How to avoid settling for mediocrity

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It’s easy, but unproductive, for a manager to accept mediocre work. (Photo: Shutterstock)

One of the most common but problematic temptations of management is the tendency to settle for mediocrity.

This long-held belief of mine was recently reaffirmed when I read one of Harvard Business Review’s (excellent) daily management tips, “When Your Team’s Performance Is Mediocre, Address It Immediately.” Its key point:

“What do you do when someone’s work is OK but not great?” the article asked. “The toughest test of a manager isn’t dealing with poor performance — it’s addressing mediocrity. Don’t let lackluster performance fester. Start by showing how mediocrity negatively affects your team, the organization, and its customers.”

Yes indeed, fully agree. From a management standpoint, mediocre performance is insidious. It’s subtle, but it’s also anathema to building a high-performing organization.

Why is tolerating mediocrity a common management shortcoming? Three key reasons:

It’s easy. It’s the path of least resistance. It’s all too easy for a busy manager to look the other way when an employee’s work is tolerable but far from great. Work of middling quality is not a disaster but neither is it excellent. It falls into a murky gray area. You can get by with it. Which is exactly the problem.

It lets a manager avoid conflict. Who wants conflict, if you can avoid it? Well, in management you often can avoid it simply by not dealing with it, but there’s a high cost to such avoidance. By not addressing mediocre performance, you’re tacitly accepting it. If you make an issue of something, it invites employee pushback. Which a manager may not feel like getting into.

It requires less emotional energy. Management is an inherently stressful role. You’re constantly multitasking. You have to deal with often-problematic employees, with your own often-problematic management. plus, depending on your role, a host of other random stressors — customers, shareholders, board members, sales reps, etc. In this environment you may often feel that the last thing you need is to spend your finite energy on a relatively small battle. So you look the other way. And accept mediocrity.

As a longtime manager, I admit it: I know I sometimes tolerated mediocrity. Not too much, I hope, but probably more than I should have. For the reasons noted above.

Was that a good thing? Nope. Was it understandable? Yep. But understanding it doesn’t excuse it. While you don’t want to constantly “ride” an employee and become a nettlesome micromanager, you don’t want to “settle” too quickly either.

Managing for mediocrity is tempting, but in a results-driven world it’s not the job management was hired to do. As the HBR article cited above puts it, “High performance is a norm that needs to be defended regularly and vigilantly.”

Yes indeed. Or, as I like to say, expect excellence.

Because management without high standards is hardly management at all.

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How to avoid settling for mediocrity

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Many people in the modern world are scared of settling for mediocrity in their lives. We are afraid of looking back on our lives and feeling like we could have been more.

And yet, this is exactly what happens to a lot of people. They end up settling and living a life that is less than their dreams.

You can overcome this tendency: you don’t have to be one of those people who settles. You don’t have to be a victim of a mediocre life. You can live your life to its fullest potential and achieve your dreams.

In order to do that, there are simple steps you need to take. Although these steps are simple, they are not easy. If they were easy, many more people would be living the lives they’ve always dreamed of.

If you are ever going to escape mediocrity, you have to be committed to doing what is necessary instead of what is easy.

Overcome Your Fears

People talk about facing and overcoming their fears all the time. Still, it’s rare that people have the courage to actually do this. Most people say they are going to face their fears, but when any challenge arises, they step back. When it comes time to defeat their fears, they get stuck and end up failing to move forward.

Defeating your fears is challenging, but if you take consistent action to overcome them, you can do it. All you need is a little belief and persistence. Don’t let your fears trap you in a life of mediocrity.

You don’t have to be fearless, but you need to be willing to take action despite your fears. The only way to move on to bigger things in your life is to deal with some of your fears. If you want to conquer those fears, you need to make a conscious decision to not let them hold you back.

Push Past Your Comfort Zone

The road to a life of mediocrity starts with staying in your comfort zone. Playing it safe is tempting, but it’s what will ultimately lead to a life that is less than what you want. Do things that challenge you every day. If you are used to staying home, challenge yourself to go out to dinner with friends. If you are comfortable always going to the same places and doing the same things, make a conscious decision to go somewhere different.

You know the saying, “the magic happens outside of your comfort zone,” but you need to actually take action on it. This needs to become more than just a quote to you. Make it your goal to continuously get out of your comfort zone.

Try a new class, make a new friend, talk to a stranger. These are little things, but they will eventually add up to something greater.

Don’t Worry About Other People’s Opinions

If you are striving for more than a life of mediocrity, others will most likely judge you. They may question why you are doing new things or why you don’t do things the same way everyone else does them.

