willing to accept mediocrity in any form if we want this dream to become real.

For the people reading these words, I can promise you this–choosing to positively change your lives (or even the world) won’t be easy, safe, or comfortable.

But it’s necessary, and I’m here to tell you that you have everything within you to make it happen.

That’s why it’s the only road worth traveling.

Your Turn

Are you dealing with the need for it to be easy, safe, or comfortable in your life? Have you had any success overcoming these needs? If so, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola
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Comments

  1. Score!

    You knocked another blog post out of the park, Shola!!!

    You know where I stand on life being easy. Nothing I have done in my life that was worth anything has ever been easy. I used to be that person who would look at others and lament, “Why can’t I have it easy like so-and-so?” That was long before I realized the value and strength gained in doing things that are hard! (it was also before I learned that those who appear to have it easy rarely do!) We truly are ‘refined by fire’ in life. If we don’t go through rough, difficult or challenging times, we don’t grow, change and get rid of the junk that is holding us back.

    The thing I want to bring up about playing it safe… is that I honestly thing this is a huge fault a lot of parents have right now. Working with at risk youth, I can tell you that there are thousands… probably millions… of youth in the world who have never felt a consequence. Those youth have been told, over and over, that nothing is their fault. They have learned entitlement instead of the rewards of hard work. They have never faced a truly hard challenge or been allowed to fail. It is tragic for them. And in another 10 years, there will be more parents lamenting that their kids won’t move out or grow up. Guess who is to blame on that one???

    As for being comfortable… that’s the one that I struggle with the most. I am more than happy to live my little, comfortable life. I don’t mean that my life is not significant; I simply mean I am quite content with comfortable. Maybe we are talking about a different kind of comfortable, though. I think mine comes from years of hard work and survival. I am simply content. 😉

    Again, thank you so much for your wise words!!!

    And Happy New Year Shola!!!!

    • Once again Kathy you have brought up a very profound and important point. Parents think they are protecting their children when in fact, they are hurting them more than any outside force.
      Thanks for saying what needs to be said.
      Kat

    • Thanks Kathy! I knew that you’d understand where I was coming from when I talked about the lameness of needing our lives to be easy. You hit the nail on the head when you said that strength is gained by doing things that are hard, not easy. Also, I couldn’t agree more about the playing it safe part when it comes to parenting. Understanding that there are consequences to our actions is something that kids need to learn as early as possible, or else they’ll wind up as overly entitled adults that I’ll eventually end up writing a blog post about ;).

      As for the comfort part, I think we’re talking about a different kind of comfort. Anyone who is truly content in their comfort is good with me. But it’s the people who are discontented and believe that comfort will be the way that they’ll finally become contented is what I’m worried about (if that makes sense.) As always Kathy, thank YOU for your wise words and Happy New Year to you too!

  2. Great post Shola! I think I struggle with all of these a little. Well, maybe not the easy part. Nothing has ever been easy. As a matter of fact, when things start feeling a little bit easy, I am usually waiting for the other shoe to drop. The playing it safe and the comfort level go hand in hand for me, doing what is safe in order to maintain the comfort level. But I like what Kathy is saying here about being content. I am content now. I have walked out. I have said “never again”. I have counted on no one but myself. I have made sure that I will never “need” anyone and only be with people who I “want” to be with. I have meant those things and now, I am content. I like being content. Things are starting to feel easy… (I hope there is no other shoe).

    • I hear you, Spring–content is definitely cool with me. My concern is about staying stuck in our comfort zones and potentially missing out on what life has to offer by consistently playing it safe. But most importantly, if you’re content, that’s really all that matters. And no, the other shoe won’t drop! 🙂

  3. Love, love, love this post. I admit up until June/July last year I was laying in my plush coffin waiting to die. Then I was given a glimmer of hope, of a trial drug, one of my Drs tried so very hard for me to forget the trial, but that glimmer of hope kept me going. Fast forward to today, I’m still going strong & I’ve lost over 70lbs since the end of July, even more importantly I have hope for my future. So I agree whole heartedly with your post, so much so I’m printing it out & putting it on the wall to remind myself to never, ever give up, & to NEVER go back to mediocre again

    • Tessa, I love, love, LOVE your comment my friend! That is exactly what I’m talking about! I’m so happy that you’ve found the strength to keep fighting, and even more importantly, to keep thriving as well by losing all of that weight (which I’ll assume wasn’t easy to do.) Props to you Tessa–you are SO far off of the road to mediocrity that it’s not even funny. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  4. Thanks Shola, very inspiring! I have definitely succombed to my fears many times in the past. I regret it. My life has changed so much recently with the addition of a wonderful new family member, but personal growth is a different thing. I must push myself harder, not get comfortable as you say!

