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Why Settle for Mediocrity?

Why Settle for Mediocrity ModernRetroWomancom

Why settle for mediocrity

when you can savor the sublime?

~Dr. Julie-Ann

Dear Friends,

I’ve been thinking about mediocrity a lot lately.  It seems to me that we’ve slipped into mediocrity as a culture.  Now, that may be okay for some people but I’m taking a stand in favor of beauty and excellence.

When I was in graduate school twenty years ago, I had the above quote about mediocrity as part of my email signature.  Sometimes people commented about it and told me that it was thought provoking.  More often than not, though, I was told that my mantra was refreshing in an era when decorum and excellence were rapidly disappearing.  Little did we know then what it would be like today.

What Happened?

I think there are some reasons we slipped into mediocrity:

  • We’ve been told to be happy with what we can get.  Now, I’m not a conspiracy person but as an educational psychologist I can recognize the subtle lessons all around us.  Let’s face it, the middle class in the United States is disappearing due to policies that favor the wealthy.  We are trying to make do with paychecks that don’t have the same buying power as they did 20 years ago.  When we dare to complain, the response is generally, “at least you have a job.”  It is hard to dream big when we have to play it safe so that we can pay our bills.
  • We’ve had to focus on price rather than quality of the things we buy.  Little by little, our standards regarding quality have whittled away.  We now have a “throw away” mentality when things don’t last as long as they used to.  We buy what I call “faux food” that comes in microwaveable boxes because we think it is all we can afford to feed our families.
  • We keep electing representatives who don’t do their jobs.  As of the publishing of this post, Illinois has not had a budget for two years.  The fallout of the political posturing is that people are losing their jobs…and, in some cases, their lives.  Instead of electing representatives that seek to create “win-win” solutions so that our society can thrive, we keep electing hyper-partisan officials that look for “gotcha moments.”
  • We’ve started blaming others for our own mediocrity.  I get it.  Despite what a lot of self-help gurus want us to believe, life can be hard.  During the Great Recession, I was laid off from two different universities due to budget cuts.  The Mister’s business went belly up.  I wanted to blame other people for our hard times–and I did for a long time.  But that victim mentality kept me trapped in my despair.  It is hard to dream big when we feel like we have no control over our own destiny.

Overcoming Mediocrity by Savoring the Sublime

The word sublime can be defined as something that is awe inspiring or outstanding.  It can also mean taking something inferior and turning it into something of value.

Using that definition, we can overcome mediocrity in our lives by focusing on excellence in all things.  Some ways we can achieve excellence are:

  • Focusing on goodness and beauty.  We have to be very careful about what we let into our minds.  Lurid television shows and clickbait websites entice us with the shocking.  But after a while, what used to be shocking becomes normalized.  We also get sucked into gossip and drama at work or church or the pickup line at our children’s schools.  It is hard to focus on beauty when we allow ourselves to be polluted with this kind of negativity.
  • Engaging in constant personal development.  I used to write in my journal almost every day as part of my spiritual practice.  My writing was part prayer asking for what I wanted and part conversation (listening to the still voice within for guidance).  I had gotten away from that practice when I allowed myself to wallow in my victim-hood. I started up again a few months ago and it has been transforming.  I realized through my journaling that I had slipped into mediocrity instead of always striving for excellence.
  • Only eating real food. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m not a fan of faux food.  But, little by little, faux food was making its way into my diet.  While I was having lunch with my mentor at a “casual dining” chain, I had an “a-ha” moment as the server was telling me all of the sauces I could get to put on my food.  The sauce I chose tasted industrial chemically to me and I wondered what the chicken underneath of it tasted like since it had to be smothered by something created in monster-sized vats.  It will take some planning on my part but I know that the closer to nature I get with my eating, the more my body and brain will like me.
  • Choosing quality over quantity.  I may have to pay more in the short run–or do without–but I know that I will be happier in the long run when I only buy high quality items.  My grandparents saved up to buy high quality items.  I still use the Bernina that my grandmother bought in 1972 as my primary sewing machine because of the choices they made in favor of quality.

During the post World War II period, we were filled with the “can do” spirit and believed we could accomplish anything we wanted.  Heck, we even put a man on the moon! 

As a modern retro woman, I am choosing to re-embrace that spirit of excellence that permeated our culture.  I refuse to settle for mediocrity when I can savor the sublime.

Your turn: In the comments, please share how you plan on overcoming mediocrity that has crept into your life.

To your fabulously sublime Technicolor life,

Dr. Julie-Ann

Image citation:  Pendleton wool advertisement, 1957, illustration by Ted Rand; courtesy of Classic Film on Flickr.com




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  1. First off, Happy New Year! I also wanted to comment on the new design for the blog. It looks lovely and fresh, ready for a brand new year! 🙂

    I also wanted to comment and express my own thoughts on this post. I truly agree with you on how pursuing the most excellent of things is more worth it in the long run, even if it is not easy sometimes. I do admit that I sometimes get caught up in the negativity that the mass media seems determined to display, especially when I hear it through word of mouth even though I don’t want to hear about it. It’s not that I want to be ignorant of what’s going on in the world, but the news and other bits of mass media are swimming deeply in negativity that it actually becomes annoying to hear about, at least through my eyes.