But, if you want more out of life than the average person gets, you are going to have to do things others aren’t willing to do. Don’t let negative opinions or words affect you. It is not your business what others say and do. All that matters is what you do and how you live your own life.

Decide today that other’s negative opinions don’t matter, that you will live life on your terms despite what others say. This will be hard, especially if you have resistance coming from friends and family. They may be coming from a good place, because they usually just want you to be safe, but you need to keep fighting for what you want in life.

Take Daily Action

It is not easy to overcome a mediocre life. It takes consistent daily action towards your goals and your dreams. Those daily actions will add up over time, until eventually you will be living a life that is beyond your wildest dreams.

You need to be committed every day to striving for more. Even if you start with just little steps, eventually those will add up to bigger steps.

Do something every day that will move you closer to living the life that you dream of. Make choices that support those dreams, and eventually, you will see your choices pay off.

Don’t let yourself give up, and don’t let yourself settle for less than an amazing life. I know that you are capable of achieving a great life; you just have to go out there and work hard for it. Living an amazing life is achievable, but you have to put in the necessary effort to get there. It won’t happen overnight, but you can overcome a life of mediocrity.

Do you feel like you’ve settled for mediocrity? What are you willing to do to avoid it?

Mediocrity is the state of making peace with living life according to average standards, in other words: barely getting by.

Existing in a mediocre state creates a mid-level zone of comfort. Many of us are comfortable with living like this. We pick a clear and easy path taken by many and follow it till the end because it is the safest one.

A mediocre life causes you to kick your dreams and goals to the side for what seems more sensical. And while you may very well survive living like this, you will never thrive. You will keep being just like the rest and nothing about you will be noteworthy. If you have ambitions and truly want to make a positive impact on the world you live in, you should never settle for living life in this way.

The following tips will help you break the chains of mediocrity and aim for success:

1. Think like the people you admire

We all have mentors in life, whether we are directly or indirectly connected to them. So, think about what they would do if they were in your shoes. Would they keep on working that low or medium paying job that shows next to zero upsides for the future? Would they keep on slaving away until late at night for a stressful boss who takes credit for all the hard work you do and only talks to you when you’ve done something wrong?

What do you truly want out of life? Does your goal include waking up to the same mundane thing every single day till the very end? If you wish to achieve greatness, the time to do it is now, or never. The first thing you would need to do is forget about all the things that held you back from accomplishing your dreams. It may seem scary at first, but it will set you free.

2. Think big

Most average people are afraid to think big and take the necessary actions to achieve their goals. They follow the guidelines for society’s expectations and rarely ever pursue things on their own. In order to avoid mediocrity, you must be willing to think big. Set big goals and work towards achieving them by making whatever progress you can towards them every day.

3. Escape your comfort zone

Remind yourself of the popular saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Sometimes the biggest barrier to what we want in life is our own reluctance to step into unexplored territory and take the necessary steps towards our dreams and ambitions.

We often endure a situation that is not in our best interest, only because we want to avoid risk and play it safe. However, in order to make it in life, you must step out of your comfort zone and face your biggest fears. Only then can you grow. No excuses.

4. Take responsibility

Regardless of what your situation may be, challenges or circumstances you are facing, within you, lies an ability to rise above them, and you must call it forth . Doing so means that you are choosing to hold yourself accountable for all that goes wrong in your life and rise above mediocrity.

Holding yourself accountable does not mean you should feel guilty or blame yourself, it means realizing that you have the strength to maneuver your future to become someone you can be proud of. You can bring anything to life if you put the necessary effort into it and take responsibility for controlling your own ambitions.

5. Be open to criticism

Constructive criticism is what helps you broaden your mind to the possibility of doing things with better insights next time, and is, in addition, what helps you toward having the psychological transition from what you considered to be the truth to what it is in reality.

6. Extinguish your fears and ignite your confidence

Many people let fear trap them into a life they did not want. Being afraid of, “What would happen if I try”, “What if it doesn’t work out the way I planned it?” makes people forget that fear is the number one enemy of success. If fear had a hold on them, major companies such as Microsoft and Facebook would not exist today as the founders would have been too afraid to give their ideas a shot at success.

Should you decide to let fear dictate the choices you make, it will be impossible to achieve anything at all. The only way to keep the influence that fear has on you at bay is to develop strong self-confidence, as this will help you bring forth the courage to go after whatever you want in life.

7. Focus on one thing at a time

A lack of focus can keep you stuck in the same spot for long periods of time before you realize it’s already too late.

Furthermore, many people involve themselves in various activities at the same time, which only hinders them from getting the desired results. They settle for anything that comes along instead of what they truly want and need.

You must focus all your energy, time and attention to one main goal and work hard towards achieving it.

For additional advice on how to avoid mediocrity, see the video below.

