Want to live a great life? Get rid of mediocrity and mastery
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Live intro - Hello my lovelies. Today we're talking about mediocrity, exceptionalism, judgment and more. I feel like this is a great extension of last week’s episode about Kindness and Compassion in These Times (the link for that is in the show notes) , because it applies to so many people.
The inspiration for this episode comes from a post I saw from a friend, which I am paraphrasing to keep their identity private. The post said, I am often frustrated by my own mediocrity. Jack of all trades. Master of none. And it bothered me because I consider this person anything but mediocre. They are an artist who paints beautifully. They are a writer who is honest and forthright in their essays and poems. They’ve raised a child they are so proud of. They are retired military and have lived outside the US because of it. This is not someone I would consider mediocre, and I think their frustration with their self described mediocrity comes from admiring great artists like Georgia O’Keefe.
So, I decided it was time to talk about this because I know so many people, myself included, that often diminish what we’re good at because we’re not masters at the things we do. Ick!! Seriously friends, after 60 years on this planet, I’ve seen masters of things, and rarely, very rarely do they have a good life. Instead, they have one thing that they are amazing at, but they or their life is often a horrible mess or they are horrible people. We’ll talk about that in a bit, but first, I found out something fascinating while researching this quote’s origins.
The idiom 'jack of the trades, master of none' originates from Elizabethan English. It was used by Robert Greene, a popular author of the time, in his 1592 booklet 'Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit' where he debatably refers to William Shakespeare as just that, a jack of all trades and master of none. Isn’t that a scream? This man Robert Greene, who most people outside of literary circles or certain parts of the world, probably have never heard of, essentially called a man who is almost universally deemed a genius writer as a hack.
The part that’s even better? His quote is a misquote of Shakespeare himself. The full quote, which I had never heard until I started researching this episode is “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”. Isn’t that fabulous? I don’t know if this is the absolute truth, because, you know, the internet, but it honestly delights me.
Know what else delights me? The fact that there were so many articles on the blessings of being a jack of all trades I encountered in my research.. What so many of them talked about is that a Jack of all trades makes you as valuable as a master because while a master can do one thing extraordinarily well, a generalist is adaptable and deals better with change, which, to me, is an extraordinary thing in itself. In fact, it’s how any species survives. Those that resist evolution tend to die out.
Why is that important? Because when I looked at the meaning of mediocre, I found out that mediocre means average, but it is used as a pejorative with negative connotations. It’s used to describe things and people that didn’t measure up to someone’s expectations and they judged the thing or person as mediocre. Blech!
I also found out that mediocre comes from Latin mediocris, which means "middling, ordinary, unremarkable," and in truth, I have never met a person that I find unremarkable. I have had experiences that were mediocre for me, but guess what? Others have found them extraordinary. Go figure. It reminds me of the worst first date I ever had. It was in high school, and the guy was really cute. We went to the movies and saw Brubaker with Robert Redford. He loved it, and I hated it. I mean, for me, the best part of the movie was Robert Redford starring in it. Other than that, I could have lived my entire life without seeing that movie, and we ended up in a disagreement over it and never went out again. He was a friend of my best friend’s husband, so we saw each other again, but that movie put a definite wet blanket on the evening. The good news is that my worst first date was merely mediocre, at least by my standards. As a side note, in a Collider article ranking Redford’s top 25 movies (he’s made 48, by the way), Brubaker ranked 21st, so maybe that movie is less than mediocre, but I’d bet money Redford doesn’t regret making it.
And before anyone comes for me, I want to state that I am absolutely NOT saying we don’t need specialists and masters in this world. I, for one, definitely want a specialist if anyone in my family or I need an operation. I prefer people who are experts guiding me in my financial matters. In some instances, those masters are exactly what we need, but do we need it to live a wonderful life? I say no.
In one of my previous podcast episodes, I referenced a quote by author Steve Brown who said “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly - until you learn to do it well.” I love this quote because it turns you toward acceptance and improvement rather than judgment, and we’re all so good at judgment, aren’t we?
We all know about Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel, but did you know that he was also a poet and was the architect who oversaw the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica? Even those who study art, including my own children are not familiar with Michelangelo's poetry. For Michelangelo, life was a creative endeavor, and sometimes he failed. In an article from the History Channel I found out that Michelangelo was the architect for fortifications for the city of Florence when they expelled the ruling Medici family and installed a republican government. This could have cost him his life because the Pope at the time was from the Medici family and was Michelangelo’s benefactor, but after the papal forces retook the city, he forgave Michelangelo and actually rehired him. When that pope died, Michelangelo fled to Rome, never to return to his native city. So, even the masters mess up, sometimes big time. I mean, we all know about Vincent Van Gogh, don’t we? He left behind some extraordinary work, but at what cost? His life and health, both physically and mentally, and again, I’m not saying every master ends up this way, but entirely too many of them do.
