Mastering Mediocrity: How We Got Stuck Here

Our culture often has the idea that some people are born with an ability that easily gifts them with success and luck in life.  Everyone else, by some explanation, must have been destined for mediocrity. Does it all come down to the chosen few, are they just that—the Chosen? If we look at Malcom Gladwell’s study on the 10,000-hour rule[1], where one must put in 10,000 hours before achieving mastery and true success in one area, we find that the large majority of the most successful did not achieve their status directly at first interest.  They put the work in. Though we are likely born with inclinations and then of course, with auspicious timing and available opportunities according to our race and class distinction, as Gladwell demonstrates in his studies, we find though that everyone begins at square one.  Only with determination and sacrifice do the most successful manage to put in at least 10,000 hours, in other words a lot of time, usually over the course of ten years, before making a name for themselves along with what they are passionate about.

So what does this say about the rest of the population, those who have not achieved their ultimate dream?  In the tiers of success, we have at the top the most notable and most passionate, then the unsatisfied who are seemingly stuck, and at the bottom those who wish to achieve nothing at all.  Why do those, specifically who are born in a nation and within the middleclass, where opportunities are more than plenty, wind-up stuck and remain there?

 If we look at today, on average people spend around 8,000 hours over the course of 10 years on social media[2] and around 8,000 hours watching tv over the same decade.[3]  What then has the average person mastered over the course of ten years? Nothing less than a double mastery in mediocrity.  Our culture breeds us in idleness and we happily take up the practice.  Why?  Because our routines are so mundane and stress-filled we seem to require a break from reality.  Why do we need this break?  Because we are not doing what we love.  Why are we not doing what we love?  Because we never put the hours in!

So while we put the hours in watching, observing and comparing ourselves with those who have reached their own pinnacle of success, we waste our time wallowing in the question: “How did I get here?”  It’s never too late— time is our biggest investment and we can put aside the fragmented hours we have wasted on scrolling clutter and tv noise, and into building and honing the skills we have and enjoy.  Regardless of whether 10,000 is an exact number, the timeless principle remains the same: It is not about putting in long hours, but about setting aside a small amount of time each day to pursue our dreams. Paul Coelho famously tweeted: “What is success? It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.”4 It is when we dedicate our time to pursuing our personal legend, as Coelho calls it, that we will finally find that peace. Mediocrity takes practice too and ultimately, the Chosen are those who have make a choice to put the hours in.

[1] Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers. 2008. New York. Hachette Book Group. 35-68.

[2] In 2017 people worldwide spent on average 135 minutes per day on social media.  Times 135 minutes by 7 days a week for 52 weeks over the course of ten years equals 8,190 hours.

[3] The same calculation as above equals around  8,424 hours over the course of ten years.  The statistic used here is based on Canadian usuage in a specific age range, in the U.S., the total hours spent watching the is near double according to most sources.

[4] Paul Coelho tweeted on May 13, 2013

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