What are some of your own tips for escaping mediocrity?

Let us know your thoughts by joining the conversation in the comments, and please share this article if you enjoyed the read.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

Do you really want your customers to say their experience was okay, average, mundane or . [+] satisfactory?

“‘Good enough’ is not good enough,” says Daniel Rodriguez, CMO of Simplr, a company that helps brands ensure that none of their customers are neglected. Company leadership often doesn’t realize when they are neglecting their customers. They have become impervious to the issues that plague customers. There are several reasons behind this.

Customers don’t compare you only to your direct competition anymore. Customers now compare you to the best service they have received from anyone, regardless of the type of business or industry. Rodriguez blames Amazon. It’s quite complimentary to Amazon, but it causes problems for many others in business. “Amazon has created the Now Customer,” says Rodriguez. “The Now Customer expects everything now!” This is thanks to Amazon’s ability to instantly confirm and rapidly deliver orders—sometimes within hours, not days.

With that in mind, you must work harder than ever to meet the new bar. You can no longer settle for mediocre or satisfactory. You must move beyond that. This is proven in Simplr’s recent report, The State of CX in 2020. The information in that report gave Rodriguez and I plenty to talk about. Part of that discussion was about how to eradicate mediocrity. Here are five ways to do just that.

1. Stop Accepting Mediocrity. This is the start. When I hear an executive say, “We have pretty good NPS (Net Promoter Scores),” I ask two questions. What is “pretty good?” Pretty good compared to what? Yes, those questions may cause a defensive response, and they are intended to. Do you really want your customers to say their experience was okay, average, mundane or satisfactory? Back to what Rodriguez says: “good enough” is not good enough.

2. Don’t Normalize Deficiencies. This is human behavior. We get so used to something not working that we just accept it as the norm. As a result, we expect others—including our customers—to accept it as well. Obviously, this is dangerous thinking. Leaders will often normalize a deficiency in a process as part of the customer experience simply because they are used to it.

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3. Mystery Shop Yourself. Want to get away from accepting deficiency or mediocrity as the norm? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and become a customer yourself. Call your company. Buy from your company. Complain to your company. See what happens when they (any employees you’re interacting with) don’t know it’s you. I love the TV show Undercover Boss in which executives go undercover and are blown away by what they learn. This is your opportunity to learn firsthand what it’s like to do business with you.

4. Don’t View Customer Service as a Cost. Many leaders look at the customer support department as a cost center. Their metrics indicate they are more interested in the minimum cost per interaction than achieving optimal results for the customer. Rodriguez notes that this kind of costly trade-off inevitably results in a “mediocre” customer experience. For example, when support centers focus on reducing the average handling time of calls, I’m concerned they may miss an opportunity to help the customer so he or she doesn’t have to call back. While that may take extra time, it is typically less than the time it takes for a second call—which only takes place because you didn’t get the customer the right answer the first time. How can you think beyond the traditional contact center model? View it as a revenue generator and customer retention center that adds to the bottom line rather than taking away from it.

5. Look Beyond the Ratings. More than analyzing your ratings, look at your customers’ behaviors. For example, when you ask the famous NPS question, “On a scale of zero to 10, what’s the likelihood you would recommend us?” and the customer gives you a 10, does the customer then actually recommend you? The high rating would make you feel pretty good, but the reality is that it is just a rating. The behavior—whether or not the customer actually does refer you to others (or not)—is what you are looking for. That’s why I’ve been preaching that one of the most important measurements you should look at is whether or not the customer comes back.

Some of this may seem like common sense to you, and it should. But common sense isn’t always common. Most leaders will say, “I know this. Tell me something new.” I’d be happy to, but not until I know you’ve mastered all five of these ways to prevent and eradicate mediocrity.

I am the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service and experience expert, I help organizations create amazing customer and employee

I am the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service and experience expert, I help organizations create amazing customer and employee experiences. My books have appeared on bestseller lists including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others. In 2008 the National Speakers Association inducted me into their Hall-of-Fame for lifetime achievement in the professional speaking industry.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity
You’re 22, just about to graduate in a few more months and you’re thinking of what you should do after college. Your focus is to make some money, since you’ve been deprived of it for the last 4 years, and get started with “living life”. You’re open to whatever comes at you so long as the pay is decent. This is a template. And, by definition, this is mediocrity because this is what other people do and you should be afraid of it.

I’ve heard many recent grads echo this view, especially in this job market. I understand this thought process to an extent, however, it’s the motivation behind it that concerns me.

