T Nation

Dealing with Mediocrity and Insignificance

So there i was, watching a bass guitar player on youtube, since i used to play bass myself. He plays like a god and is a musical genious. After a while, youtube gave me a “related” link to russian singing contest(something like X-Factor in UK) and there i saw this dude singing Smoke On The Water much better than the original singer did.
And i just started to think… I wanted to be a bodybuilder, when i was 14… Spent all my time to learn about it, spent all my money on creatine and glutamine and, of course, like most of us - didnt look like i lift for years. Around the same time i bought my first guitar, joined a band - played in many bands for 10-12 years just to get nowhere because honestly the music wasnt too good, exaclty like my bodybuilding.
I also did martial arts and around my late 20s i found out that i am a better instructor than i am a fighter when some of the guys i trained started getting even better than me.
There also was a time i played League Of Legends and never got out of the silver league(2nd worst one) while there are guys earning thousands of dollars just by playing the same game and winning competitions.
In my very late 30s started to get interested in strenght sports, and of course, i cant lift shit compared to some 19 year olds on the net.
There are so many impressive people in every field, who have the talent, the charisma and following.
There are so many god-like athletes, singers who can make you cry with the way they sing, there are people who create amazing stuff out of wood. Guys who can make a beautiful ornamented knife from an old spoon, and then there are surgeons and scientists who understand stuff no one of us ever could.
I never wanted to be famous or rich. But i do wanted to be good at something. Like really good. It just seems that in our life we see this singer, we think “oh, im gonna learn that” and we do, and then we just suck at medicore singing forever. Same goes with fitness, righ? We see some bodybuilders, we imitate them, and no one even knows we lift because we could take all the steroids in the world and still not be able to get 17 inch arms, lol.
It just sometimes suck to see people doing the things i have done in my life, and just being so good at them. And its not for my lack of trying. For everything i did, i spent all the time and effort i had.

We start our lives with the belief that its just hard work. You can be THAT singer if youd have the right teacher, spend the right amounts of time on that, right? You can be THAT bodybuilder or athlete if you just eat right, eat right supps, even take right steroids, right? You can play the violin like the crazy guys on youtube, if you learn your notes, join the musical school and play for 15 years, right? You will be the prime minister of your contry if you will end at the top of your class and join a political party and work hard, right?
There is a point in your life when you just realise that - NOPE. You did all you could and you never even came close to be remotely good.
Does anyone have a problem with this and how do you deal with it, if you deal with it?

I feel that one of the biggest and most pernicious white lies people tell one another is that effort and “trying your best” is what matters.

It doesn’t. What matters is that you set a goal and do what you feel is necessary to achieve that goal. You may not achieve it, because not all goals are achievable.

But there are a lot of differences between the two. For the purposes of your post, I think one of the more relevant differences is that, if you genuinely did what you felt was necessary to achieve your goal and failed regardless, then you will likely have no regret.

It is a mindset difference.

no regret for doing it, no… but being sad that you did all you can and you still aint shit, while some people do half the work you did and achieve so much more, because they just have it IN them…

That’s why I said it’s a mindset thing- If you genuinely know that you did everything you had to do and you still didn’t accomplish your goal, then there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. At that point it’s entirely your choice to be upset about it, but my personal opinion is that it’s pointless to be upset about failing at something when you genuinely did everything you had to do to achieve that goal.

And how on Earth do you know that people put in “half the work”? I’m pretty sure you’re generalizing, but people have a really bad habit of downplaying the actions others took while they magnify their own, and I am curious if you’re doing that here.

And, lastly- yes, some people are genuinely talented at certain things. Oh well.

I dunno. I’ve had the fortune of working with some really talented people. I just tried to honor their effort and hope they feel the same way.

Not that I’m like great or famous or anything. That’s just how I deal with being one of many.

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I’ve had a lot of problems with this, and continue to. I feel as if, to me, it’ll fester if I let it.

Professionally, I’ve had some success. I’ve been gainfully employed at two Fortune 500 companies, but nevertheless didn’t feel as a “success”. Because, no matter what environment I’ve found myself in I’m rarely at the top. And, those rare times that I am it’s not the most delightful place to be.

Arriving at the conclusion that I’m average usually means I’m spending too much time focusing on externalities and not enough thought and emotion is placed on instrinsic value. Essentially, where others are becomes the focus, and while that has certainly served to propel me forwards at times it has never allowed me to arrive to anything remotely close to satisfaction. It merely feeds the hunt. While striving to progress is fine, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it, I’ve found that for me it causes a disproportionate amount of anxiety relative to what I gain.

