In Praise of Mediocrity

My pedicurist just bought a beautiful old Steinway, not a baby grand, mind you, but a full-grown concert grand.  She intends to have a piano roll installed and make it a player piano since she doesn’t know how to play.  When I asked her why she doesn’t take lessons so she can enjoy playing it herself, she answered, “Because I will never be great at it, and I’m such a perfectionist, being mediocre would drive me crazy.”

How sad to be paralyzed by perfectionism.  I am often paralyzed by procrastination, but never by perfectionism.  If I worried about being perfect at everything I did, I would never have tried half the things I enjoy doing.  I play many musical instruments—the piano, the violin, the recorder (both soprano and alto), the tin whistle, and the baritone ukulele.  With all of them, I aspire to mediocrity.  Yes, I fairly stink at most of them, some more than others, but it doesn’t bother me a bit.  I enjoy playing them anyway.  I am by no means a perfectionist, and my life is richer for it.

We live in a world where being the best is the only thing.  Witness the Olympics where the commentators bemoan the athletes who had to settle for the silver medal.  Do I wish I were a better musician?  Of course.  Everyone desires to be better.  If I worked at it diligently, would I improve?  Absolutely.  But I would still never be better than mediocre, so let me stay where I am and enjoy myself rather than aim for an unreachable goal and be miserable in the striving.

All three of my children are phenomenal musicians, and I firmly believe they got their love of music from hearing it constantly in their home growing up.  That is a case of mediocrity inspiring greatness.  Sometimes, it is just the sheer exuberance that is transformational, not the skill.

So let’s celebrate the mediocre among us.  You don’t have to have the lead in the play.  You can be in the chorus of life and still enjoy the show.  And I think I want to learn the hammered dulcimer…

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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6 Responses to In Praise of Mediocrity

  1. Amy says:

    I echo what you said about the “mediocre”. I bet your standard for mediocre is our perfection. I started learning playing piano after my daughter went to college, and managed to play the easy version of Franz Liszt – Liebestraum (one of my favorite) a couple of years later. The reactions of my new learning were “Are you kidding?”, “Why?”, “Really?”,…
    My learning experience taught me to appreciate the ordinary people who are not musicians but can play.
    Great post. Thank you, Susan!

  2. Well said! Nothing ventured, nothing gained. A lesson all of us writers need reminding of every so often.

    • comingeast says:

      Thanks, Kelly. I actually was going through my old posts and noticed this one never had any tags, so I tweeted it, thinking no one would see it. Guess I was wrong. Wish I could figure out this Twitter thing. LOL!

  3. pajamadays says:

    Funny – I bet if you asked all three of us “musicians” what we think of ourselves, we would all agree that we could be better. But yes, it was wonderful growing up with music in the house.

    – Emily

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