Embracing mediocrity was a turning point for me, but New Year’s resolutions have always been a favorite flagellation. For the last twenty years and more, every New Year’s eve I’d go off by myself to review my journals from the year. The last ten years, I’d go up on the mountain, usually pitching a tent for the day in PoliPoli Park on Haleakala, and I’d remember happenings, draw conclusions, and make goals for the coming year. I read somewhere back in the 1980’s that “effective and successful” people did that. And I was determined to be both.
It even worked, to a degree. Year by year, I chipped away at goals both big and small: getting the house painted. Putting in a garden. Training the dog. Attempting annual diets (that usually failed.) Finishing multiple college degrees, advancing in my career, raising kids, and nipping at their ankles to herd them toward an effective and successful future.
I never had goals for my marriage except to stay in love and faithful to my husband. He was not someone who ever responded well to attempts to shape and mold him, and that’s part of why I fell in love with him—I wanted and needed a man who saw through my ploys and called bullshit on me, and yet loved me fiercely. And that’s how it’s always been, for 29 years.
You'd think that would be enough, but it wasn't.
All my life I’d suffered from a sense of destiny, of being meant to do something important. This greatness had never manifested. I'd served God as I understood Him the best I could. I worked on my goals, checked them off, and each year we gradually climbed a step higher, one day at a time, as we worked our way through diligent effort (and a few breaks) into the middle class.
We lived the American dream: a pile of debt, two careers, two cars that ran, two terrific kids, one of each gender. Two dogs. Even a picket fence, and we lived on Maui, too. I’d survived my wild childhood growing up in a gypsy-like, alcoholic, hippie lifestyle on Kaua`i, and achieved my dream of normal.
But by forty, when the kids were graduating from high school, I’d begun to suspect that my “destiny” was mediocrity. I’d traded youthful dreams of being a Great Writer for security, and my athletic, outdoorsy body for a comfortably padded middle age, swaddling myself in Land’s End chinos, brightly-printed ‘tops,’ and invisibility.
I went to one more round of therapy, trying to understand my angst. My therapist pronounced early-onset midlife crisis, brought on by fear of the empty nest. “You put a lot into building that family. Now you’re not sure what’s next.”
“And this awful sense of destiny? Like I’m supposed to do something big and important?”
“First child syndrome.” He flapped a hand dismissively. “Let yourself off the hook. You and your husband have both achieved a lot, considering where you started.”
That was true. I sighed with relief and let myself off the hook. I went home and told Mike, “I’m embracing mediocrity.”
“At last,” he said. “I accepted mine a long time ago.” Both the oldest of four, we’ve both struggled with a sense of never doing enough or being enough, even for God. Age finally seemed to be blunting the edges of that unique pain.
Now that the bar of greatness had been removed, I really let myself go, blooming into plump workaholism. I saw the kids off and wept copious tears. I dealt with the empty nest by adding a second job and a dog that needed professional grooming.
But I also begin to write, and on an anonymous blog, under a silly name, I began a story. A story that, over three years and a long bumpy journey, became my first book, Blood Orchids, which has sold over a hundred thousand copies.
And I wrote another, and another…and twenty books and six years later, I looked up from my keyboard and discovered that mediocrity was pretty awesome.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing my annual assessments. At fifty, I just didn’t need them any more—I’ve substituted a meeting with my assistant to strategize the coming year, and a whiteboard with monthly publishing plans.
But this year is the year for health. I've dealt with a lot of skin cancer issues, dental emergencies, joint pains, and still haven’t peeled off my Land’s End and manifested the healthy, fit self I know is the “real me.” What I HAVE learned is this: mediocrity might be the way to go. When I accept that I won’t be the next…who’s a gorgeous fifty-ish redhead? Julianne Moore?
I’ll be happy and successful no matter my size—on the journey, whatever that turns out to be. One step at a time.
Try mediocrity. It might set you free.