Monday, November 4, 2013

Are We Called to Mediocrity?

In Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry tells a story about a woman named Julie who worked at a design firm. She was at the top of her industry and the top of her game.

She attended a workshop Henry led, and she pulled him aside to say that despite all of her promotions and recognitions, she feels like she’s slipping into something she can’t define, that she’s no longer making important progress in her work.

We can be ferociously busy at work, and still be caught up in mediocrity. Situations characterized by too much work and too few resources to get it done are particularly ripe for institutionalized mediocrity – just doing whatever it takes to get it off your plate.

I knew a man who experienced something exactly like that. At one point leading a fairly large and successful team that was producing incredible work, he found himself at the wrong end of departmental politics and, yes, jealousy. The team was gradually stripped away, and the functions that had been so successful had, in the hands of others, slipped into mediocrity and even dysfunction. My friend was left with a very small team, being both isolated and patronized.

I’ve seen other situations like this, and been in similar ones myself. The obviousroute to take is to keep your head low and slide into the mediocrity of the daily work routine. And many organizational cultures favor doing exactly that.

But mediocrity is not a calling. Accepting the status quo, hunkering down and going with the flow are not a calling. “Be Average and Don’t Rock the Boat!” is not a call to greatness. The important things in this life come from the desire and passion to overcome obstacles and to break through to what matters.

My friend did not passively accept the role of mediocrity. Instead, he took what he was now responsible for, recognized its importance, and began to build the future.

Eventually, his work paid off. The recognition arrived first from the outside before his organization recognized it, but it came from within as well. He had accomplished something important, often in spite of his organization.

He had the passion and the desire to do his best work every day.

Today we’re starting a discussion of Todd Henry’s Die Empty over at The High Calling. To see the conversation and what’s being discussed, please visit the site.

Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Maureen said...

"But mediocrity is not a calling." That sentence should be on a banner in every organization.

Laura said...

I forgot about that ad campaign that Henry cites where kids say things like, "When I grow up, I want to file all day long." Ouch! I have to say that I've slid down the slippery slope of mediocrity at times in my career. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by people who inspire me and that helps me recover from those episodes. Mediocrity is not a calling, indeed. Thank goodness.

Anonymous said...

I figure that we are all in mediocrity.