    • That’s what it’s all about Clare! Keep pushing and keep growing, and most importantly–keep facing your fears and refuse to allow them to control your life any longer. Congrats on your new family member!

  5. Hi Shola,
    I unfortunately have let fear be in the driver seat for too long and struggle with feeling immobilized by it. I guess knowing this, is a step towards being braver & moving towards a different way of being. Thanks for your post, it’s a great reminder & encouragement.

    • You’re very welcome, Laurie! I’ve been immobilized by fear before too, but believe me when I say that fear is just a bully who is all bark and no bite. All that it takes is to stand up to it in order for it to back down. The only catch is that it isn’t easy to do at first, but it does get easier with practice. The bully has had the wheel for long enough–it’s time to take it back in 2014!

  6. Shola,

    Ok – I really “need” to kick my own ass. This post has woken me up. I recognize that I ‘m thinking about playing it safe again. Taking a part time retail job for the season I’ve told myself I have to get a full time gig to pay the bills…the problem is not in getting a job, it’s that I have put my artwork on the back burner. It is easier to get a job and forget the rest, my foot is on the wrong road. I “need” to get back to the rough and bumpy dirt one. Not that I’ve given up on my art but, I am placing too much focus on safety. I am finishing a piece that I am particularly proud of…it is one of my huge accomplishments – I look at it and realize how much I’ve grown as an artist and a person – how many things are possible if I simply believe in myself (and continue with the struggle, never know who I’ll run into around the corner – right?).

    The post also brings to mind the people I work with at the moment – most have two jobs and neither are nothing more than a way to make ends meet for the older ones, it makes me sad. Many are young and it is their first job, I try when they’ll listen to tell them to find what excites them and pursue it, not just settle for what comes their way – it is a life mediocrity. Maybe I’ve reached one or two. In my small way, I am hopefully inspiring some folks to jump on the positivity train.

    Coffins have always been very unattractive to me 🙂 I want to go up in flames!

    Thanks for the reminder,
    Kat

    • Damn right, Kat! If we’re going to go down, we might as well go down in flames inside of the arena instead of dying a slow, pitiful death on the sidelines of life. You’re right, it is time to kick your own ass because your art deserves you to fight for it! Sure, it’s easier just to put your head down and go to work, but your artistic abilities came to you for a reason, right? Believe in your gift, Kat–the world needs to see more of it in 2014! Also, props to you for trying to get your coworkers to think about their passions and dreams instead of simply sleepwalking through life like I did in my 20’s. I could have used someone like you in my life when I was at my first job!

  7. oops – too busy babbling about my own experience 🙂

    HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE – may the world place emeralds at your feet!

  8. Gloria Araujo says:

    Great post AGAIN.
    I also faced my big fear lady July. I had back pain for over two years. Tried everything possible. Finally went back to the Dr. To ask for him to give me morphine. I was serious. I was 62 years old, seriously out of shape and overweight. He said no but recommended a nutritionist. On my way back from that appointment I passed a gym. The sign caught my eye! It said one on one training. I literally pulled over dialed the number and when the phone was answered I asked if there was anything he could do for a 62 year old that had never been to a gym an was totally out of shape! He said dress comfortably. Bring a towel and a bottle of water or two! I made my first appointment for August 7, actually thinking I would cancel because I was scarred and embarrassed! Luckily I kept it! I’m down 30 pounds, 3 sizes and feel like a new person. I go to the gym 4-5 times a week, twice for one on one and cardio and the other two or three usually doing cardio. I still have about 40 lbs to go but I will never quit! I won’t settle for the plush coffin! Back pain about 80% gone! No drugs or injections! Very proud of myself!!

  9. Laily Sharifzadeh says:

    One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” -Abraham Maslow

    I am SO touched by this quote- Sometimes I am afraid of the feeling of fear and how uncomfortable the unknown can be. It’s so empowering to know that overcoming fear is a part of reaching my full potential. I definitely want to make a positive difference and I am grateful to be reminded to consistently step out of my comfort zone so I can do just that.

