I’m horrible at remembering birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions. Sure, I love it when I receive a gift or card in the mail on, or especially before, a big day of my own. But I’m usually the one sending the apologetic text at 11 p.m. the night of to others. “Happy Birthday. Sorry you haven’t gotten your gift yet. I’ll get it to you soon.”
And then I quickly add a to-do list item to actually buy the gift.
Recently, though, I decided to make a change. It’s a small thing, really, but being thoughtful enough to remember and acknowledge these important occasions seemed worth my time. And a good way to invest in my closest relationships.
I’ve been doing better, but on a recent weeknight after a full day’s work and making dinner and cleaning up, I found myself sitting at the dining room table for 30 minutes writing and addressing sympathy cards, packaging birthday gifts for the mail, and performing other “thoughtful” tasks. When I finally finished, I told my husband, “No wonder I’ve never been a very thoughtful person. It’s hard work!”
According to business strategist David Waldschmidt, doing the hard things is exactly what moves a person from the middle ground of mediocrity into the heights of success.
“You have to do the hard things,” he writes in a recent blog post. “The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on. Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.”
But excellence is not made with a one and done when it comes to hard things. Repetition also is required.
“Top performers in every field -- athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists -- they are all more consistent than their peers,” writes James Clear in a recent Entrepreneur article. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”
Could pursuing a life of excellence really be so simple as just showing up? Rumor has it that Jerry Seinfeld’s comedic success boils down to just that. An entire movement has sprung up around the “Seinfeld Strategy” which basically amounts to deciding what activities are significant enough to make a difference and then doing them every single day. When you are done, you mark an X on that day of your calendar. The motivation comes by not breaking the chain of Xs.
Sound too easy? High Calling content editor, Ann Kroeker, has found that it really works.
“In a complex, high-tech world, the simplicity of Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ approach offers a refreshing alternative to buzzers and gadgets (though supporting apps are available). With this concept in place, I wake up motivated to follow through with the habit and feel pleasantly affirmed once I do,” she wrote in a recent blog post.
We’ve been exploring this idea of moving beyond mediocrity here at The High Calling, as well.
In his post, “Playing It Safe Will Never Change the World,” High Calling Community Editor David Rupert talks about the message his teacher gave him when he brought home a “C” on his report card. “‘You can do better’ was the message from the teacher looking straight through to my heart, ‘If only you would apply yourself,’” Rupert writes. He goes on to explore what it means to “apply” oneself, including what he calls the “dark side” of excellence: perfectionism.
“In the confusion of the two, sometimes we settle for mediocrity,” he writes. “Mediocrity shouts for attention every time the task is hard. And I lean on the crutch of grace, hoping that without a scorecard I’m off the hook. Paul exhorts us not to let use our freedom as ‘an opportunity for the flesh.’ And my flesh is steeped in mediocrity. I settle. I get lax. I miss my chance to change the world.”
Ed Cyzewski traces mediocrity back to another source: trying to do too much too quickly. In his essay, “Asking Yourself the Tough Questions,” he explores his tendency to jump ahead with writing projects, assuming that something as big as a book idea will come together from a single experience. A trip to the emergency department taught him otherwise.
“I like to believe that I can do anything, but that’s just a recipe for mediocrity. There are excellent book ideas that I should write about, but it takes hours of journaling, free writing, and answering hard questions to figure out which ones they are,” he writes.
Finally, in her essay, “You Are Worth It,” Kathy Khang recalls experiences in high school and in motherhood that helped her sort through her spiritual confusion between excellence and arrogance. For years, she felt that moving beyond mediocrity was prideful and sinful. Only after some soul searching did she come to realize that pursuing excellence was a way to honor the gifts God had given her.
“Somehow I had twisted pursuing excellence, even receiving excellence, into arrogance. I had told myself I wasn’t worth excellent love. In refusing to be loved, though, I had twisted my husband’s gifts into a hurtful refusal. And though I had convinced myself I was being humble, a good steward, the truth was, I was being arrogant and selfish. I was not living fully into the gifts and skills God had given me. I was telling God the talents he gave me were not worth pursuing, not worth honing and sharpening, not worth my time and effort.”
Finally, in her High Calling Daily Reflection, Dr. Vanessa Seifert asks the question, "Is Jesus enough?" Sometimes in our question for excellence we believe we have to do more, she says. But really, the goal is being more in the strength God provides.
"God takes our mediocre messes and calls us his beloved," she writes. "Grace is not an invitation to carelessness in our daily lives, yet grace does invite us to rest and to know that, at the end of the day, Jesus is enough."
For many of us, the key to moving beyond mediocrity is knowing that we can. The desire we have to be excellent exists because we can do something about it, even if mediocrity is all we have known so far.
Basically, it boils down to doing the work, or as Ira Glass says in the video below, to doing a lot of work.
Charity Singleton Craig is a content editor for The High Calling, a contributing writer for Tweetspeak Poetry, and a staff writer for Curator Magazine. She grew up on an Indiana farm and now lives with her husband and three step-sons across the street from another Hoosier corn field.
Moving Beyond Mediocrity
This article is part of our series, Moving Beyond Mediocrity. How often in your daily life do you think, “I wish I could do better”? It’s the feeling you get when you realize you aren’t really trying. Your job, your family, even your hobbies: they are worth working harder. But what does it take to move beyond mediocrity? How do you quit using your education, your upbringing, your circumstances, even your faith, as an excuse to keep you from doing your best? Join us as we discuss giving it our all in our workplaces and our homes, in our communities and our churches, for the common good and for the glory of God. Also, consider inviting others to join you by sharing these stories via email, Facebook, Twitter, or networks you are part of.