My greatest physical fear is needles, as my recent flu shot reminded me. It’s nothing to do with the pain, that’s a prick at worst; rather,, there is some primal part of my mind that views the simple presence of a syringe as a major threat to my existence.
Getting blood drawn triggers my fight or flight instinct, and unfortunately, for my nurses, it tends to be fight. I don’t like my vaccinations, but I get them because they protect me from something I don’t want. Because I fear the very unpleasant experience of getting the flu, I endure a phobia. I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but there is one thing I can’t be vaccinated from, one thing I fear more than needles: mediocrity.
A good way of summing up my outlook on life is expressed by Aristotle, “Anything less than the best is a felony.” Okay, unfortunately that was actually written by Vanilla Ice, but the sentiment does reflect my feelings toward my own motivation. I don’t want to be okay or good, I want to be exceptional. More than anything, I don’t want to be mediocre.
I think this fixation comes from being the oldest child of so many. Of course most parents, and especially parents as wonderful as mine, love all their children, but I always felt the need to compete. I needed to do something to distinguish myself as wonderful or else I couldn’t ensure the love of my parents. Beyond that, I was the oldest, I was expected to set a good example for those following me or they’d end up robbing banks or something. Stupid, but that’s the best I can come up with. Mediocrity meant to be forgotten by the most important people in my life.
The word mediocre sounds more harsh than it really is. It sounds like a negative word, but it isn’t. It means to be good, but just barely. Determining that I am not a bad person isn’t that hard. I fulfill my duties, I organize my life (relatively) well, and I try to help people when I can. It is verifiable that, if nothing else, I am not a detriment to society. But humans are not binary being, we have an infinite numbers of states between perfect and imperfect. Not being bad doesn’t make me good.
I’m a reasonably intelligent person, and that would normally allow me to excel in the area of intelligence. Unfortunately for me, my generation is incredibly competitive in academics. That’s probably my greatest asset, and it hasn’t even made me a stand out. From the time we were small, millennials were told by everyone from authority figures to cartoons that if we didn’t work hard we wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school, and if we couldn’t even manage Brown, then we wouldn’t be able to lead a successful (and therefor happy) life. Sure I’ve always gotten good grades, but that isn’t all that uncommon.
I can recognize that these seeds are wrong, and even poisonous if not restrained, but their roots are too deep for me to just pull out. I don’t know any way of being but desperately competitive to win a competition I never signed up for and no one else is entered.
Where do I go from here? I’ve got a few years left of schooling, but then my academics are done. Now I need to position myself to have an outstanding career in the real world. If I don’t then I’ll be mediocre, and mediocre people never get noticed, and if I can be noticed then I can’t be sure that I will have people in my life to love me.
So now I’m leveraging my deep ambitions to push myself toward a high level job in a competitive field. That’s why I’m learning Russian instead of growing my Spanish. No one wants to take Russian because it’s a lot of work, but that’s what makes it valuable. I can’t settle with myself being okay. It’s not who I am.
I need to be more. Every bone in my body aches when I think of the idea of being a forgotten middle class worker in a suburb with 2.5 kids and a dog named Spot (actually, the dog part is just fine). The American Dream is my nightmare. I don’t want my family to think that I look down on them or think I want to dissociate. I just can’t be happy living as we have for so many generations. The same drives that brought us to America are pushing me to move around the Republic.
So my work ethic is strong. What’s the problem with that? I can not convince myself that I’m not mediocre. To me, everything I do just seems average. Adequate. Expected. Normal. Nothing worth remembering, and certainly not admiring. I don’t know where this will take me, but I’m going to keep going until I can escape this feeling. We’ll see if I can find a way to fly. I’m either Iron Man or Icarus, I guess we’ll see which.