I'm the best at being unexceptional
June 14, 2009 8:08 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with/accept that you are merely mediocre?

I am about to turn 35 and I am facing a hard realization: I've peaked and not that great. In my late 20s and early 30s My job was growing and the world seemed at my feet.

But I've now plateued and my attempts to grow further creatively or professionally seem to fail. Even when I have a success it's a mitigated success. I'm constantly second or third best and I am obsessed that i'm not THE best and it devistates me and i'm unable to just be happy that I'm better than some others.

Given that very few people are the best at anything I am having to come to terms that I am an average human and nothing makes me remarkable. But that honesty the depressed me.

So I'm wondering how people deal with merely being average.
posted by arniec to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Define success. Define average. Define the best. Are you looking for notoriety? fame? money? status? title? All of the above?

That's really step one. Anyway, I hear you. Such a hard question. The biggest lesson life throws at everyone is that you are not in control of the outcome. So much of "success" depends on luck-- being in the right place at the right time with the right idea. But that also means that you cannot let the world define success for you; that's why it's so important to answer step one and also to let the definition change with circumstance. I had "success" as an artist if you define success as getting into the right collections and earning the right prizes, but I missed on the money part and had to give it up because I couldn't afford to keep doing it. However, I replaced it with rearing children and I've got these incredible children. So am I a failure, or am I successful? I was a success professionally in another field, by title, status, fame (within the circle of the profession locally) and salary, but I was miserably unhappy. So I took a lower status, lower profile job, no one knows me anymore and I make half the money. But I don't have to come home and drink a couple of shots anymore. So, am I successful, or a failure?

Looks like failure, but man, it feels like success.
posted by nax at 8:17 AM on June 14, 2009 [14 favorites]

There are two stories I think about, both classical Hasidic stories, interestingly enough, since my problems with hasidism, the modern kind, are not few.

I was about to paraphrase but let's see what I can find online.

“Keep two truths in your pocket, and take them out according to the need of the moment. Let one be: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ And the other: ‘I am dust and ashes.’”

A famous Chasidic story relates that before his death Rabbi Zusya said, "In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses' they will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?

They're both open for lots of interpretation, but to me they mean that in the end, who I am and what I'm doing here isn't about any kind of relative ranking with other people, and 'average' isn't even a sensible way of talking about individual humans, for the most part.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:18 AM on June 14, 2009 [58 favorites]

I'm 53. The heights of my artistic success were around your age, my other field about 10 years later. sorry for the double
posted by nax at 8:20 AM on June 14, 2009

This way: my life is not about being better than everyone else. It's about having experiences and being ethical. Those two things are what get me out of bed every day. I don't have to compare myself to other people, I try to be a better me.

Take some time out to think about our Western competitive culture and whether you personally think it's an ideal way to run a world, or even your own life. Stop and think, what are the real milestones of your life - were they when you won an award that everyone (even you) forgot after a year, or was it the parties, the trips, the friendships, the flowers, the challenges, the joys, and even the crushing and devastating blows that you remember as important?

It'll take a while to reframe these ideas. It did for me.
posted by b33j at 8:22 AM on June 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

well, the current human population of the world is 6.53 billion people (2006 estimate). there are approximately 3,263,000,000 people you are way better than, at whatever you are average at. so you're doing pretty well already. good job!
posted by Mach5 at 8:24 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

facing a hard realization

I've peaked and not that great

my attempts to grow further creatively or professionally seem to fail

Even when I have a success it's a mitigated success.

I am obsessed that i'm not THE best

it devistates me

i'm unable to just be happy

But that honesty the depressed me.

I think you may be depressed. If you are, you might not be in a position to think clearly about yourself and what's going on in your life.

So before you start working on dealing with being mediocre, perhaps you should think about addressing being unhappy.
posted by clockzero at 8:30 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

My epiphany came when my best friend looked at me and asked "So at what point did you realize you were never going to be a great actor, but that you make a pretty good key grip?"

I strive to be the best key grip I can, and by concentrating my effort at being good at what I do. I am, most of the time, pretty satisfied with that. This is a lot easier than trying to figure out what I think people want from me, because mostly I get it wrong when I try.

You are rating your "performance" in life against the performance of others. There is no way you can expect to do this - because each "performance" is different and comes from a different base. Your life is not your neighbors life, how can you rate yourself against it?