I’m concerned that students and young people in general don’t challenge themselves enough. Maybe it’s your parents who are pushing you to get into a job with decent pay and start your life. Maybe it’s your personal / family situation that is driving you to settle with whatever comes your way. Maybe it’s a combination of various factors. However, as harsh as it may sound, there are always too many “maybe’s”. The bottom line is you’re young. Don’t settle for anything as a result of your situation. You have interests. Pursue them to the highest degree that you can think of. Don’t worry about not being qualified or having no work experience. No student really does. You’re undergraduate degree doesn’t mean anything anyway. It’s merely a signal to show an employer that you were able to commit yourself to a 4-year goal and achieve it with a high level of success.

Whatever you do, you should aim really high. These are the years to hustle. Find that “thing” you want to do and begin positioning yourself towards it. Pursue your interests, even if it has to be on the side. Create a position for yourself if you have to. Have you thought about that? “What if they don’t pay me?” So what? During these years, your pay should essentially be your learning experience. Position yourself to focus on something you WANT to learn.

Here are some short pieces of advice that a mentor of mine gave me when I was graduating to ensure you shoot for more than mediocrity:

1. Take risks — you really have nothing to lose at this stage.

2. Think big — shoot for the moon, and you may land on the stars.

3. Be confident — at a minimum, be confident in your ability to learn.

4. Push limits — the difference between those who do well and those who don’t are sometimes marginal. Are you willing to extend yourself a little bit?

5. Surround yourself with smart people — be in an environment with people who are smarter than you. It can only make you better.

6. Be uncomfortable — always put yourself in challenging situations; it’s almost a certain way you will grow as a person.

7. Compare yourself to the best — don’t just compare yourself with peers in your class or school. Look outside of your world and try to compare yourself to the best.

8. Have others take credit in your success — latch on to influential people who will want to sponsor you and support you in a way that they will bank their name on you.

Most successful people didn’t have a template. They made their own. I encourage you to do the same.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

Mediocrity is fatal. Do what the majority of people do and you will end up being a slave. Take action and work on your dreams and goals. May these quotes inspire you to not settle for a life of mediocrity and strive for greatness.

“Stop letting your fear condemn you to mediocrity.” Dr Steve Maraboli

“Anyone in any walk of life who is content with mediocrity is untrue to himself.” George S. Patton Jr

“Something deep in the human heart breaks at the thought of a life of mediocrity.” C. S. Lewis

“The only way to get out of mediocrity is to keep shooting for excellence.” Eric Thomas

“A life of mediocrity is a waste of life.” Colleen Hoover

“Don’t waste your life. No one chooses mediocrity but many settle for it. Never settle.” Anonymous

“Be fearful of mediocrity.” Jonathan Elery

“Don’t settle for mediocrity. Take a chance. Take a risk. Find that passion. Rekindle it. Fall in love all over again. It’s really worth it.” Brian Cranston

“Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity.” Will Smith

“The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.” Colin Powell

“Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.” Fulton J. Sheen

“You are born into genius. But have you resigned yourself to mediocrity?” Robin Sharma

“And they talked about the mediocrity of provincial life, so suffocating, so fatal to all noble dreams.” Gustave Flaubert

“Don’t follow the crowd into a life of mediocrity. Take the road less traveled and live your dreams.” ATGW

“Without enthusiasm, you are doomed to a life of mediocrity, but with it you can accomplish miracles.” Og Mandino

“Beware the mediocrity that threatens middle age, its limitations of thought and interest, it’s dullness of fancy, it’s too external life, and mental thinness.” Margaret Fuller

“Passionately protest mediocrity.” Anonymous

“Mediocrity is the worst enemy of prosperity.” Henry Ford

“The difference between mediocrity and excellence is often a matter of effort.” Diana Waring

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” Andre Carnegie

“Never surrender to the momentum of mediocrity.” Marlon Brando

“You will never see an eagle of distinction flying low with pigeons of mediocrity.” Onyi Anyado

“Nobody rises above mediocrity unless they use the brains of other people.” Napoleon Hill

“Once you have experienced excellence, you will never again be content with mediocrity.” Thomas S. Monson

“Only mediocrity escapes criticism.” John Steinbeck

“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent easily recognizes genius.” Arthur Conan Doyle

“The price of excellence is discipline. The cost of mediocrity is disappointment.” Anonymous

“Better for everyone that you do what you’re really good at and love to do than be yet another example of mediocrity.” John Williams

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Albert Einstein

“Don’t settle for mediocrity when you were created for greatness. Know who you are.” Anonymous

“The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” Maureen Dowd

“Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as high as it will.” A. W. Tozer

“My life goal is to silence the voice in my head that screams out for mediocrity.” Anonymous

“Are you really happy or just comfortable?” Anonymous

“Why is it that when a baby is born, we often refer to him or her ‘the miracle of life’ but then we accept mediocrity for our own lives? Where along the way did we lose sight of the miracle that WE are? Hal Elrod

