A life without the best is pretty damn great.
I am not the best writer.
I am not the fastest runner in my age group.
I am not the best mom in the world.
I am a middle of the road, middle of the country, midlife working woman, wife, and mother. Indistinguishable, at times, from the hoardes of other women sitting behind a desk. Picking up her kids at school. Walking out of a SoulCycle class.
I will never win an Olympic medal of any color. I will never win a Nobel prize. I will never be the highest paid worker in any industry.
And I’ve never been happier about that.
I saw the number 11:11 on a clock the other day. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I‘m a bit of a superstitious scientist. So, I saw that number and I stopped to make a wish.
And you know what? I wasn’t sure what to wish for. I mean, yes, I want to win the next client project that I’m excited about. I want my kids to live happy and fulfilling lives. I’d love to be able to eat all the french fries and ice cream that I want without repercussions.
But I used to have the best wishes. Get into the best college. Get hired at the most prestigious investment bank. Become a perfect mother that doesn’t screw her kids up in any way. This one in particular makes me laugh now, as if even the universe has that much control.
I always wanted more. Do better, be better, reach the top.
And that need to be the best made me miserable. Even when I reached some of those things, I wasn’t happy. By the time I got there, I was already focused on the next thing, the next goal, looking ahead. Worried about how easy it would be for me to screw it all up.
At this point in my life, I accept and acknowledge that I screw up every day. Yell at my kids because I’m tired, not because they did something wrong. Tell a client the wrong date for a meeting, twice. Publish articles with spelling errors or missing words.
But I’m no longer striving for the best, striving for perfect. So those mistakes no longer send me into a pit of fear. Reeling with the idea that I could be knocked off my precarious perch of perfect with one misstep.
I live my life in the middle of the road and it’s never been better.
Because the middle is still pretty great. Instead of wishes I now have realistic goals. Reach this many people with my writing, get this many new clients. Connect with my kids sometimes, but also find space for my own thoughts. And the occasional pedicure.
Little steps that are important to me, that make me happy, even if they won’t change the world. Even if I’ll never be the best. Progress instead of perfection in the most literal way.
Some people enter midlife and find malaise and crisis. And I spent some time there for sure. But now, it feels like an enormous relief. I don’t have to push and push to be the best. I just have to find my way to happy. In whatever form it takes. No wishes required. Just the reality of a little life that is fulfilling to me, even if it’s not one that any one else would choose.
So, I’ll address my last thoughts to you — you know who you are. The striver, always using the stick instead of the carrot to move yourself forward. The one terrified of mediocrity, because if it’s not perfect it’s horrible and there’s nothing between.
Take a moment and ponder all of us in that gray and hazy middle. We’re decent at some things, not so great at others. We’re moving forward but will probably never make it out of mediocre.
Consider how happy some of us might be. How content. It might blow your mind. But think about how you measure a life well lived. Is it about achievements, or is it about happiness? Is it about things, or is it about connection? Only you can decide. Everyone has to make their own choice.
I’ve made mine. And for me, mediocrity is the best thing that ever happened to me.