Lately, I’ve been thinking, “Maybe I’m mediocre.” And even more lately, I’ve been thinking, “So what?”
Growing up in the age of participation trophies, I have been led to believe, like many others of my generation, that I am special — perhaps even destined — for great things.
After a pretty successful stint in high school that only reinforced these pretentions — not to mention my anxiety about fulfilling them — I find myself in an up-and-coming university. I’m keeping up, but I certainly don’t feel “great.” And I’m beginning to worry that I’m running out of time. Mark Zuckerberg had already invented Facebook by the time he was my age — and do I even need to bring up Justin Bieber?
The college-advice crowd seems to be divided between the “just follow your dreams” camp and the “real life will chew you up and spit you out, millennial scum” camp, and the higher up the socioeconomic ladder you get, the more you run into the former. So everyone here keeps asking me, “What is your passion?” Like if I could only answer that question, college would unlock a lifetime of happiness, a fulfilling career, success in my field — greatness.
I still don’t know what to say, but not wanting to get left behind by all the other passionate, potentially great young people, I pick a major and buckle down. I’m still a contender, but I’m starting to wonder why I’m busting my hump.
What are we competing for? A high-profile position at a Fortune 500 company? A New York penthouse? Fame and/or fortune? How many of us can actually make it to the top, and how many will crash and burn trying?
I’m not even sure that’s what I want.
I think about Amazon, and how in the companies that now represent success, “human resources” are meant to be used up and replaced with new ones. Even at the top they’re still competing, often for the jobs they already have.
What happened to a 30-year government career and a pension to retire on? It has become our definition of mediocrity. We’re so afraid of boredom we’ve chucked security out of the window.
I bet no one asked my mom what her passion was when she started school. And maybe she wasn’t competing for the big leagues, but she led a life that I would be proud of. Living in an age of unprecedented choice, I’m beginning to see the case for an arranged marriage with a career. It gives you time to cultivate a life outside of chasing the next promotion.
When it comes down to it, maybe I don’t care what I do for a living. I just want to be a mensch. I don’t want to lead my life based on somebody else’s priorities. I’d rather be mediocre on my own terms than great on anyone else’s.