If you’ve ever looked at a motivational poster (and you’d be hard-pressed to avoid them!), you’ve probably noticed a pattern to the messaging on them. Each one will tell you how you have the potential to be the next Richard Branson, how you can take over the world, and that the only thing standing between you and greatness is a dearth of hard work.
These posters will also tell you that by not being the most successful version of yourself, you’re actually doing yourself a disservice. I remember seeing a quote that said something along the lines of “My dream is worth more than my sleep”, and of course the old favourite, “No pain, no gain”.
While I have nothing against motivating people to do better (it’s part of what I do!), I am wary of what I refer to as “toxic motivation”. By that, I mean the trend of telling people that if they aren’t putting themselves through metaphorical Hell to achieve something, that they aren’t doing enough. And that’s a rather narrow view to have, in my opinion.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being extremely ambitious or striving to achieve heights far beyond the grasp of the masses. If you want to build an empire that will one day be worth billions, or become a name that goes down in history, you should work towards that with everything you’ve got! Pull all-nighters, invest your savings, forego weekends in favour of work meetings—whatever you need to do.
What is wrong, is telling people that that’s how everyone should live.
Ambition is a very personal thing, and so is its impact on individual lives. For every goal-digger out there, are also four-five (maybe even more!) individuals who are rather content with their lives being mundane and normal—mediocre, even. Yet, the very word has been lent an aura of inferiority.
Is being “average” really such a bad thing? Does it make a human being less of a person if they don’t achieve their absolute ultimate potential? Of course not!
Before I continue, let’s just touch upon the subject of “potential” for a moment. Every human being is born with a certain amount of potential. From a purely abstract perspective (excluding individual factors like finances, personal responsibilities, health-imposed limitations, etc), each individual’s potential is truly infinite.
For instance, every healthy human body is capable of climbing mountains and swinging from trees, and even walking on our hands! But how many of us ever do? More importantly, how many of us even want to?
And that’s what most conversations around “potential” tend to ignore—personal choice. While a lot of us harbour the potential to be truly legendary, not all of us necessarily want to live that kind of life, or endure the path required to achieve it.
Being satisfied with an average life is often viewed as complacency, but I beg to differ. It takes great self-worth, inner peace, and happiness, to be truly satisfied with your life the way it is.
Those who are truly happy with where they are, and hence abstain from chasing the “greatness” of their potential, are often those who are also clearer about their personal priorities and life goals—a clarity so many of us struggle with.
The unwavering pursuit of “greatness”, while admirable, is also the leading cause of burnout amongst so many of today’s youth.
It is, after all, the reason Arianna Huffington was inspired to create Thrive Global. Far too many people feel the crushing pressure to become billionaires before they’re 30, or develop ground-breaking apps—all the while delaying enjoying the experiences that life has to offer.
Those of us who are comfortable with our “mediocre” lifestyles, usually enjoy a healthier work-life balance. Since we’re less compelled to slog at work all day, we channel our energies into our homes, our relationships, our hobbies—aspects of our life that give us the kind of joy and satisfaction that a Forbes-worthy career does not. And more often than not, those aspects of our lives tend to be the “great” ones.
So the next time you see someone spread toxic motivation, step in and speak up for the mediocre. Make a conscious effort not to use the word “mediocre” in a derogatory manner. And when the people around you choose not to pursue their full “potential”, support them. Average isn’t such a bad thing.
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