    But this year, I want to focus on my own goals and create beautiful, and excellent, things with my art, and through my own way, conquer and ignore the negative things that happen in the world because let’s face it, horrible things are going to happen anyway even if we try to prevent them. I’ll use artwork, writing, the other skills I have, and that can-do attitude that was so prevalent during that time, especially in the ’60s when our star voyagers were off and orbiting around the world before landing on the moon! Heck, I want to get back into things that I’ve had to put aside in favor of academic obligations, like sewing/crocheting, meditation, things like that.

    I truly like that quote: “Why settle for mediocrity when you can savor the sublime?” That is a very inspiriting quote to try and live by. Another goal I’d like to pursue in favor of overcoming mediocrity is pushing myself to the limit without breaking down in some way. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why I aim to be a retro woman; back then, people generally believed in aiming high for their goals, especially if they were Chuck Yeager or John Glenn, and they did so by pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of what was thought to be impossible and made it possible, but at the same time, they knew how to make it so without getting burnout or losing interest once the task was done. I see that attitude as a very refreshing and hopeful one, and I know people who possess that same never-give-up attitude.

    And it’s a reason why I’m so glad to come back here every time you post a new post. Your posts, if I may say so, always give me hope and determination to make things beautiful and gracious in my life, and to this, I say thank you for all you are doing, and for all you have done, and for what you will bring in future posts to come. 🙂

    May 2017 be a fabulous, gracious and sublime year for you!

  2. Oh, Francesca! You’re going to make me cry! Thank you for your very kind words. They are needed.

    I agree with you about using beauty as a way of overcoming the negativity that is surrounding us. Since much of my job is mentoring junior faculty and graduate students, I come face to face with the underbelly of the university every day. I need to make sure I’m counteracting that negativity with beauty so that I don’t get burned out again.

    We can–no, we WILL–have a sublime 2017!

  3. I love this post (and I love the look of your blog; did you change it?) Indeed, we live in a society where settling is the norm — particularly in relationships. How many times has a single woman heard something to the effect that “you won’t be young forever”, “pretty soon, all of the good ones will be taken”, and “maybe you’re just too picky”? Yet settling never creates happiness in the long run, in my opinion.

    I had already decided a week or two ago that my 2017 is amazing, and I intend to have a lot more fun and get passionate about life again, to kick the mediocrity of the past few months in the rear.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Thanks, Pam! And, indeed I changed it in time for the new year.

    Oh, yes, the whole pressure to just choose anyone so you won’t be alone thing. Good for you for not giving into that pressure and settling!

    But you also made me think about friendships that don’t really nourish the soul. How many of those relationships have drifted into mediocrity because it is just easier to so than face some pretty hard truths.

    (I’m giggling at the image of mediocrity being kicked in the rear…).

    Happy new year to you, too!

  5. There must be something in the air. I, too, have been journaling about what I want to focus on in 2017 and feeling a need for change. While I want to manage my responses to a toxic workplace (and maintain my health in the face of The Crazy), I want my main focus in 2017 to be Everything Else: my home, relationships, creative projects, spiritual growth, things that make me happy. To look for excellence in myself instead of waiting for a narcissistic department director to suddenly (and uncharacteristically) recognize it.

    I look forward to seeing what you’ve come up with for the blog! All the best to you in 2017.

  6. I’ve been in that position, too, of waiting for recognition. It is so frustrating!

    I agree that we still have to manage our responses to a toxic environment but by focusing on Everything Else, it will make it easier to manage those responses and not get sucked into Other People’s Drama™.

    Thank you for your encouragement and best wishes for your new year, too!

  7. I read this post, printed and will reread it often. What great inspiration, and another of my many “coping Mechanisms” to get me through the next four years of Awful.

  8. This is my first time visiting your blog, thanks to a beautiful friend who shared the link 🙂
    I am over halfway to finishing my Masters and know that I will have half of this year to not study and get back to the things that make me happy!
    The only problem was what did I want to focus on? So, I chose the word FOCUS and have set myself 2 goals for each of the 6 different areas of my life that are important to me and I have created a mini poster that has become the wallpaper on my laptop, so I will see the list every day!
    Hopefully by having these things to focus on, I will not get caught up in the negativity and childish behaviours that I have seen so much of lately and I will be able to make my life beautiful once again!

    1. Welcome, Mish! We are glad you are here.

      It sounds like you have a great plan to ensure that you have a beautiful life when you finish your Masters (what are you studying?).

      1. Thanks Julie-Ann
        I’m doing an MBA or Masters of Business Administration, which really is code for being able to talk BS lol

  9. For some reason, I missed this post, and I always look forward to them! This one really spoke to me, since I have been struggling with just trying to get through the day instead of living more mindfully. That’s what I am aiming for — being more present instead of spending my days on auto pilot. Sometimes lack of energy overtakes me and “good enough” just has to be good enough, but I don’t want that to be the norm. I so wish I had a close older friend who could serve as a mentor who I could meet with and get encouragement from. Alas, I seem to be the elder in my group of friends and family. Your posts are the closest I get to having a mentor (even though I believe I am older than you!) I thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful and encouraging posts. And I LOVE the vintage aspect! I am looking forward to a new year of lovely posts. I refer back to them so often!

  10. I’m so glad you are back!! I oray your Mister continues to do well. This was sych a great article as I’m wtruving fir excellence inbevery part of my life and connecting with like minded women.

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