In other words, you are an apple and they are an orange, Grasshopper. An apple cannot be a good orange. So concentrate on your, er, apple-ness.
posted by disclaimer at 8:31 AM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

3 thoughts:

1. You're not happy because you something is lacking, which if you had, would make you happy. By that metric, you'd never be happy, especially as you're constantly putting yourself in competition against others. There is almost always going to be someone better. So what, learn to do what you do best.

2. This is a temporary state, all the failures are leading up to a success.

3. You're having a pity party because the world isn't your feet. Boo fucking hoo, you're realized your limitations. That's sounds like the first step to doing something self satisfying as opposed to what other people think is or should be your success.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Part of what I've come to realize (and not because I'm the best in my field, but I've observed people who are) is that being at the top isn't always the soul-satisfying thing that we think it will be. That's because what makes us content with life isn't about arriving to some place or ability, but it's about maximizing goodness and having vital relationships. I generally look at my daughter these days, and I think that instead of being the best in my field, my responsibility is to provide a pocket of reality for her that allows her to thrive in life. Perhaps this is the kind of thing we were made for.

I think that our disappointment at times is that we have unreasonable expectations for what being "the best" will provide for us, and we've carried these expectations for awhile. Being in academics, this was a primary focus for me for awhile, and I find it hard to give up sometimes, as I (unfortunately) learned to define my worth in these terms. When I find that I have a hard time letting this go, I find that simply the idea of being able to let this go is very much a relief to me, and I continue to strive for it. I suspect that some day, when we give an accounting for it all, we'll be asked whether or not we made a difference to those who were close to us, not whether or not we maximized a particular skill set.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

maybe worrying about being "the best" by some terms that you've left unquestioned is actually what's getting in your way, and if you reexamine that and stop using those terms, you'll be moving on to creative/professional development before you know it. there might be a distinction between being able to grow and change, creatively, versus being able to get ahead of others on their terms.
posted by citron at 8:52 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Nobody ever lay on their deathbed wishing they'd spent more time at the office.
posted by K.P. at 8:55 AM on June 14, 2009 [10 favorites]

Two things to consider.

Is the thing that you're trying to do something that you just dig doing for its own sake? If it is, focus on that, and make that the measure of success. Compete only with your own self. That way, it isn't about whether the rest of the world likes the way you write/paint/sing/juggle/file paperwork/whatever, it's about whether you like the way you do it. whatever everyone else thinks is just gravy.

I am actually pretty damn good as a stage manager. But -- about a year ago it stopped being as much fun for me as it used to. I'm sure a lot of directors would be shocked to hear that I've kind of semi-retired, and I'm sure that if I really applied myself I could go further. But -- I don't want to. Because for me, it's not about whether I achieve success at something, it's about whether I am doing something I love. And I stopped loving stage managing that much. So, except for a couple shows for a company I love dearly, I don't do it any more, even though I'm good.

By that same token, what I do like to do is write. I'm not really successful at it -- yet - but I love doing it. So that's what I'm doing. If I get somewhere with it, great.

Second point: a director I had in college imparted this wisdom on me, and I've never forgotten it; she said that you should live your life by a method rather than towards a goal. Look at it this way, she said -- we all live long lives. We are all very likely to change our goals a few times over the course of our lives. So trying to live our lives towards a single goal doesn't really make sense...because, well, what if you never get there? Or, what if you get there really young, and then what are you going to do?

On the other hand, if you live your life by a certain method or ethos -- say, "I am always going to endeavor to do my best at everything" or (this is mine) "I am always going to endeavor to do things in a way that is true to my own self" -- then no matter what you try to do, or how successful you are at it, if you've done it by that ethos, you've won. If you have a center ethos around which you build your life, you can switch goals as often as you like -- and still be a success, if you stick to that ethos.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2009 [24 favorites]

