Letting Go of a Need for Greatness Is How You Improve

a blue background with a black hand over it making the okay sign
Image by Sylvar / CC BY

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.

This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.

The rare people who do become exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement. People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great — they’re mediocre, they are average — and that they could be so much better.

-Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

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The past year for me has largely been about moving from an “Am I great? I have to be great or it’s pointless” mindset to one that’s more like “I’m going to consistently practice and challenge myself a little bit every day.”

It all started with giving myself permission to write something that was just okay.

The results are better — it’s funny and a bit paradoxical. You would think stressing about quality would be helpful, but I’ve found it to be the opposite. Instead, fear of failure floods in and undermines my ability to produce anything at all.

I made a deal with myself that at the very least, I need to show up and produce something. This blog has dramatically helped my personal accountability, especially as readership has grown. As of this writing, about 10,000 individual readers visit this site every month, and some of you do so very regularly. If I don’t post, you’ll notice. I’ve made it 9 months without missing a day (I even had surgery!!!).

The process of posting regularly was quite hard when I first started. I had a big obstacle: I had to combat the reality that I was fooling myself about how much I was actually writing. For a long time, I had bought my own excuses. Given myself an infinite number of “out”s. Found every reason that I was too busy to make it happen. I convinced myself that no one really cared what I had to say and that the world didn’t need more writing. And then, even though I hadn’t written very much of anything (and certainly hadn’t shown it to anybody), I was still disappointed that I wasn’t “making it” as a writer.

I counted caring passionately about something without actually doing it as “work” or practice. I expected to get credit from the world for being attached to something.

This was a profoundly uncomfortable realization.

I had to cut the crap. And say to myself, “If you’re a writer, then you should be writing. Less daydreaming and hoping. More actually doing the thing.”

Forcing myself to actually do the work took a lot of time and willpower. But long term, I’m really happy with the change.

Enough About Writing, This Blog Is About Relationships

Okay, an artistic endeavor like writing is one thing. Relationships are another.

Right?

Well, not necessarily. It’s a lot to live up to: To be the perfect partner.

As I wrote in “Paying the Speeding Ticket: Why Self-Compassion Matters in Relationships,” when we view mistakes as life or death, we fight harder. Folks who are low in self-compassion have a harder time forgiving themselves when they make mistakes. But messing up is an inevitability. And when they mess up, they’ll deny it. Or rationalize it. Do anything but confess and take responsibility. And this quest to maintain a veneer of personal perfection undermines relationships.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a partner to be perfect. So long as they’re there for me (i.e., consistently showing up) and giving our relationship an honest effort (i.e., trying to improve), it goes a long way.

And what’s more: I realized that my problems with jealousy and insecurity stemmed from the same place as the writerly paralysis. I thought I only had value as a romantic partner, and as a human being, if I were great. Otherwise? I was worthless.

It was a terrible mental place to live in. I was at constant war with my flaws.

But slowly, surely, I crept towards a truce.  And it started by taking greatness out of the equation and giving myself permission to be just okay, so long as I kept on practicing and trying to improve.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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