CLMN | Make mediocrity great again

CLMN | Make mediocrity great again

1 June 2017

It’s the final quartile of the year so I reckon some are approaching their graduation while others are getting a year closer to it. Kudos! And as is usual, a closure brings an opportunity for sincere reflection. This time, it may be a purely academic look-back for some, whereas some others may prefer a more wholesome contemplation. It’s at such times, though, that I resume wrestling with my mediocrity and wonder if it’s similar for everyone else.

I agree with Joseph Heller’s counter-Shakespearean “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them” and although I’m not sure where I fall, I’m quite certain of my extraordinary mediocrity.

And that leads me to wonder if we are cognizant of our average nature, if we ever bask in the unexceptional glory of our ordinariness. After all, we are raised to admire greatness, of conquest, of genius and often of remarkable wealth. And while that inspires us to strive for excellence, I think the parallel quest for identity sometimes impinges on our empathy and, by extension, on our ability to collaborate and to compromise. To me, it is rather obvious why finding common ground can sometimes be difficult when everyone is desperately trying to be uncommon.

When I first stepped into the laboratory, the kick-off conversation with one of the professors included a reminder that I was there only to make small contributions to the research. That echoes these days, especially when goals seem too lofty and failures severe.

It isn’t so that modest expectations don’t succeed. I think, rather, that there is enormous value in consistent mediocrity and that it pushes us to achieve more, from its least acknowledged nook on the learning curve, with some success at times. To be good at something, we must first be excellent at being average, and perhaps celebrate it; that’s probably the most important bit. And although it may take some blood and sweat to wrap this year up, it’s definitely worth the struggle if the recollection brings a smile.

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