Mediocrity: How to Fail and Feel Good About It

Reject Mediocrity: Make the Target Smaller

When I gaze upon the smiling faces of my children I think to myself, “I hope one day they can find a way to just get by while putting in the bare minimum effort.” Perhaps, if I’m really lucky, my kids will be the most mediocre ‘C’ students they can be. After all, isn’t that what your parents wished for you? Didn’t your parents tell you to aim for the middle? “I want to see all C’s and D’s on your report card mister or no TV for a week.”

Like the river that slowly erodes the bank or the ocean that wears the rocks down to sand, our once proud and prosperous nation has lost its shine and luster. The edges are worn and the paint chipped and fading. And, sadly, far too many citizens gaze upon the nation and think “It’s good enough.”

Attitude is a Symptom

The attitudes and expressions that men hold are not necessarily the cause but the symptom of something deeper and more troubling. To a great extent lately, I’ve been putting pen to paper and extolling the merits of training and practicing with firearms. To my chagrin, I’ve encountered a voiced resistance to the idea that the path to proficiency and confidence can be found through professional training followed by dedicated practice.

Instead of considering the suggestions and agreeing or disagreeing internally, the idea that a person should indeed put forth effort and strive for improvement has been met with open contempt. Rather than be satisfied with their personal mediocrity and ‘C’ student standing, anonymous contributors take to the Internet forums and comment sections with a litany of excuses. What is most insidious is the effort to discourage others from seeking improvement. It’s the “you’re okay, I’m okay, we’re okay” kindergarten mentality all grown up. “We don’t normally spell ‘Cat’ with a ‘K’, but it’s alright, we know what you meant.”

Professor Paul congratulates the Class High Shooter, a man who rejected mediocrity

Professor Paul congratulates the Class High Shooter, a man who rejected mediocrity

Types of Mediocrity

The Underachiever

The excuse makers and challengers come from two separate flocks. The first is the intellectually lazy underachiever. Deep down in his mind, the underachiever feels disappointment and even embarrassment for his ‘C’ or even ‘D’ status. However, having devolved to a state of mental laziness, it’s far easier to make excuses and criticize others who have achieved through hard work and genuine effort. What the underachiever must do in order to push back the shame demons is disparage those who would seek improvement. This disparagement directly applies to any person suggesting improvement or encouraging others to seek greatness through hard work.

It requires far less exertion to tear down the achiever than to change oneself and put forth genuine effort. To the underachiever, any person who suggests that men should put forth effort and seek improvement is labeled as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘arrogant’. The suggestion that mastery of any field requires dedication and sacrifice turns the stomach of the underachiever. So mired in mediocrity they are, that it offends the underachiever when someone offers that they should try harder. The lazy will recoil from the thought of sweat and sacrifice like a vampire from a mirror.

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The Enabler

A bit more of a conundrum; the enabler is not necessarily an underachiever. The enabler may very well be a ‘B’ student. They’ve achieved a moderate amount of success in their field of endeavor, but thus far true mastery has eluded them. The enabler shares an odd kinship with the underachiever in that he isn’t where he wants to be, though this thought may be buried deep within his subconscious.

When the same idea of professional training and dedicated practice is offered the enabler will at first acquiesce. However, there is always a caveat to this agreement. For you see, the enabler has been poisoned by the Reasonableness Disease.

The Reasonableness Disease

By setting himself up as the voice of reason the enabler attempts to make up for his own shortcomings by offering excuses for the underachiever.  Rather that support the notion of dedication and sacrifice, the enabler falls back on meaningless phrases like ‘good enough’ and ‘minimum standard’. The enabler, who should know better, cannot help but perpetuate the ‘C’ student or mediocre standard.

Decades of enablers with their “reasonableness” excuses have brought this nation to its current state of decay. Rather than seeking to push the limits and break the “4 Minute Mile” we’ve decided that four minutes is too fast and unreasonable. After all, it’s not fair that everyone cannot run a 4-minute mile. If we reduce the standard to an 8-minute mile the underachievers won’t feel so bad.

When the enabler encounters low test results his reaction is not to improve the teaching process but to make the test easier. The enabler increases the size of the “5 Ring” on the target so the shooting qualification scores will improve. This, of course, does not progress the abilities of the students, but it makes everyone feel better.               

Give it all, leave it all out on the field. Mediocrity

Give it all, leave it all out on the field.

Neither One

I doubt the underachievers will ever reach this point on the page as that would require effort. The enablers may have begrudgingly read this far though they are probably preparing a rebuttal for their next forum submission. The true target of this piece is neither.

My desired audience is those who still aspire to greatness. The path to greatness or mastery is never ending and, even though we realize this, we continue the walk. My advice to those on the path is to beware of the poisonous traps put out by the underachiever who tells you it’s not worth the effort. Beware the enabler who tells you that “you are already good enough, so why try harder?”

This nation was not founded and built on the idea of mediocrity or “good enough”.  When you consider the Empire State Building, Mt. Rushmore, the Hoover Dam, and the Golden Gate Bridge imagine how different the face of our nation would be if those who built them took the advice of the underachiever and the enabler.

Every person moves down the path of greatness at their own pace. The key is to stay on the path and keep moving forward. When someone tells you that it’s not worth the effort or that you can stop now because you are ‘good enough’ understand that they have already given up themselves.  Resist the temptation to settle for ‘C’ student status. Achievement requires effort, dedication and sacrifice. Don’t make the target bigger so it’s easier to hit, make the target smaller and continue to improve.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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