Aim Low: The Proliferation of Mediocrity

A long time ago, in an office park or factory far, far, away, work ethic mattered.

You punched your clock, worked your hump off during your 9 to 5, and then you went home. Monday through Friday, for 50 weeks of the year, wash, rinse, and repeat. White collar or blue collar, it didn’t matter, you didn’t phone it in, you worked hard from whistle to whistle. You were proud of not only what you did, but how you did it. Hard work was rewarded and it was it’s own reward.

I have been working one job or another, full and part time–sometimes both–since I was 16 years old; 23 years. From my first jobs in the New York City Summer Youth Program and McDonald’s all the way to now, my parents instilled in me the importance of always doing your best. To borrow a phrase from the old Air Force recruiting campaign: Aim High. Somewhere along the way things changed, society changed.

Now it seems that all the effort is being put into people doing their best to be adequate. People want to do as little working, thinking, and producing as possible. They want to be paid great sums for simply showing up and leaving on time. A job, and to a greater extent a career were investments.

Now people treat them like a rental car with full insurance. Drive it as hard as you want, flying over speed bumps and potholes and then just leave it in the parking lot with the keys on the dash. So what if you left it in worse condition then you found it. Doesn’t matter, you don’t own it, it’s someone else’s problem. You were just along for the ride. People want to be reward for success without taking any risks to make it successful.

Mediocre is the new standard. I don’t know if it happened when our kids’ sports leagues started being all inclusive. You sign up, you pay your money, you play. Skill didn’t matter. Effort didn’t matter. As long as you showed up, you got a trophy. Everyone goes to the tournament.

When I was a kid, you had to try out and make the team. Then you had to try out again for the all-star team. Only the players on the winning teams received trophies and awards. Maybe because we conditioned ourselves to believe that showing up on time was all that mattered, we stopped caring about things like pride and effort. I guess if you know you are going to get paid not matter what, why bother doing anything other than taking up space. Depend on someone else to tell you exactly what to do and do not deviate from the plan. That way, if something goes wrong you can point fingers and say you only did what you were told. No need to think for yourself and take ownership of a project or unexpected problem, just raise your hand and say “present” when attendance is taken.

I refuse to be mediocre. Me and my wife are raising our daughters to always do their best and not just stand up and be counted. They are being taught to be leaders and not followers. To interact and be a part of not only powering the ship, but steering and plotting the course. There will be pitfalls and icebergs along the way, but keep your head up and adjust as needed. They will experience failure and success, but they will never be satisfied with just being along for the ride.

Can you imagine if the Wright Brothers stopped at just getting of the ground and traveling a short distance? Build a canal? No, let’s just take our boat around South America, it won’t take too long The phrase “shoot for the moon” should have meaning again. The sky isn’t the limit, it’s just a stepping stone on the way to greatness. Of course if you are happy being mediocre, go right ahead, you’ll be working for my kids one day.

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