Outside of the art world, we would all agree that Albert Einstein was a genius and master academic, but he was an awful human being. He constantly cheated on and belittled his wife, refusing to credit her for her work in his published papers and brought his mistresses into the home they shared. Ick!
And as if to bring the point home fully, I often listen to music as I work on my podcasts because it helps drown out the noises that can distract me from my work, and while working on this part of the podcast, the song released after Jimmy Buffett’s passing came on. The name of the song is Bubbles Up, and if you haven’t heard it, let me share a few lines from it.
They will point us toward home
No matter how deep or how far we roam
They will show you the surface
The plot and the purpose
So when the journey gets long
Just know that you are loved
There’s light up above
And joy, there’s always enough
Those lyrics are a great reminder that it isn’t about mastery for most of us. It’s about something very different, and when I learned what this song means, I think it’s a great metaphor for life. For those who are familiar with diving, I know this is common knowledge, but for people like me who are not familiar with it, here’s the story. Sometimes when you dive, especially when it’s dark, it’s easy to lose your perspective and not know if you’re swimming up or down, and people often panic, but there’s an easy solution. You relax and look at which way the bubbles are going, and you know that way is up.
So what does this have to do with anything? If you’re new here, I am a recovering perfectionist and self-criticizer, and it’s a much better place to be than where I was before. Too many of us hold ourselves to the most ridiculous standards and blame ourselves for things we have zero control over, and no matter what we do, it’s never enough. That is a recipe for a life of less than, and none of us deserve that. Sometimes we need to relax and figure out which the bubbles are going so we know which way is up and we can move toward the light.
Recently a friend of mine lost her dad, and the day after he passed, she was feeling bad because she couldn’t bring herself to get off the couch. It broke my heart because here was this woman who loved her dad, who is not here anymore, and she was worried about taking care of her home. I asked her to please be kind to my friend and treat her like she would a dear friend who lost a parent, and that’s the message I want to share with all of you.
It’s time to cut yourself a little slack or maybe a lot of it. You know what? I have never judged anyone for the condition of their baseboards when I visited them. That said, when I have company coming, I do spend a bit of time cleaning up, but not like I used to. There was a time I cleaned for a couple of days when guests were coming, and felt awful if there were a few crumbs on the floor. Only one person ever criticized me about the condition of my house among other things, and that person is no longer in my life.
The thing is, so many of us have this voice in our head that yells at us or scolds us or humiliates us whenever we don’t live up to a certain standard, but who’s standard is that? Often it’s from a parent who lived in different circumstances than we do, but we still hear their voice, and it’s rarely kind. I have seen women, in particular, though men do it too, turn themselves inside out to live up to the most ridiculous standards, and it’s heartbreaking because while we/they are doing that, we’re missing out on the best moments in life.
I remember talking to a fellow blogger once and asked her who her target audience was, and she said a hot mess mom. When I asked her why, she said that she thought she could help them get their home and lives organized. There was another woman on the video call who is a self described hot mess mom who embraces the chaos of her life and has a blast in the process. So I proposed this to the first woman. I said, “You know when you’re vacuuming and you get all the lines running perfectly parallel in your living room and how good that feels, and she got this look on her face of such satisfaction and said yessss! At the same time, the hot mess mom was looking at me like, what the heck are you talking about? And I asked her, have you ever even thought of doing that with your vacuum? And the answer was obviously no, but here’s the thing. For the first woman, that kind of thing brought her joy. If the second woman tried to live up to that, she would be miserable.
On the other side of that coin, I asked the first woman, if her children told her that there were hot air balloons going over the house while she was in the middle of making dinner, and they wanted her to come outside and see them, what would she do? She said she would tell them she couldn't because of making dinner. When I asked the second woman what she would do, even if they needed to be somewhere and she knew she would either be late or have to make other plans for dinner? She said, we’re watching balloons. I can always hit a drive through. Two different women and if either of them tried to live like the other, they would never be successful.
And that’s the thing about life, it’s meant to be lived to your standards. Don’t know what that is? That’s where I come in. You see, I truly believe everyone is spectacular in some way and no one is mediocre unless they truly try to be, and if you’ve been around for any amount of time you know we’re going to talk about personalities and how this fits in with them.
For the Driven personality, you are the one personality I’m going to give a bit of grace here because you love overcoming challenges, but your idea of mastery is different than others too. You figure if you can do it, you've mastered it, unless you possess some of the C personality, in which case, you will chase something until you master it. In truth you need challenges or you’ll self destruct, but you also like being in control, so others’ voices often get drowned out by your own when you’re chasing mastery, but it’s important to know that unless you’re dealing with another driven personality, you can become that ugly voice in someone else’s head because they don’t process like you do. It’s a fine line you walk between pushing yourself and others to be their best and crushing people’s spirit, and I know you rarely intend to do such a thing. You want to master everything you do, which is awesome, but I encourage you to think about being in happy, healthy relationships as something that is as important as achieving your very high goals so that you don’t look back someday and see a path of carnage. Instead, you look back at a life of achievement willingly surrounded by the people you care about most in the world.