I wonder why you feel the need to be the BEST, as opposed to being highly competent and uniquely able? Not knowing your field it's hard for me to speculate but personally, my field doesn't have a single pinnacle but rather a top tier. On good days I feel like I belong to that top tier, but that's not due to being any better than my peers, i.e. it's not a relative measure. I've internally defined the top tier and then judge for myself if I'm worthy of it.
Most importantly, there's no one thing that you can do that will permanently ensconce one in the upper echelons, because residency there is a maintenance function. It can look like a plateau if you're only looking at output, but in science at least, there is a constant flurry of inputs needed to keep oneself at the tier you want to be in.
So my advice, if any is to stop taking external relative measures of your worth, and instead evaluate your success only internally: are you doing things as well as you were doing last year? are you doing better? is your understanding more clear and nuanced? have you been able to communicate that effectively to others?
I would suggest that the idea of being superlative at something is a fool's ambition, as at most, it is a fleeting accomplishment and you will soon not be the BEST, surpassed by those who were simply average before. To avoid this dissapointment, then you should re-direct your ambitions and have a more constructive definition of success.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:12 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

What is the best anyway? I'm pretty young, but I've already realized that (especially in creative fields) the best isn't always the most talented or the hardest-working, it often means the person who sells themselves harder, or who knows the right people/has the best connections, or in a few cases, who is willing to lie. At least in the fields I'm familiar with, most people take "the best" with a grain of salt.
Plenty of people do just fine without constantly worrying about being better than other people. It's a matter of finding your own work to be fulfilling because you think it's good. Especially helpful is finding fulfillment from other places than work. Family, friends, hobbies, relationships, or even simple things like good food, nice scenery, entertainment, etc., can all be places where people find joy without competition.
posted by ishotjr at 9:15 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you're in a creative field, you could be forcing it too much. My ex, the painter, was miserable for years because he hadn't turned out a masterpiece by the age of 30. Between 28 and 32, he attempted suicide several times and would have died had I not found him by chance the last time. He persued something to which he was not suited and ignored the one thing he was wonderful at because it was not in fashion at the time. He's obviously come to terms as he's still around. My point: define success. All the flowers in the garden are beautiful but only one will win top prize in a show based on very rigid criteria that, most times, don't make for a flower that looks very alive. We're raised to believe that we have to be first or we're no good/second rate/a failure. No so. A psychiatrist told me long ago when I was trying to cope with the ex (paraphrasing) that countries depend on stable populations for their success, that even the least of us forms part of the fabric of life that cannot exist without all our contributions, that we are all important to our society. Not warm and fuzzy, but fairly accurate.

I judge success in relative terms: how far is it from where you started to where you are now. And I factor in life satisfaction: yes, you can get the top job if all you do is your job and don't bother with family, friends, free time, and don't care if you're ruthless, but is that worth it? This could sound like rationalization from another 'loser', but it's not; it's the way that it works: pay the price and you'll get your shot. I'd suggest you volunteer to read to someone or teach someone to read (or draw?) Helps to put things in perspective.
posted by x46 at 9:21 AM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

I went through something similar in my mid-20s when I went to a much better college than I had any right to attend and was horrified to find that I was never the smartest person in the room anymore. I was an egomaniac who defined his self-worth externally, by comparing myself to others. Is that you?

For me what helped was redirecting my concept of myself towards things I wanted to do--"What will make me happy in this life?" I see that most folks in this thread are recommending the same.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the day is young. I know tons of people who had their great idea, their life/professional breakthrough, in their 40s and 50s. I did.

So figure out what makes you happy, and don't write yourself off so quickly. And good luck!
posted by LarryC at 9:32 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm a lab technologist, without any desire to go a step up to supervisor because that would take me away from what I really like, using my hands, my expertise, and my brain, forcing me into administrative duties that I dislike.

I have found that feeling competent and successful depends a lot on my work environment: in some labs I have felt good about what I do, in some others I felt restless, bored and disinterested. It all depends on co-workers and the tone set by the lab director.

Could a move to a different work environment help you?
posted by francesca too at 9:38 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

When my dad died, no objective collection of metrics would have shown him to be even a moderate success. He was a college dropout, fitfully employed truck mechanic and recovering alcoholic who had struggled with manic-depression all his life. He lived in a trailer, drove old Hondas and never had any money. But when he passed, there was an entire church full of crying people at his funeral because he was so loved by everyone who knew him (even though he drove them crazy). The minister could barely get through the service because she was so upset. My sisters and I and our step-mom still miss him almost a decade after his death. That's success. If other people love you and give a damn that you exist and would cry if anything happened to you, then you've succeeded. The rest is meaningless.
posted by octothorpe at 10:02 AM on June 14, 2009 [48 favorites]

Sounds to me like you are giving up and settling for whatever you think is less than best. You have two options here. Change your definition of success as most posters above have suggested or keep working at getting better. I am not the best yet at what I do, but at the age of 45+ I have not yet chosen to give up trying. I am giving myself until retirement before I give up.