“Mediocrity is self-inflicted. Genius is self-bestowed.” Walter Russell

“If you want to earn a million bucks a year, eliminate mediocrity from your thinking and your life.” John Assaraf

“Some men throw their gifts away on a life of mediocrity, great men throw everything they have into their gifts and achieve a life of success.” Greg Werner

“Let your dreams be bigger than your fears, your actions louder than your words, and your faith stronger than your feelings.” Anonymous

“Push yourself to do more and to experience more. Harness your energy to start expanding your dreams. Yes, expand your dreams. Don’t accept a life of mediocrity when you hold such infinite potential within the fortress of your mind. Dare to tap into your greatness.” Robin Sharma

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

I’m learning (though I’m never quite learning it fast enough) that the pursuit of excellence in everything I do is infinitely better than settling for mediocrity.

It should seem obvious that the pursuit of excellence in everything you do would be the surest road to maximizing your potential, yet so few of us strive to do just that.

Rather than settle for average, why don’t we give it our all, try our very best, and never give up til the job is done? Why don’t we keep pushing for greater? Why is it so difficult to go the extra mile or put in the extra effort or even to make that extra telephone call to a prospective customer, when doing so is the obvious difference between being merely average versus that of being head-and-shoulders above the competition?

Success is Gained in the Pursuit of Excellence

There’s one thing I know for sure about the pursuit of excellence, and it is this:

You will never be disappointed in your pursuit of excellence, for there are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”

Here are seven reasons why the pursuit of excellence will always, always, always be the better option when compared to settling for mediocrity.

  1. Nothing of any real significance happens to people who linger in the status quo. (Quick…name an amazing event in human history that occurred without anyone trying to actually “do” something. No, I couldn’t think of anything either.)
  2. You were created in the image of God. Therefore, you have the ability to do excellent things over and over and over again. —>[Tweet this point]
  3. The world is already filled with mediocrity, so don’t settle for adding more white noise. (Providing valuable content, amazing products, and doing more than was expected will set you apart from your competition.)
  4. You grow and develop as a person when you set out to do more than is merely expected or required. (People who pursue excellence in their niche become leaders in their niche, without question. People will notice the effort. It gets rewarded in either dollars or attention, and sometimes in both.)
  5. People will begin to follow you on social media and perceive you as an expert. (Because there is so much “average” out there in the world, we can’t help but notice your pursuit of excellence. You stand out when you travel along the extra mile.)
  6. Pursuing excellence shows that you aren’t a victim of procrastination. (People who procrastinate provide nothing of value in the midst of their procrastination. It is only when we create and ship that we offer value to the world. You can’t pursue excellence at the same time you’re procrastinating. It’s simply not possible.)
  7. People who tend to pursue excellence have less stress in their lives. (Let’s face it. When we put off for tomorrow what we should be doing today, we tend to stress about it until the project gets finished. For example, I’ve had a 3-5 hour project hanging over my head for a few months now. I’m finally going to tackle and complete it tomorrow, but I’ve stressed about it for weeks now. I can’t wait until it is behind me so that I never, ever have to think about it again. And what bothers me most about it is that I didn’t tackle it sooner. Ugh.)

Pursuing excellence rather than settling for mediocrity is what you’re called to do in life. It is your calling in your work, your career, your ministry, your marriage, and your life in general. You were created to produce excellence.

So press on, don’t ever stop giving it your best, and don’t let the jealous voices around you (or even the small voice inside your head) ever convince you that you aren’t made for the MASS PRODUCTION of greatness.

QUESTION: What other reasons do you see as benefits for the pursuit of excellence, rather than settling for mediocrity? (Respond by leaving a comment below.)

Charles Specht

My mission is to encourage, motivate, and offer Simple Habits to Help You Achieve a Lifestyle of God-Honoring Greatness.

Then, I share how you too can live a happy and fulfilled life in my weekly email newsletter, which you can subscribe to while also downloading a free copy of my latest ebook (AMBITIOUS: 7 Keys to Living a Life of Extraordinary Greatness).

Reader Interactions


Man, you’ve got total agreement from me. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago after reading someone else’s blog post saying not to try to be excellent but to try to be different because it makes you stand out from the crowd. I saw that as telling people to be mediocre; ugh. If you’re not going to try to be the best then step aside and let those of us trying to be proficient get the job done. I’m with you all the way.

came across ur piece in a waiting room. not sure Jesus would advocate this unless He is at the helm. I would be cautious in encouraging such pursuits due to our human tendencies toward power, personal gain, approval, even showing God how deserving we are. Check out Genesis 11:6 as well as a bible word search on excel & it’s derivatives.