For the Inspired person, because of your fun loving ways, you probably have a voice in your head that tells you to get serious, especially when you’re being lighthearted at the “wrong moment”, and I put that in air quotes because as a I person, at some point you realize that all the rules are made up, and you don’t have to follow any of them, but you do sometimes to keep the peace. Case in point, my mother survived a brain aneurysm in 1999, but when she woke up, she thought my brother was her brother Arty, and I was someone named Debbie, so my brother and I started calling each other Arty and Debbie privately, and we would laugh about it. My uncle, the one actually named Arty, who she did recognize (she thought my brother was her brother but younger because injured brains do weird things), well, Uncle Arty was not happy with us because he thought we were making fun of our mom when in truth, we were dealing with the idea that our mom might never recognize us again, which the surgeon had told us was a definite possibility. The “I” personality often deals with extremely difficult emotional situations with humor, especially around other people because they don’t want to bring anyone else down. This may sound wildly inappropriate to other people, but it’s often how the Inspired personality keeps the ugly voices at bay as well because despite what people may think, the happy go lucky Inspired person is extremely susceptible to the ugly voices of those they respect and look up to. Please be gentle with their fun loving spirit. And if you’re an Inspired personality with that ugly voice in your head, we need to talk because if I can get rid of my ugly voice, I know you can too.
The Supportive person is as susceptible as the Inspired personality to others’ critical voices, which they often incorporate into their own head, and it takes a village of people to upend those critical voices because the supportive person will try to change who and how they are to make others feel comfortable. Other personality types can easily take advantage of that, especially if they catch the Supportive personality in an unbalanced time, but when they manipulate a Supportive personality like that, they destroy what makes a supportive person extraordinary. They take away the S personality’s ability to support people without guilt and shame. That makes them mediocre because they start to question their own motives. To the supportive person, you are the most likely to excuse abusive behavior in others because you truly want to support them, even and maybe most especially when they are not being kind. You know that is a cry for help, but unless that person is willing to receive the amazing support and love you have to give, you will exhaust both of you by trying. You are much better served to learn how to create simple boundaries by listening to your intuition and pouring yourself into people who truly appreciate it. That doesn’t mean you have to shun the others, it merely means learning to discern how to give support without giving too much of yourself away, so you have plenty left over for those who truly want and need your amazing gifts.
To the Cautious personality, you excel at holding your boundaries, and as long as that doesn’t tip over into rigidity, you’ll do well in nearly everything you do, which is a recipe for mastery of all kinds. Your challenge, like the Driven person, is realizing that while you are masterfully talented in many things, you could also end up looking back at your very accomplished life and wondering what it was all for because there’s no one to celebrate your achievements with. One of my favorite C people once said to me, “it’s not that I don’t like people, but I need to get my work done first”, and this is the point that I have to remind the C personalities, who I know are all nodding their heads right now. You need to decide a cutoff point and realize you can go nonstop until you exhaust yourself to get your work done. Please make sure that you work in some “people time” so that you have someone to celebrate your incredible accomplishments with. I promise you won’t regret it. I remember once asking a woman I admired to take on a role in my brother in law’s campaign when he was running for Congress. She took a deep breath and said no because she was doing less volunteer work so she could spend more time with her family. I said ok, and I appreciated her honesty, and we both went about our business. A few weeks later we ran into each other, and she told me that I was the first person she said no to in over 5 years by choice rather than circumstance, and she truly appreciated that I hadn’t gotten angry with her. I love knowing that I made it easier for her to say no and focus on her family, which was far more important than what I was asking her to do. That, to me, is a great accomplishment, especially for a C personality.
Speaking of incredible accomplishments, the Happiest Holidays Bundle and Community Upgrade sale is on! The bundle is live from November 8th through the 15th 2023. It features some of the most amazing women, who will be helping other women have their best holiday season possible, so be sure to upgrade with the community option because there will be an opportunity to get some one on one help and hang out with some of the coolest people I know. To learn more about that, head over to the Moving Toward Better website and click the button in the upper right hand corner or click the link in the show notes. I’m so excited to help you have the best holiday season possible, and so are the women who have added value to the bundle. Grab yours today and get started! It’s going to be awesome! So, until next time, keep moving toward better and shining your light as brightly as you can. Love you all!
Are you extraordinary or mediocre? I know which one you are even if we’ve never met. How? Because I know personalities, but sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves, and the voice in our head can be so mean. Maybe it’s time to evict that voice that tells us we’re less than to become a first rate version of ourselves rather than a second rate version of someone else’s judgment and expectations.
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