I used to interview a lot of freshly minted college grads looking to become traders. Whenever one of them asked me what the average trader made, I would eliminate them from job contention. Who wants someone striving to be mediocre? I almost5 always hired the candidate that asked what the best trader made.

I guess your third choice is to just accept being less than best and be depressed about it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:10 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sit and face the wall; recognize that there is nothing wrong with you. Work to have the attitude towards yourself that you would have towards a young person you love and want the best for: "I love you exactly as you are, and I will help you work to become whatever you want to be."
posted by Lexica at 10:23 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

A point that a number of people have illustrated above is that the sum of a man's life is his death. So, imagine your own funeral, your own eulogy. How much of that will be taken up by "Arniec was the leading national sales person for Phamacare three years running, and leaves behind a really big house in Suburbville and a country estate in Upperclasstopia"?

Dude, none of it. It's not about how good you are, it's about how good you are to the people around you.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Great book, whether or not you're into Zen: Nothing Special. Realizing you're ordinary is a breakthrough. You're doing it right.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:43 AM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've bred. My evolutionary duty—the only thing I was designed to do—is fulfilled. The rest, whatever that may entail, is just a bonus.

No, I don't think this every single day, but it helps me when I try to tell myself that the planet must be just thrilled to have me here.

posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 11:16 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fauxscot's rule of universal fame:

We are all equally famous. Most of the world does not know who Barak Obama is. (He's alive and well publicized.) When you add in the dead, it's even worse. Go out and ask the first 10 people you see who Euclid is. Or Descartes. Or Teller. Or Tesla. Or Joan Sutherland. Or Edwin Armstrong.

We are all equally ignorant. The body of human kowledge grows more in an hour or two than you can learn in your lifetime. Even the most brilliant among us is ignorant of most of it.

My better half often says that the entire world will be sucked into the sun in a few billion years. She's right. And at that point, none of it will matter any more than it does now.

You can strive for perfection in what you do and your assessment of your achievement is all that matters. Better people than all of us have gone to their deaths unrecognized. It's the human condition. Not much comes from fighting it.
posted by FauxScot at 11:25 AM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Be the best arniec you can. How that compares to other people is irrelevant.
posted by Ookseer at 11:43 AM on June 14, 2009

Man, I'm quite a few years younger than you, and I've been through this cycle twice already. When I was younger, I was in art school and in a band. The band was phenomenal and I threw myself into it, to the exclusion of my studies. We practiced constantly, played tons of shows, and developed a following. But, I realized that I wasn't as good as my band mates and I had to decide between years of uncertainty playing music or whatever stability I could get by finishing college. So, I left the band, and they've gone on to have their success after years of struggle.
I finished college, ultimately. I threw myself into that, too, trying to be the best. There was a while when I had a lot of good ideas, creative concepts, and some good execution but it was really hard to stay self motivated. I also had no way of really defining what success was in that context. Is it making a living? Cause that wasn't happening. Was it getting shows? I didn't really have anything cohesive to show after I graduated. Was it being internally motivated? Not much of that was going on either. So I guess I didn't have a whole lot of professional success as an artist.

What fixed it for me was getting into a field that's constantly challenging, constantly evolving, and is externally motivating. I got into fixing cars, not as some sort of regression, with creativity being somehow superior to trade mastery, but as a progression of what I had learned I needed to feel successful and productive. I realized that when I work, I prefer clear criteria for accomplishment, clear procedure, and a structure of external motivation (i.e. This is broken. You get paid to fix.) After a couple years of that, I realized that I also wanted a structure for continued learning and an environment that would keep me on the cutting edge, so I wouldn't have to find the energy and willpower to explore my field after working all day. The fun exciting stuff would come to me, rather than drumming up the motivation to seek it out (a problem I had as an artist). So, I got myself into a shop that works on high end cars and sends me to training frequently. After plateauing a couple times, I've put myself in a situation where it's almost impossible to plateau. Some new technology will come out and I'll get trained on it. The advancement is inevitable. I won't get stuck making the same paintings or same music for years, feeling as though all of my success is behind me.
I also wound up in a position where nobody is "the best" until they've had 25 years of experience. There's so much diagnostic experience, subtle perception, and tactile knowledge required to be "the best" at this that it's nearly impossible to gain that kind of status with less than 10 years in the field. So, that takes a lot of pressure off.