    Thanks for another uplifting post just when I needed it most 🙂

    • Laily, that is honestly one of my favorite quotes EVER. And you’re so right–the only path to your fullest potential will require you to go through fear, and that’s why achieving our fullest potential isn’t easy. But it is SO necessary, and each day that you step out of your comfort zone is just one day closer to your fullest potential. You’ve got this, my friend 🙂

  10. “Thankfully, I’ve had quite a few mentors in my life who were willing to keep it real with me..”, you sir are one of mine.

    You always hit a home run with every article you post. I’m really grateful that I’ve found your blog, and I really wish that I could meet you someday 🙂

    • Tareq, this is high praise, my man! Thank you so much for the very kind words, and hopefully our paths will cross one day in the near future. Until then, I promise to keep bringing the fire with each and every blog post!

  11. XTheWildOneX says:

    I’m struggling through college, fighting tooth and nail with every fibre of my being to not let my mental illness get in the way of my goals.
    I don’t care that I’m alone, I don’t care that I’m different, to hell with being a normal teenager, I’m going to wake up every day and realise how much stronger I am because of my experiences.
    Really love your post. It doesn’t pay to get discouraged or disheartened.

  12. Tamara N says:

    I’ve been reading through your website for a good part of the morning and damnit, yes. You bring up so many good points and manage to do so while motivating me to actually go through with them- thank you, truly! (:
    For the past few months, I’ve gradually gotten better at standing up for myself without feeling bad about it, agreed to meet up with friends even when I didn’t feel like it and just got some things done, whether it be school work or resolving private issues. I feel like I should still print out some quotes of your posts for the much-needed extra motivation to just DO stuff, though.
    And with the spring coming, what better time for change than now? Thank you again! And now, let’s do this! 😀

    • Right on, thanks Tamara! That truly does mean a lot to me and I’m so happy to hear that my posts are giving you the loving, springtime kick in the pants that you’re looking for :). Keep it up my friend, and most importantly, keep steering clear of Mediocre Blvd!

  13. Joe Siczpak says:

    >”…stopping the life-destroying habit of chronically complaining…”

    That was me, a young freelance musician. I had an epiphany one day, when a sudden random thought flashed through: me suspended in mid-air, holding on to a large box. The accompanying feeling was, that if I let go of the box, something “awful” would happen.

    This thought trouble me for a few days, and then I realized the meaning: the box represented my need to have someone constantly fill up my confidence. The fear of letting go was my anxiety reaction to the risk.

    The next day, I told my musician friends, that if I started whining, complaining, and “awfulizing”, that they should not join in. It was the beginning of growth.

    That was 30 years ago, and I’m still trying to be more self confident. But at least I made one big step.

  14. I’ve always felt as though I wanted to do something great for myself and for the world, I wanted to make a difference. These days I’ve never felt so mediocre uas painfully as when I found out that I didn’t vet accepted into a university which had a program that I really wanted to go to. It’s a school that’s really hard to get into but, I feel like all my efforts in s hill so far were not enough. Shola, when you said to think about your greatest achievements, the only thing I could think of was the fact that I actually successfully passed a job interview for McDonald’s when I was 18. I’m 21 going on 22, I hate my job and I feel less than mediocre. Maybe its pathetic. I want to do such great things but I’m also afraid of failing. But when I think of it, nothing can be worse than the way I’m living now.

  15. David Richardson says:

    Great post. I agree if you have kids to feed and don’t bring in enough money you need to strive to do more. If you’re obese and diabetic you need to go to the gym. But I have no issue with the comfort zone. I’ve been in it all my life. I did OK at school, I got a degree without working for it, I’ve got an OK job, a beautiful wife and an amazing daughter. I live on the Gold Coast in Australia (I was born in a very damp and depressing industrial town in the UK). I am the epitome of comfort. I could do more, and I’ve spent most of my life trying to motivate myself to do more and feeling bad for not having tried harder. But my reality is that I have a nice life and it was all achieved firmly within my comfort zone. Does that make me lazy or just lucky? And isn’t it OK to appreciate that good fortune and enjoy it, rather than breaking my back to earn a bit more money; have a bigger house or a nicer car? Studies have shown that beyond around AU$100,000 the correlation between income and happiness tails off anyway so what’s the point? I see rich people all the time and 90% of them are unhappy.

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