The Fear of Mediocrity: Great Motivation to Excel?

One of the things that are remarkable about the word mediocre is the extent to which it has retained its meaning over the course of more than four centuries of continual use. Now that is not a mediocre feat. The meaning of mediocrity is the quality or state of being mediocre. The meaning of mediocre means something of only ordinary or moderate quality. Something that is neither good nor bad but is completely average.

Most millennials struggle with a constant sense of anxiety and depression. We push happiness away because being average does not fit the emotional highs and lows we are used to. Much of the stress comes from the messages in society that you can have it all and must go after it, or you are a failure. Whereas other generations promoted stability and comfort, there is a trend of overachievement that makes it difficult for people to feel satisfied with their current position in life.

Society urges everyone to do more. Distract more. And when you struggle, the pharmaceutical companies quickly persuade you towards anti-depressants or the social acceptance to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

Although in the entertainment industry, there is a new boom in portraying seemingly mediocre characters on a glorified, larger-than-life level. The entertainment industry is, however, not concerned with your mental health. They just want their creative products to be relatable to a larger audience. So even though the plot may be fantastical, the character is not.

No one is okay with being mediocre anymore. They assume that means failure if you are not the greatest. It is not possible to be the best in every area of your life all the time.


Fear Of Mediocrity Is the Worst

The fear of mediocrity is possibly one of the worst fears a person can have. It is the equivalent of anti-matter to creativity. The fear of mediocrity is even worse than the fear of failure. If you fear failure, you are doubtful of your skills to complete the task at hand. Hence you do not venture to try it. But if you fear mediocrity, you are most confident that you can finish the task at hand but think that even if you complete it, your finished work would be mediocre at best. Therefore, you do not bother trying. Hence, there exists a clear difference. If you fear mediocrity, you will even fret to try something you are moderately good at, let alone trying something new. You remain in a shell of depression and focus on what you are best at, with comes with its own pros and cons.

To take an average person’s train of thought in the spirit of the discussion at hand, it is usually as follows:

“Should I try something new?”

“No need; my friend has already done something similar.”

“Even if I did it, I would be a sasta version of my friend.”

“Let me look at what I am good at.”

“I could improve my skills and be the best in the world.”

“Nah, I would never be the best in the world. What is the point of even trying?”

“I am tired. Let me go to sleep.”


On analyzing this thought process, we see that by fearing mediocrity, we fear going into unknown waters as well as out of our own warm comfort zones. We are afraid to take action, but we also do not wish to stagnate – we want to do something. We also believe that if we do something, it should always be our best.

This toxic cycle of “non-creativity” continues forever, like a loop from hell.

We fear to endeavour.

We fear to try.

We fear that you are sitting idle.

We often want to perish creatively and spiritually to this thought cycle.


We need to stop fearing mediocrity and keep in mind that the process of creating something is valuable. Creation itself contributes to the growth of oneself. Creating tons of mediocre work is part of the process of learning and practicing, which leads to one’s best work.

Hence to stop fearing being mediocre, one should start enjoying what one does.


Creativity Without Comparison

The term mediocrity comes into existence when a comparison is made. A certain attribute is mediocre only when compared to some other attribute. No person is inherently mediocre or great. We just assume they are great when we make a comparison between them and our acquaintances. If no comparison is made, you are the greatest at everything you do. Comparison is not inherently wrong. It leads to temporary self-growth as well as develops in you a great ambition to be better than the best there is at anything. Prolonged comparison, however, leads to depression as one cannot be at the top of every list in every attribute. Therefore, comparison after a certain point becomes toxic.

There is no way to know if the work we produce will be mediocre if we have not created it. It might even be great. Sure, we get a sense but killing it before it even exists closes the door unfairly on what might have been.  Yes, it is probably true that what you have just produced is not the first of its kind and is entirely original. It may not be as well received as other pieces of work on the same subject. But it is the first and most original work that you have created. That is valuable because it allows you to bank it against your previous works and let it gives you an opportunity for growth.

“Work to become, not to acquire.” – Elbert Hubbard

To avoid falling prey to the feeling of being mediocre, we should remember that the process of creating any work is valuable. Mediocre work can lead to magnificent work. Giving in to the fear of mediocrity stops countless constructive conversations, pieces of creative work, and the first steps to something greater. You should do something because you want to do it, not because you want to be the best at it. You should enjoy whatever you do. Completing whatever you set out to do should be the only joy you want when setting out to do anything.

To be productive, one should strive to do something either because one wants to learn it or because one wants to become better than their past self at it.


Average is Acceptable

The term mediocrity, or average, essentially refers to the entire output of a group of individuals divided by the total number of individuals. In essence, what this means is that if a large enough population is considered, out of which a few individuals are chosen at random, mathematically speaking, the chosen individuals are all average. When put like this, it is easy to look at the term as something simple and normal.

However, the term is often associated with a great sense of negativity and aversion. What is important to realize in a society that seeks and highlights perfectionism is that it is completely okay to be average and that most people are. If being average was not acceptable, society itself would collapse as most people in it are average.

“The world needs more love, not competition.” -Jim Valvano

It takes courage and a reasonable amount of self-compassion to realize and accept that one is mediocre and that it is completely human to be so. You do not have to be the best at everything. There are plenty of people who are good at one thing and mediocre at another. There is no shame in that.


Fear of Mediocrity as Driving Potential

While for many, the fear of being mediocre can be a roadblock to happiness and self-satisfaction, it can also provide a driving potential for achieving greatness. In this competitive world, it is easy to see people being better than you in numerous aspects, bringing forth a sense of being mediocre and unremarkable. This becomes even more relevant as you enter larger playing fields. The transition from high school to college can be an overwhelming ordeal for the very same reason. While one might have been the high school topper or the crème de la crème at a sport, it is not unusual to see themselves as just mediocre in college. This phenomenon, however, is certainly not negative.

As a famous person once said, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”

What this statement refers to is that it is better to have a peer group that outperforms you and hence, drives you to step up your game than to be at a place where you are already the best. Hence, it is not uncommon to see freshers engulfed by a newfound motivation, driving them to take up various clubs, student projects, and side hustles.

Ultimately, whether the fear of mediocrity becomes a source of anxiety or a driving potential, it is important to realize its inevitability and accept it for what it is. This fear stems from the deep roots of evolution and is essentially a part of how we, as human beings, function. Regardless, it is essential to realize the true meaning of being mediocre or average and channel self-compassion and acceptance in order to normalize this fear and find satisfaction.


Written by Soham Sadhukan and Kenneth Stephen for MTTN

Edited by Shivraj Herur for MTTN

Featured Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


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