So, am I going to have albums in the charts? Paintings in museums? Nope. Not a freakin chance.
I am, however, going to make a great living doing interesting, challenging work at the cutting edge of my field.

Think of it this way: Mediocrity is when you don't care about the quality of the job you do. Just by striving to be good at what you're doing makes you above average and exceptional. You've got Ricky Bobby in your head telling you, "If you're not first, you're last." That's really not the case.
Success for me (and 99% of the rest of the world I suspect) is doing a good job at what you do, and enjoying it while you do it.

On Preview, I've been reading over you post a couple times, and I've kind of realized that I occasionally feel like you describe. But it's only when I'm bored or not interested in what I'm doing. You very well might need a change of scenery or a new experience. It sounds like you're hungry for something fresh or a new motive.
posted by Jon-o at 11:49 AM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

"my attempts to grow further creatively or professionally seem to fail"

There is a lot of hope in this statement - these were just attempts, and it appeared to be a failure. So many, many anecdotes and stories about those who simply did not give up, from Thomas Edison ("I now have 10,000 things I won't try again in making an electric light bulb a reality") to Abraham Lincoln (okay, described by Snopes as a 'glurge' but nonetheless instructive).

I am convinced that - having made several very very expen$ive errors recently (having something, um, to do with a recent employer as well as deciding not to sell overpriced real estate when I had many chances to do so earlier) - I have the time and the talent to not only learn from my mistakes but also to thrive from them. The ability to persist through setbacks and troubles are the hallmark of many of the 'best' that you may be holding up as a model.

Of course being the best you can be is the real test. I'm a bit older and if I stopped trying to be better at 35 I would have fallen far short of where I am today (and hope to be again in another 5 or 10 years).
posted by scooterdog at 11:50 AM on June 14, 2009

If other people love you and give a damn that you exist and would cry if anything happened to you, then you've succeeded. The rest is meaningless.

QFT. Although I feel you (I've got a post-grad degree and at least some creative talent and yet I am a low-level office monkey, tho partly by choice), unless you make it REALLY big and change the world or become an awesome artist, almost no one is going to remember you for your professional achievements. Loads of people however will remember you for being a great friend, great relative, or just a good person.

Also, something else that has helped me - rather than wanting to be better than others, try to actively enjoy the genius of others. I know I will never be Kandinsky, but I can go into a Kandinsky exhibition and be blown away and spend hours enjoying his paintings. That is more than someone who doesn't "get" Kandinsky can do (replace with music, sports, flower arrangements, whatever floats your boat). So, rather than striving to be the best, just concentrate on enjoying the wondrous world around you.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:54 AM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I HAVEN'T bred. My ethical duty to the planet - the only thing I could rationally do - is fulfilled. The rest, whatever that may entail, is just a bonus.

No, I don't think this every single day, but it helps me when I try to tell myself that the planet must be just thrilled to have me here.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:54 AM on June 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

Try creating a document:

Who do you want to be, lifestyle-wise?
What do you want to be doing for work?
Why make these changes?
How to make these changes?
Where do you want to be location-wise?
When do you want to do all this by?

Put some thought into filling-in some points for each section. Basically a who/what/when/where/why/how for your life. I've found it to be useful to focus on goals going forward, how to improve the things that make you unhappy.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 12:09 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember that people are not just their jobs. Look at the whole picture.

Consider the people you love. Do you judge them harshly because they aren't the best at what they do? Try to give yourself the same treatment.

Now look at the people who *are* the best in your field. Are their personal lives as enviable as their work success? I've rarely met people who are able to achieve true excellence in both. Sacrifices are usually required in one or the other.
posted by pizzazz at 12:35 PM on June 14, 2009

It was a Christopher Morley quote that helped me cope with the mediocrity realization:

There is only one success - to be able to spend your life in your own way.
posted by carsonb at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

You can judge success by this. When you die, how many people will be standing around saying things like...Boy, I'm really gonna miss that guy. or, Jeez, my world was a lot easier because arnie was around. Or, remember the time when my world fell apart and my friend arnie was there helping me. If alot of the people who were in your life are genuinely crying over losing you. That's success.