The quote u shared is true as it is for another road less traveled. May God be glorified in at least 99% of ur life!! Numbers 6:24-26

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” Colossians 3:23

In the pursuit of excellence, you ought to strive while fully committed knowing that you have come from far from mediocrity and you are still far towards your excellent destiny.

Sometimes, excellence just isn’t worth it.

You say,
“People who pursue excellence in their niche become leaders in their niche, without question. People will notice the effort. It gets rewarded in either dollars or attention, and sometimes in both.”

But that’s just the thing. Sometimes, you strive and strive for the betterment of yourself and others. You think outside the box, keep your thinking flexible and adaptive and energetic, become a mental gymnast and find a way where others fail. And yet, when it finally comes down to it, those who have the power and ability and resources refuse to recognize these facts and reward you accordingly. Sometimes, you just have to recognize when to cut your losses, and accept that mediocrity can at times actually be more worthwhile than such hard work that leaves you empty-handed.

If that’s something you’ve never experienced personally, then all I’ll say is I’m glad you’re not in such a place. But there are others who are–where no matter how hard they try, how smart or strong or fast or good they are, it just doesn’t matter. Those who ought to care, don’t. I hope you never have to experience such a condition, but I do hope you can empathize with those of us who have.

We writers traffic in uncertainty every day. Charged with turning our thoughts into life-giving words, we weave together experiences, aspirations, and the needs of our audience into something (hopefully) meaningful.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity Photo Credit: Tommy Hemmert Olesen via Compfight cc

However, there are certain forces that inhibit our ability to engage and can cause us to compromise what we do. If left unchecked, these subtle forces can rob us of days, weeks, and even years of valuable engagement, causing us to take our best work to the grave with us.

We need to be careful. Here are three warnings worth heeding that will lead to producing better work — before you die:

Avoid the danger of comfort

I know all too well how easy it is to slip into the comfort of routine.

Once we’ve experienced a measure of success, routines become reinforced and it’s easier to default to whatever’s easiest or most comfortable. But this is quite damaging to the quality of work we do.

You cannot pursue comfort and great work at the same time. You may experience comfort along the way, of course, but at some point you will probably have to choose between the two.

Brilliant work is done by those who consistently choose to do the right thing even when it’s uncomfortable. [Tweet that]

Where in your life and writing are you falling into comfortable habits that are inhibiting you from making something remarkable?

Establish “hunting trails”

There’s a cat in our neighborhood that makes an appearance around the same time each day outside my office window. She has a routine that looks something like this:

She paces slowly to the edge of the woods, then carefully along the edge of the woods, and back down the side where there’s some wild grass area. Next, she slowly stalks along the back of our storage shed, around the side, and makes a beeline to the back of our house. Finally, she walks all around our deck and the bushes, then she’s off.

This happens two to three times each day. I call it her “hunting trail.”

Bella is not hurting for food. She’s catching lots and lots and lots of prey. I’ve witnessed it a few times, and she’s tenacious. When she is walking this trail, she is intense, instinctively looking for a break in the norm as she goes about her routine. When she sees a disruption — some unlucky creature jumping out of the grass — she pounces.

She knows how to put herself in the right place at the right time to have the best chance for success.

Just like Bella, we each need “hunting trails” — daily routines and practices that put us in a position where we’re likely to experience creative insights. Many people don’t build these kinds of hunting trails. Instead, they wander aimlessly, waiting for an opportunity, some “mouse” to simply wander across their path.

You need to identify your hunting trails and commit to walking them often, paying attention to what you observe and preparing to pounce.

This is what applied curiosity looks like. It’s intense, hopeful searching for answers to your most pressing questions. It’s knowing where to go for inspiration, then doing it consistently.

Follow the arrows

I love the story of how the incredibly popular NPR show RadioLab found its “voice.”

One night, co-host Jad Abumrad was toying around with audio files and happened upon a particular combination of edits that resonated deeply. He says it was like a “pointing arrow placed there by your future self that says ‘follow me’.”

That arrow led to more arrows, and over time RadioLab evolved into the unique, celebrated show it is today.

There are several arrows we can follow to help us unlock the motivation for our own best work. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What wrecks you? What angers you, or causes you to feel mobilized to action when you experience it?
  • What makes you cry? Emotional response is a key indicator of passion. Are there any connections between the events, stories, and experiences that move you emotionally?
  • What’s obvious? The things that are obvious to you are not obvious to everyone. Pay attention to the things that others come to you for that seem obvious, but that others are amazed by.

We need you to contribute. There is something you offer the world that will never be seen if you don’t make the effort to get it out of you each day.

