Popular culture doesn’t seem to value hard work and grit: what’s glamorized is either effortless excellence (really, just the image of effortless excellence—ask these paragons and you’ll find all of them put in the work) and intentional ineptitude. Favoring effortless excellence isn’t necessarily too bad, though if you ask and get a straight answer out of these paragons, you’ll find that all of them have put in the work.
What’s worse is that admitting defeat and claiming that you “suck at [insert subject here]” or are “naturally unathletic” has become a neutral or even positive statement! These aren’t being used to support the progress we’ve made—we’re just giving up on entire fields of study and entire life domains, with the flimsiest of excuses. It’s a cheap way to avoid bettering yourself, skip the hard work, and remain incurious. And like crabs in a bucket, if you don’t buy in to this ethos, you’re labeled a “tryhard”, stereotyped as a type-A with an inferiority complex.
A society that normalizes mediocrity is one that is unambitious, incapable of imagining anything beyond the status quo. Whatever happened to American exceptionalism? We used to put people on the Moon with less than a TI-83 calculator’s worth of processing power, just because we could. Today, we’re so far descended that I can’t even think of an equivalent public works project! Government has been gridlocked for so long that we’ve been Stockholm syndromed into thinking gridlock is a good thing!
There are, of course, bastions of hard work and excellence today. Most notably, the COVID vaccine development and rollout has shown me that if we’re properly incentivized, we can still do great things. Startup culture, as championed by Elon Musk and others, also focuses on grinding out hours in pursuit of a long-shot goal. Overall, however, it seems like most are content to be mediocre. Even those who do seek excellence in some domains make excuses for other parts of their life.
I’m just as guilty as anybody else in this regard; I find myself making excuses for my own mediocrity over and over again. But no more! I don’t want to just be good to great at a couple things and terrible at the rest by default—I want to be a philosopher-warrior, a Renaissance man. I’m going to tryhard tryharding: I’ll notice and note when I make an excuse for inaction. Thus, if I don’t work to improve myself somewhere, it’ll be an explicit choice to not do so instead of just defaulting to mediocrity. Life’s too short to not realize your potential.