Mediocrity could have you running circles. (Here’s why.)

I’m on a blogging sabbatical writing my next book. This is a guest post by Garrhet Sampson. Garrhet is a missionary, teacher, leadership coach, network director, and blogger. In 2014, he received a Masters Certificate in Missional Leadership through The Resurgence Training Center at Mars Hill in Seattle and is currently working on his preaching and teaching degree through Moody Bible Institute. Garrhet blogs at www.garrhetsampson.com/ He can be reached at Twitter and Facebook.

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“You’re going to have to do it again…”

It was 5:30 in the morning and our dorm room had been chosen to do extra training at the basketball court. My roommates and I had failed room check for the third time that week and in the leadership academy I was a part of the choice was simple: It’s either a clean room or physical training.

Now, I understand that most of you reading this probably haven’t been through a military style training program. So let me fill you in, physical training is BAD NEWS.

Our physical training instructor was intense. He was the kind of guy that thought of mixed martial arts as a fun way to test your endurance and spartan race style marathons were a great extracurricular activity to take his teams through. The guy was a sucker for pushing himself and the people he led to discovering their limits.

Getting assigned extra training with him as the instructor meant that you were not only going to spend the day sore but you were also going to hate every minute of your time on the court. When he pushed, he pushed hard and it didn’t matter if the sun was up or if the Texas heat had already started creeping in on the early morning chill. If you weren’t giving your all, under his watch you would be soon.

“You’ve been running at a snail’s pace this entire time. I’ve seen you do better, now I want you to run this lap again.”

I learned a lot from that man. The sweat, blood, and tears that were poured out under that Texas skyline week in and week out instilled in me skills and character traits that I will probably carry with me for the rest of my life.

That particular morning (and God knows that wasn’t the last time we were there) our instructor was teaching me a very important lesson, one with consequences that left me feeling like I had been hit by a train for the rest of the weekend. 

In life, you either do it right or you do it twice.

In 1999, Monster.com launched an ad during the Super Bowl called “When I Grow Up.” The ad featured a group of kids sharing their dreams, only with a twist.

“When I grow up, I want to file all day long.”

“I want to claw my way to middle management!”

“… to be replaced on a whim.”

“I want to have a brown nose.”

“I want to be a yes man!”

The ad finishes strongly by then asking a  simple question, “What do you want to be?” The message of the question, of course, is that you didn’t set out for any of these ambitions when you were young, so why would you settle for one now? 

Some would say that the world is much more complicated than that. After all, as kids we don’t know the struggles with providing for a family or taking on a mortgage. We haven’t felt the sting of real defeat or the seemingly helpless struggle against the tide of office bureaucracy.

Which is true, but the fact remains that many people who start out with such promise end up settling for so much less. 

I mean, think about it.

The world we live in doesn’t make it easy to strive for excellence. Workers who settle for less can get more reliable jobs. Students who don’t ask the difficult questions tend to not rock the boat. Teachers that hide their best get to never wrestle with the fear (and consequences) of offending someone.

Today we don’t have too many citizens actively sharing their best and most generous ideas. We don’t have too many caring leaders eagerly building up the dignity of their followers. What we have is an abundance of mediocrity. We are consumed with the false convenience of cheaper, instant, and mass produced. We live in an age where the industry motto has been to race to the bottom and the only way to really, truly get ahead anymore is to race to the top.

Congrats, we’ve made the world a dollar store. Now the only thing left is to find is something of value amidst all this mass produced junk.

Please note, when I talk about mediocrity, I’m not talking about success. You can appear very successful to others, but still know deep down that the work you’re producing is sub-par. You can succeed externally and still know internally that what you’re really doing is selling out.

What I mean by mediocrity is the complete compromise of our abilities and potential; a negotiation between our drive to contribute and the biological urge to settle for what’s comfortable and familiar. 

The problem is that choosing mediocrity doesn’t just cost you your weekend, it could cost you your future. Though you might not wake up with your legs sore from having to run an extra lap, the consequences you face will cost you all the same.

When it comes to the big decisions of life we may rationalize our compromises by saying that we chose them because of external forces, but the reality is that many of us sold ourselves out in small ways for much, much longer. Todd Henry in his book “Die Empty” says it perfectly, “No one charts a course for mediocrity, yet it’s still a destination of choice. It’s chosen in small ways over time, and those tiny, seemingly inconsequential decisions accumulate until they result in a state of crisis. By that point, making a change often feels overwhelming.” 

I felt that “resulting state of crisis” that weekend, and I see it everyday in the lives, businesses, and families of the people I interact with.

I don’t want to see that compromise in myself, and I certainly don’t want to see it others. People who are successful are successful over the long haul. They are people that continually risk and produce their best in new and interesting ways long after they’ve established themselves in their field. They continue to grow, develop, and seek out challenging opportunities for themselves and the people they influence. 

Just as mediocrity is a lifestyle, so is excellence.

It’s a habit that comes from intentionally pursuing it day after day. That’s what makes little check-ins like this (and blogs like Salt&Light in general) so helpful. 

So that’s why I want to ask, How are you pursuing excellence today?

Is there anyone that needs this reminder? What could you do to push them forward?