And thus, I try to remind myself of two things. One is a quote I read, and sadly no longer retain the original and can do nothing other than paraphrase it but roughly it goes,

“Every developer is on average, average”

This is inherently true. I now try to operate off of the premise that I’m average, and then I try to be slightly better than that when I can. Perhaps not professionally, but in other dimensions of my life most certainly.

The other is internalising a bit more of a Dan John vibe. I try and let my actions today be dictated by who I want to be able to look back at having been when I’m older and structure my habits thereafter. I try to fret less about being optimal today, and more about having broken a sweat everyday for the next 40 years. There’ll be fruits of labor from that, inevitably.

But the hard work thing that is the red thread of your post, and the envy you feel from having applied yourself and experiencing that others arrived at your goals while you yourself did not, do you believe that might be heavily influenced by your culture? I have no idea where you are from, but I feel as if I could hazard a guess if I had to.


Wow! Somehow these threads always seem to read my mind…

This is something I struggle with a lot. I go to a highly regarded uni with a lot of extremely smart and accomplished ppl. I am constantly feeling mediocre at best. In fact, one of the ppl I’m closest to on campus outclasses me in every regard and is more hard working than I could ever hope to be (this is what I admire the most). Actually, I like him because he outclasses me and I’m hoping stuff rubs of. It has so far so I’m willing to take the self esteem hits.
We both want to go into academia (slightly different fields) , and he will likely be more productive than me regardless of what I do, but I still plan to try my best to excel in my field

My nightmare is to be just an “average joe/Jane”- work a dead end desk job or becoming a tutor in a test prep company like the one mum runs.
I don’t want to be powerful, but I would either like to be rich(probably not going to happen) or influential in some way.
Also, since I’m very likely never going to earn more than my parents, I’d at least like to make something of myself to pay them back in a way or else I would have wasted their effort and money

As for other things, I’m a slightly above mediocre lifter, slightly above mediocre cook and below average designer. I think I could be a great lifter bc of genetics but I’m simply unwilling to put in the requisite effort bc these hobbies don’t matter as much to me

It might be worthwhile considering why this is a nightmare for you. What is it about this situation that scares you?

The no.1 important thing to me as a parent is that my children are happy. Their success or wealth don’t matter to me in the slightest beyond what’s necassary to make them happy.

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Not living up to my potential.
I am fairly certain I am above average intelligence and I work harder than a lot of ppl.
More importantly, I’m starting from a VERY high baseline, which gave me a large head start. My grandparents went from literally starving to highly educated despite political circumstances. My parents went from dirt poor in China, overcame a massive language and socioeconomic barriers in the US to now become executives. I grew up in an upper middle class household in the US. My parents sacrificed time, energy and financial security to some extent to pay for my schooling and maintain a standard of living slightly above their means to make us happy. I have 0 excuses.

If I were to end up mediocre, it’s all my fault. I would be wasting my advantage

Rather than striving to be the best at something, strive to enjoy life. Enjoy moments, experiences, enjoy company you keep, enjoy making your loved ones happy, take part in your pass times because you enjoy them not to master them.

There is something out there that you could excell and be the best at, you havnt found it yet. The people at the top of there fields found there “thing”.


Maybe. So? Why is that an issue to you?

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I can’t pinpoint why, but I don’t think I could be happy knowing that I didn’t achieve what I’m capable of.
I’d also feel in debt to my parents and I HATE debt

Nihilism and absurdism helped resolve most of this for me.

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I felt this way frequently in my 20s. Seem to have aged out of it though. Now, I’m pretty content with the fact that my interests are too broad for me to be able to hone in on any one thing. I’m okay with being “pretty good” at a lot of things at the expense of being great at any one thing.


This is where I am at. I am not going to be a record setting powerlifter, but I can be okay, and also have a body that is pretty good.

I think something @hankthetank89 should think about is that although you might not be a top BBer, or even a top guy at a local untested show, you are top 1%.

For me, coming to the conclusion that I should win at things that are easier (less people competing at) made me happier. Like to be the top 1-5% of mechanical engineers would require lots of overtime, probably getting graduate degrees, and the payoff isn’t very good. I wouldn’t trade my salary and body, for a average high performance engineer salary and body. Not saying some don’t do both, but it sometimes is a tradeoff.

Remember, being exceptional is no picnic. The best artists and musicians are usually tortured weirdos. The greatest athletes are often sad and feel like their lives are empty too.

I did some super elite, world class stuff and nobody really cared about it.


I’m still amazed that your uncle invented that sandwich.

That’s freakin awesome.


I remember hearing that John Bonham thought of himself as mediocre, and not good enough to be in Led Zeppelin. Was there best member IMO, and one of the greatest drummers of all time.

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Haha, what? I feel like I’m missing some important info here. (Or else this is a reference that I’m not getting.)

Flats’s uncle invented the Ruben.