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November 30, 2011 / mike54martin

The Dangers of Mediocrity

Our parents often passed along a very important message: If a job is worth doing then it’s worth doing well. Sometimes we just go through the motions at work or at home and carry out some of our minor tasks and chores without really paying attention. Then we discover later that the bath overflowed because we were busy doing something else, or putting a file in the wrong place meant hours of more work for ourselves and others. Just doing enough to get by will never turn out well in the long run and there are very real dangers to not doing our best.

Somehow as a society we have accepted mediocrity as the standard. It shows up in every aspect of our lives from convenience store clerks who are just going through the motions to large corporations who are unwilling to provide decent service to their millions of customers. We see it everyday in our schools and other institutions. Students who are bright enough to do better are not encouraged to do their best, but rewarded for just getting by.

But we are all paying a price for this mindless acceptance of mediocrity within our modern society. The potential greatness of our young people is being ignored or underdeveloped and being complacent or silent about this epidemic of average is hurting our collective productivity and undermining those among us who are daring to take the risks required in order to reach for greatness.

We cannot blame our young people for falling into the mediocrity trap. It is a lesson that they have learned from us and only we as their adult models can shift their thinking and behavior. It really does start with us. If we are going to move back from the brink of mediocrity we have to think, talk and act differently.

The thinking is actually the easy part. None of us can have watched the deterioration of standards without thinking that many of those situations could have been handled differently and better. But unless we speak out against it then no one will know what we think and the situation will continue. That applies to the service we receive from the telephone company to the actions and attitudes of our children and students.

The action part is a little harder. The best action we can take to avoid mediocrity is to set higher standards for ourselves and work every day to achieve them. That might mean little things like paying attention to the small details at work to ensuring that we come to work with an attitude to always do our best. It also means encouraging others at home and within the workplace to follow our lead. It may make you and some others uncomfortable for a little while but not accepting second best will certainly pay off for you and them in the long run.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit:



Leave a Comment
  1. Kitty Kilian / Nov 30 2011 3:39 pm

    I think everyone should read ‘On dying, mothers and fighting for your ideas’ by Jon Morrow. Thatr says it all.

  2. rachelpoling / Nov 30 2011 6:47 pm

    Very true! I think as a society, we have even come to celebrate mediocrity by encouraging the young to “blend in”, “be normal”. I’m not saying that celebrating abnormal-ness is right either. Rather, we should all strive to be ourselves, and compare our life with our own life, never with another person’s.

  3. John / Nov 30 2011 11:30 pm

    You are so right! I see it every day. People making excuses for not doing their best and just accepting whatever we get. It’s an epidemic that’s as challenging to confront as the other great epidemic in our society. Working for the sake of maximizing wealth rather than what we are passionate about, regardless of the cost to our society.

  4. milojar / Dec 1 2011 1:27 am

    Modern society and schooling do rather aim to churn out a bunch of drones that all know the same things – or are chastised for not knowing the list of things an older generation deemed important to know by a certain age. Rather than giving kids a free reign to explore the world around them when their natural curiosity and enthusiasm is at its peak, we have designed our educational institutions to teach kids to sit down, shut up and listen.

  5. Jeannette Paladino / Dec 1 2011 2:04 am

    Mediocrity is a becoming more of a problem because everything moves so swiftly now. A good example is prestigious publications like the New York Times that are caught up in the 24/7 news cycle and their own bloggers are pressed to get the news out quickly before Twitter steals their thunder. Doesn’t leave much time for fact checking.

  6. Neeraj Sachdeva / Dec 1 2011 3:26 am

    Mike, I am surprised I missed this one first time out (on LinkedIn). My thoughts on this topic are same as yours – Mediocrity is an accepted standard. The way things have turned out to be, surviving has become more important than living, so if one can earn their daily bread, have a roof over their head and clothes to wear, life is good. There aren’t many risk-takers who are willing to experiment (perhaps rightly so). Its a vicious circle – if you take a risk, you could fail; and because people don’t want to fail, they don’t take a risk!

  7. Catarina / Dec 1 2011 2:40 pm

    That’s one of the aspects of mediocrity, Mike. Agree with Jeannette that it’s getting worse because of everything moving swifly 24/7.

    Another aspect is that the majority of people in the world are mediocre when it comes to IQ. Always has been and always will be. So unfortunately it’s an aspect of mankind we will never get away from. By the way, many mediocre people regard themselves as intelligent, which makes it even more complicated:-)

  8. Dennis Salvatier / Dec 2 2011 8:15 am

    It’s a sad state this world is in, especially here in the states. I see young kids thinking it’s okay to be dumb and just squeeze by. Mediocrity is the cousin of laziness and the brother of not giving an eff. I think in this regard, technology has a lot to do with it. It makes life so easy in regards to a social life that they think it’s supposed to be like that all the time anywhere they go.

  9. on the ball parent coach / Dec 3 2011 10:45 pm

    You are right about mediocrity. What I appreciate most about this post is the solution you offer. Setting high standards and of course meeting them works!

    I place the onus of responsibility on adults (parents) to set the example.

    As a parent I can fall into the same peer pressure traps that my son does. I can allow him to go see an inappriate movie because “all the other parents” are doing the same. But as you point out, I know that years from now, I’ll be happy for rising above the muck. Being the exception to the rule can be very empowering not to mention successful.

  10. Jennifer Woodard / Dec 10 2011 3:44 pm


    Another great post as usual and mediocrity has invaded out society like the plague along with stupidity and a lack of morals. I am amazed at some of the things that people do these days. It is horrible and sad to see not only young people in such a state but adults with such awful behavior. We used to admire those who went beyond being mediocre but now we shake our heads at them and call them kiss ups at work and such things because they take the time to do a great job. We are almost afraid of those who aspire to be great, we don’t trust them and will even bad mouth them. It is really sad.

    Great job as always,
    Happy blogging,

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