Don’t fall prey to the forces that lead to stagnancy and mediocrity, and refuse to take your best work to the grave with you. Be intentional, be aggressive in how you approach your life and work, and die empty of regret.

How do you avoid mediocrity? Share in the comments.

Todd Henry

Todd Henry is the author of the new book Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice, as well as The Accidental Creative and Die Empty. Find him at, or on Twitter.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

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How to avoid settling for mediocrity

Being a starving artist is a choice.

Bestselling author and creativity expert Jeff Goins dismantles the myth that being creative is a hindrance to success by revealing how an artistic temperament is, in fact, a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For centuries, the myth of the starving artist has dominated our culture, seeping into the minds of creative people and stifling their pursuits. But the truth is that the world’s most successful artists did not starve. In fact, they capitalized on the power of their creative strength. In Real Artists Don’t Starve, Jeff Goins debunks the myth of the starving artist by unveiling the ideas that created it and replacing them with fourteen rules for artists to thrive.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

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I’m Jeff Goins, the best-selling author of five books including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Every week, I share new tips on creative work. Enter your email below and I’ll send you a free book.

As people travel through life, teachers might label them “average.” Family members might limit their dreams. Bosses might stifle them. All too often, people respond by simply settling into a boring, mediocre life.

But that’s not the kind of life God wants for anyone. Don’t settle for it! If you refuse to be satisfied by a life of mediocrity, you’ll be free to pursue excellence. In the process, your life will become the unique adventure God has planned for you – and you’ll fulfill your highest potential.

Here are some ways you can rise above mediocrity to excellence:

Excel at being who you are. Embrace your uniqueness by accepting God’s unconditional love for you. Know that you are today who you have decided to become, you can be more than you are right now, and you should be the best you can be as an act of worship to God. Understand that your worth is based on who you are – God’s beloved child – rather than what you do. Forget who other people think you are; express yourself and become who you really are. Be real. Don’t pose, posture, or pretend to gain anything. Instead, trust God to provide it. Remember that He is on your side and He is all you’ll ever really need. Respect yourself by living a life consistent with the real you. Be honest, humble, and willing to help others. Don’t keep secrets or hold grudges. Focus your energy on preparing to do something great with your life. Remember that your past and current circumstances don’t have to limit your future; nothing is impossible with God. Counter our culture of slick deals and shortcuts by committing to go the extra mile in all you do. Use your God-given talents. Find things you love to do and do well. Then do them the best way you can, for as long as you can. Give everything you’ve got to everything you do. Know your business and develop the skills to perform it well. Be enthusiastic. Take the initiative. Make wise decisions. Be reliable. Work smart by balancing work well into your life as a whole. Make a habit of doing more than you’re paid to do. Demonstrate a positive attitude. Don’t listen to those who try to convince you to compromise your commitment to excellence.

Excel at being where you are. Seize opportunities. Stop waiting for a better time or better conditions. Rely on God’s power to take advantage of the opportunities He gives you. Ask yourself what problems you’re facing right now, and how those problems present possibilities for you to grow. Be available for God to use whenever and however He wants. Be on the lookout for divine appointments. Conquer your fears. Ask God to give you the confidence to believe that something He has called you to will take place even when you can’t yet see it. Trust in God’s wisdom even when you don’t understand what He’s doing in your life. Obey God even when doing so doesn’t seem reasonable or won’t make you popular with others. Ask God to give you the perspective to see matters over the long haul and trust Him when you can’t control the outcome. Live courageously in the face of danger or difficulty. Get out of your comfort zone and take risks God calls you to take. Stick to your convictions even when they fly in the face of popular opinion. Center your life on God rather than yourself. Ask God to give you the wisdom to do the right thing for the right reason, in the right way at the right time. Remember that God is faithful to keep all of His promises.

Excel with what you have. Serve a noble cause. Let love motivate you, and let freedom be your mission. Reject apathy. Employ your passions in the service of others as God leads you. Trade mildness for wildness. Be adventurous, constantly seeking to discover more about God and act on the ideas He gives you. Spend regular time in prayer. Write out your thoughts in a journal. Think while you exercise (while your body is in motion, your brain is free to work on a subconscious level). With your character and competencies in mind, identify your calling in life. Clarify what kind of contribution you’d like to make to the world, and make decisions about how to spend your time and energy around that goal. Take the right risks. Initiate change. Eliminate as many distractions as you can. Never quit; ask God to help you persevere. Be willing to ask for help as you do your work. Find people who will model something you need to know, but can’t learn on your own. Establish relationships with a few mentors who will teach you specific skills. Build friendships with people who will motivate you. Look for people whose personalities are compatible with yours; who will respect confidentiality in your relationship; and who will be loyal, honest, merciful, and tenacious. Always turn to God – your ultimate friend – for help as well.

