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: