There are currently 579,701 self-help books in Amazon telling you how to live a better life.
We are told to get more productive and make every minute count, but to meditate first and fill our bodies with protein rich, low carb, gut-friendly smoothie so when we smash glass ceilings with our fists, our mind and body will feel no pain.
The self-improvement industry is worth $12 billion annually in the US alone. We laud these life coaches and gleefully place them on a better-living pedestal. Oprah. Sheryl Sandberg. Tim Ferris. Tony Robbins. All multi-millionaires who have made a fortune out of telling us to live our best life, to take what we want, to strive, and run, and keep moving this rat wheel of expectations and promises and manifestations.
The built narrative now in pop culture is, if you’re not progressing or striving for more, if you’re not working hard on yourself, then you’re hardly working.
And what’s the result of this human “progress”?
We are more depressed than ever.
Depression is now the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide. The World Health Organisation is calling it a “global crisis“. The last ten years has seen an increase of another 18 per cent, the rate of antidepressant use in the US alone rose by 400 per cent between 1988 and 2008.
The more we’re sold self-help, the less happy we are.
So what's the solution?
There's a different kind of self-help mantra going around online at the moment.
It's about being mediocre instead.
Krista OReilly Davi-Degui is a mother of three who likes strong coffee and dark chocolate. And who said aloud what so many of us wonder but never say. Who put words around a feeling that a few of us have had in the small of our minds.
"What if all I want is a mediocre life?" she wrote.
What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between. Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?
What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?
What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up – beyond mom and sister and wife. But these people in my primary circle of impact know they are loved and that I would choose them again, given the choice. Can this be enough?
Yes. It can be. It must be. Because being mediocre just might be the answer.
Mediocrity may save us from ourselves.
Listen to Mamamia Out Loud discuss the theory of mediocrity (post continues after audio)
What if we just stopped the chase?
What if I embrace my limitations and stop railing against them. Make peace with who I am and what I need and honor your right to do the same. Accept that all I really want is a small, slow, simple life. A mediocre life. A beautiful, quiet, gentle life. I think it is enough.
-- Krista OReilly Davi-Degui
Our culture used to encourage modesty and humility and not bragging about yourself. It seemed only a couple of years ago that it was still considered poor form to brag online. The phrase "she'll full of herself" was one of the worst things you could say about someone. Now it's de-rigour. But it's a false economy. A good life is built not in the pages of self-help books, not in the millions of social media followers, and not in the pursuit of self-excellence.
Now, bragging is de-rigour. Social media is a competition for whose having a better time, a better holiday, who's busier, who's kicking more goals, who's signed deals and made deals, snapped necks and cashed cheques.
Mediocrity, though, flies in the face of this caustic culture of comparison.
Is a good life really built on the backs of social media likes, and in the pages of self help books, and in the words of gurus? And if it is, why then, despite a billion dollar industry promoting the idea we can achieve anything if we believe we can, are we all so unhappy?
Because we're not special snowflakes.
We want to be, yes. We want to believe we are. But those who are happy in their own skin and their own self are those with the sense to know they're probably not special.
Peace of mind is held more easily by those who keep their expectations low. By those with the sense to know they're not special.
Letting go of a pursuit of The Next Thing means we pivot their focus from being inwards to looking out on the world. And a lowering of expectations can lead to peace of mind.
A mediocre life, a common life, an average, middle-of-the-road life doesn't mean a life devoid of meaning, or wisdom, or intelligence, or a felt sense of what's important, and right and good.
If anything, it can make room for more of what's important.
So save yourself the trouble of a clean house, a well-balanced gut, an entrepreneurial mindset and a lean-in philosophy.
Be ordinary. Average. Middle-of-the-road. Drop out of this race for self-improvement and feel the pressure start to lift.
Start to see ordinary as beautiful in it's own right. Ordinary is leaving room to be sad, bored, frustrated, stuck, just average, all those things that make us human.
Ordinary is what we are. Give into it. In the end, we may find, that's where the extraordinary lies.
Mamamia Out Loud is the podcast with what women are talking about. We don't like to tell you how to live your life, but we're a community and we occassionally hold things up to the light and say "am I the only one feeling like this?"