Striving for "mediocrity" through radical acceptance, self-compassion, and gratitude


When I graduated college, a family friend said “Congratulations!  My advice going forward is to strive for mediocrity!”  I reacted strongly.  How could he say that?  I wanted to shoot for the moon, accomplish big things.  I dreamed of making a difference, having an impact.  Striving for mediocrity didn’t fit in with my vision of the future at all.  In the years that have happened since (too many to mention!), I’ve come to realize that this family friend was right.  If I get to the end of my life and I’ve achieved mediocrity, I have succeeded. 

What does this mean?  Perhaps the word “mediocre” is a bit misleading.  I don’t mean inadequate or below average.  What I mean by this is leading an adequate life, being satisfied with having enough.  To do so requires backing out of the race to keep up with the Joneses.  Competition solely to beat others becomes unnecessary, while the need to improve oneself is honed.  It means being satisfied, truly content, with what you do have and who you are. 

There are three fundamental ways that we can work towards attaining “mediocrity”.

1.      Radical Acceptance.  Tara Brach writes of radically accepting ourselves, of “accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience (p. 25, Radical Acceptance).”  If we accept everything about ourselves without judgment, without trying to control our course, and without trying to change who we are, we can begin to truly love ourselves.  Radical acceptance involves focusing on who we are and not who we want to be.  It requires a recognition of our internal goodness, without comparing to others.  We see and value ourselves for who we are.

2.      Self-Compassion.  Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer have written extensively about the concept of self-compassion.  They define it as “treating yourself [when you are suffering] as you would treat a good friend (p. 10, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook),” and state that to do so involves practicing self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.  If we can do so, we don’t attack ourselves, but instead, give ourselves warmth and understanding; we understand that humans are all in this life together and everyone has their own journey, their own difficulties, and that suffering is just part of our common journey; and we focus on the moment-to-moment experiences we are having, fully noticing and taking them in.  All in all, we forgive ourselves our weaknesses and allow ourselves internal strength to continue along this oftentimes difficult road of life.

3.      Gratitude.  The research on gratitude supports that it can lead to increased happiness and feelings of connection.  Gratitude, or feeling thankful and appreciative, has been shown to increase general well-being, to strengthen relationships and relational satisfaction, and even to improve our quality of sleep (Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., & Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010).  Gratitude and well-being:  A review and theoretical integration.  Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 890-905.)  When we are grateful, we tend to be happier. 

Practicing radical acceptance, self-compassion, and gratitude takes work.  Ironically, none of these practices are innate.  They are learned.  We can hone these skills in therapy, with meditation and mindfulness practices, by exercising, and being kind to others and to ourselves. 

Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, asks “Do you pay regular visits to yourself?”  Striving for “mediocrity” involves regularly visiting yourself, accepting what you find, treating difficulties you may be having with compassion, and focusing on all you do have.  In doing so, you really can achieve great things.