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The Trap Of Mediocrity

There is a slow spreading plague that’s blanketed the last few generations in America. Though less deadly than Europe’s Black Death in the mid 1300s, it is slowly incapacitating people. This epidemic will certainly leave a mark on our country’s future.


America started because some people were unsatisfied with their standard of life elsewhere, so they came here where their potential was self-determined. They strove for a better standard. They tirelessly toiled to make something out of nothing. Present American lives are incredibly blessed because of that collective push. Yet, sadly, that urge for excellence is being extinguished.


As with any outbreak, to understand it and remedy it, the first step is to trace its path of transmission. This epidemic’s origins lie in the well-meaning efforts of our ancestors: their drive for success, making a mark, and leaving a greater inheritance for their children and children’s children. This spirit that founded American Exceptionalism [1] has generated immense prosperity and success. However, it also created an unforeseen trap for some, the trap of mediocrity.


Mediocrity is benign. By definition, it is the state or quality of being of ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad. [2] The average citizen’s existence in America is good, which is why settling for mediocrity is so easy. Generally speaking, we are comfortable: we have a roof over our head, fashionable clothing, good gadgets, global transportation and communication, education, convenient access to food, sanitation, clean drinking water, air conditioning and heating, and the opportunity to pursue any livelihood. And, if any of these desires prove to be too challenging to acquire, then housing, employment, food, healthcare, public transportation and education are all sponsored by tax payers though entitlements.


Life is good. In fact, the American middle class lives better than royalty did a few centuries ago. Yes, good is quite sufficient nowadays.
But, there’s the catch.




When all of these needs are satisfied, why would the urge for improvement arise?


Without a need to improve our lives, we do not reach for that next step in our personal or collective development. Circumstances create the pressure or tension that stirs discontent. When faced with long term dissatisfaction, a restless need for improvement arises. And, then the magic happens; an idea, invention or action gets birthed, produced and/or shared by its founder. The stress of dissatisfaction is necessary for growth.


This experiment of subsidizing the less fortunate has ensued for almost a full century. The result is that now we have raised a generation dependent on entitlements. This practice nurtured a culture of expectation and dependency that “the government will fix my problems.” In turn, much of society is losing its drive for excellence and self-reliance. Many simply strive to meet the mediocre standard that provides most with a familiar, good existence.


The ramifications of this pattern are easier to see on a biological level. Cells need tension or stressors to activate the adaptive mechanism that allows life to overcome adversity. If stressors are not present, then cells do not grow or adapt. Just think about working out and building muscles: with exercise fibers grow, improve and change. If muscles aren’t stressed, they atrophy. That’s just the way it works.


The tension of adversity forces us to transform and improve our functions, conditions and lives. We need it to grow and change. This process is best called “evolution.”


A popular misconception that tricks people into accepting mediocrity is the notion that life is always moving forward. Well, that is not entirely true. Life moves both forward and backward; its either expanding or contracting. Reflecting on history, the trends of empires rising or evolving and then falling or devolving are apparent. From an even more macroscopic view, the patterns of species flourishing and declining emerge. Yes, life is always moving, but the direction is not guaranteed.


It can be argued that this trend of mediocrity in American culture is contributing to a collective implosion or devolution. Our society is lacking a cohesive mission to work toward a greater version of humanity. Certainly there are pockets of people pushing the bar higher in their fields and communities. (Thank goodness for them.) Nevertheless, the average American is caught in the doldrums of mediocrity, a comfortable routine, and the good life.


Each of us needs to take action in order to solve this predicament.




The first step is to reflect on your life, its condition, and direction. Write down what you can anticipate if you continued everything based on today’s “normal.”


Are you satisfied with what you outlined?


No? Need to adjust?


Use this plan to help you make a shift:


  1. Write every reason imaginable about why you need life to be different.
  2. Write some big goals that you wish to accomplish in the future and put them on a timeline.
  3. Now, go do it. Take the next right step in front of you.


Following this plan will shift life in a more ideal direction. This is how we all get where we want to go. And, by doing so, we can transform our communities too.


If your next steps or direction are unclear, then it may help to speak with a coach to clarify things. Reach out to the Shen Life team here for an initial session.




Erica Rogers