I remember a time when a dream of climbing Matterhorn wasn’t unrealistic — even downhill mountain biking was not alien. Everything was somehow possible — from snowboarding off the steep ends of Chamonix to trekking until the tall walls of Baffin islands. In my naivety, all I needed was time and resources. One day while hogging a poorly cut pineapple I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I dreamt of riding a motorbike on a high Tibetan plateau — at that very moment, all I was planning for was a little decoration for my balcony.
It was one of those wait-a-minute! moments when the grand projections of life come crumbling down — a life that didn’t exist anymore. I figured I had become a stranger to my dreams. But it wasn’t always the case.
When I first moved to Germany, the amount of privilege I was able to exert on my environment meant that I could tick off a lot of unfinished businesses from my formative years without much effort. I could buy as many video games as I wanted. I obtained an unhealthy obsession with photography equipment. I kept getting elaborate LEGO sets for myself. I stayed out all night with friends — and still made it to coffee the next afternoon. It was an intense sense of freedom, a neat little starting point. In my mind, all the adventures of my life waited right around the corner. All of a sudden paragliders were affordable, and arctic grade jackets wasn’t that exclusive pieces of equipment. I could practice endlessly in indoor climbing gyms, and I could get bikes that I could pick up with my pinkie finger. All I had to do is start doing it.
Ironically I picked up none of that. All the projections of the future was merely an illusion. None of those visions of adventure came true. I had succumbed to the dreaded comfort zone, a cushy job and a few expensive hobbies. I had let mediocrity settle in me like mud settles in water — not fast enough to notice. Or so I thought.
Nothing beats riding on top of a bus on a hot day across the great plains of Bengal. Very few things are as exhilarating as dizzying Himalayan heights. From the tingling sensations on the spine in a dark forest to clearing snow off of a tent door — very few things trump the sense of adventure. But ironically all that I experienced as someone who didn’t even know what mediocrity is — I just did things because that’s how I learned to have fun.
It all went downhill when I starting asking myself whether I was living-the-life. Primarily because the moment we believe we are mediocre and something needs to change, anything out of our ordinary becomes a challenge — however mild. And as much as we like to celebrate hustle-porn, motivational speakers and dream-biggers, challenges do drain us and they are — if I may be so bold — unsustainable. Maybe we could do better; maybe I can do better.
Once the father of a friend of mine introduced me as my-son’s-friend-who-went-to-the-states. The way he introduced me bugged me for some time; I didn’t accept that a business trip to San Francisco isn’t necessarily a big deal to introduce anyone with. And in all honesty without context that would sound funny to someone who has a passport with access to pretty much the whole of the western world. But the town where my friend grew up in it is likely still very uncommon for most people to leave the state, let alone travel to the other side of the world. Mediocrity to the privileged is exceptional to others — not that there’s anything wrong with having privileges, but there’s something to be said about feeling mediocre.
The problem with mediocrity is that it doesn’t exist.
Anyone judging anyone or themselves on the scale of mediocrity is bound to do so in a dimension of their choosing. And that sort of judgement is inherently biased given the arbitrary nature of the dimension they choose to judge against. For example, compared to the population of the entire planet, I am among only a few people who ever camped at five thousand meters of altitude. But compared to all the Himalayan trekkers I know, it’s mere average. On the other side of things, I work in an industry which already makes me somewhat of a privileged individual in society — but if I look at my fellow professionals, my technical excellence is borderline mediocre. And I’m probably among a handful of people who won a round of an obscure arcade game at a bar on their first try — but among gamers, I’m an absolute loser. It’s impossible to determine my mediocrity without something that normalises the aspect I’m looking at. And usually, those normalities are driven by the immediate culture around us — it doesn’t have to be that way.
Mediocrity is a myth with a mildly negative connotation. I don’t think anyone should ever feel the need to get out of any perceived mediocrity. Looking back, raw physical adventure was my way of feeding my ego of exceptionalism. And when I found myself out of steam, I started judging myself against something as arbitrary as any flat-Earth claim. If I have to inflate my ego again I can still stay cooked up in a room and play Ocarina of Time blindfolded before I call myself or anything about anyone around me mediocre.