Excel while you can. Realize that your time is a part of your life that you can never get back once you’ve spent it. Guard your time at least as carefully as you do your money. Know that wasting your time is wasting your life. Don’t waste it by worrying, gossiping, nursing grudges, trying to please everyone, or living from one crisis to the next. Remember that you will have to account to God at the end of your life for how you used your time. Think and pray about what your priorities should be, and plan your schedule around that. Focus on more than just be efficient; strive to be effective. Develop a sustainable pace in life, where you have patience and stamina. Surrender to God’s motives, trust His methods, and accept His timing. Take a regular inventory of your blessings and thank God for them. Strive to finish the race of life well. Never let go of hope, even when the future looks bleak. Pursue meaningful work and lifelong learning. Take time to rest and recharge. But never stop living life to its fullest and contributing to the world. Keep in mind the legacy that you would like to leave. Trust God to do great things in your life!

Are you mediocre? No one enjoys feeling stuck in mediocrity. No one wants to admit they’re mediocre.

Yet, many of feel that we are. So we try harder. Work harder.

People feel mediocre because they forget (or never figured out) why they’re here, and instead of following their purpose, they’re following safety, or worse just existing.

Take an example of a business owner who is scared to branch out and instead sticks with the same, limiting, mediocre business model. His new idea could catapult him into mega success but the fear of failure has arrested his progress, resulting in a much slower and more painful demise. Or a talented employee who is suffocated in her work environment, but stays with it, because she doesn’t believe she could do better.

Are you one of these people? Are you settling for less than your potential because you’re afraid?

What are you protecting yourself from? Pain? Failure? Ok. Fair enough. But, what about pleasure?

What would your life look like if you focused on your strengths, clarified your motivations, let go of cognitive dissonance, and followed your bliss?

Bliss is following excitement—about life, work, relationships … you name it.

Safety is avoiding pain. The former pushes us to self-actualize, fully and authentically; the latter, well, it keeps us mediocre.

Remember those times when, seemingly out of nowhere, an opportunity to transform yourself appeared and you experienced fear?

That was your higher self calling you to take your life to another level. To not “just settle” for mediocrity. Because you know, you can DO MORE and BE MORE.

How to avoid settling for mediocrity

Do not settle for a minute longer. Take a look at these six steps to kill mediocrity;

1 . Clarify Your Purpose

Why are you here? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Are you excited? How are you expressing your inner fire through your daily actions? A clarity of purpose inspires courage within us to follow our bliss and overcome fears.

2 . Take Inventory

Write out a list of things you do on a regular basis, both personal and professional, including projects you’re working on. What are your motivations for these activities? Be honest.

3 . 75% Rule

Now, test the inventory against the idea that … to avoid mediocrity, you should be giving at least 75% of yourself to everything you do with 100% being the goal, of course. If you’re giving anything on your list less than 75% of yourself, why are you settling? Could you do better? Why or why not? Be truthful. If your answer is a lot of why nots, go back to #1 or check #4.

4 . Dispel Cognitive Dissonance

We are creatures of comfort, and at some point in our lives, we built a view of the world and personal goals that would deliver this comfort, this pleasure to us. For example, you grew up poor, so making money was important to you. Fast forward 20 years, and you have made some money, but something is still missing … that’s because that belief is now a trap. After all these years, that belief has become a part of your identity and since it has always been important, it must still be important. It feels that way. But what if no longer is? What if it morphed in something else? What if it never were, but was only a function of survival and not your true desire? Dig deeper for answers and be aware, the brain can play tricks on us. Something may seem so true, but it isn’t. Don’t be tricked; it will rob you of greatness.

5 . Shuffle

After you have completed these four steps, what concrete action can you take to change your life in a way that would lead to more opportunities to give 100% and less situations where you’re trapped, out of guilt, habit, or fear, and are giving less than you could? Does that mean quitting a job, seeking out a new opportunity, starting your business, writing that book, or seizing a new adventure? Whatever it might be, this is your opportunity to step up and transform your life in a tangible way.

6 . Accountability

None of us is perfect and giving 100% on a regular basis, or even realising that we’re not, and thus falling into mediocrity, can be hard to both see and remedy alone. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to identify accountability mechanisms that would help push you to function at your 100%. These could be achieved through self-reflection, mentorship relationships, personal and professional development, a partner, and certainly a life coach. Whether you choose one or all of these, remember that the path to greatness is only, truly, possible with others by your side.

Doing what scares us is what makes us great. It forces us to level up .

The question remains: Are you going to settle for mediocrity or pursue greatness?