If there's a lot of people who'll be saying things like that-- you'll have lived an exceptional life...I work a lot of funerals where hardly anyone is there...and they have family that says a lot about the quality of a person's life.
posted by AuntieRuth at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2009

The silver lining in your new attitude is that you can, if you choose, become more interested in helping other people. Do that right and you will get more respect and affection than you could have being a super-star.
posted by conrad53 at 4:07 PM on June 14, 2009

A great comfort, for many reasons, comes from The Muppet Show (of course):

When you're an Ugly like me,
You're in good com-pan-y
Cause there's plenty of Uglies like us!

At least you're in good company dude. :)
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2009

I would suggest that if you were the best in the world at doing something that acted on other people at a distance, so that you were at a great remove from the people you affected, it would not make you happy.

I would also suggest that if you were strongly competent and effective with people who were right around you, so that they relied on you and missed you when you were not around, it would make you happy.

In other words, tweak the distance at which you expect to have some effect. Bring it closer to you. If you do you'll stop measuring how grand or not-grand you are; it won't matter to you anymore.
posted by argybarg at 4:40 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh I've misquoted that horribly. But the point remains. Being average is nothing to be ashamed of.
posted by smoke at 4:41 PM on June 14, 2009

And by the way, most people recognize some value in the bits about being the best me I can or being important to the people around me -- they just suspect, deep down, that they're booby prizes for not hitting the lottery of fame or wealth. A good deal of maturity comes in realizing that fame and wealth are actually booby prizes for, in 99% of the cases, pissing away the real wealth of your life, gutting yourself in return for ephemeral and abstract rewards. Just start focusing on helping others and being a good friend and kind person. Seek out real rewards and play the long game. The rest is utter crap.
posted by argybarg at 4:51 PM on June 14, 2009

If you were the "best," everyone that you interacted with would be, by definition, less talented or less [whatever] than you. Wouldn't that be boring? Find the aspects of others that make them multi-dimensional and hope that they find the same in you.
posted by Morrigan at 5:17 PM on June 14, 2009

So I'm wondering how people deal with merely being average.

I recently found out what happened to one of the most interesting people I knew in high school. This guy was so passionate, so unusual, that I expected him to become something "big time" --- big-time professor, big-time writer, something like that. But I learned that this guy is working in a very unglamorous job, a job with absolutely no prestige ... but he's making a real life out of it, and seems to really enjoy what he is doing. And he's wholeheartedly pursuing his passions outside of work. I found some pictures on Flickr of him and his co-workers at the no-prestige job, and there was a big smile on his face. There was a lot of wisdom in that smile.
posted by jayder at 11:55 PM on June 14, 2009

From a review of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3:

In January 1949, when C.S. Lewis was only 50, he thought his life was over. "I feel my zeal for writing, and whatever talent I originally possessed, to be decreasing; nor (I believe) do I please my readers as I used to." The unassuming Oxford don once said he'd be remembered as "one of those men who was a famous writer in his forties and dies unknown."

Then he began having nightmares about lions.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was written quickly and published in 1950, became an enduring success. "I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came," Lewis wrote later. "But once He was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon He pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him."
posted by relucent at 6:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're feeling envious of others' success and their being better than you, consider this quote:

"Omnia fui et nihil expedit" (I have been everything. And all was of little value)
- Septimius Severus: soldier, general, governor, senator, Roman emperor.

Of course realizing that might push you into an existential depression...but that is another matter :)
posted by 7life at 3:26 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Recently, I switched my definition of success from what I achieved to what I experienced. If I can create the life where I get to have the experiences I want, that will be success. It's a lot easier. It's also a lot more realistic to achieve. To enjoy the life I have in the way I want to enjoy it, that is what I want. Life is a gift to be spent wisely. Do you really want to spend it torturing yourself about how you compare to others on some objective measure of achievement?
posted by salvia at 1:12 AM on June 16, 2009

Do you make at least $30k? If so, you're in the top 7% of the richest people in the world.
posted by WCityMike at 3:57 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

So I'm just heading out of DC after a visit with my brother before he flies away to another country for two years. That aside, one thing that I noticed constantly while I was here was that after finding out my name and where I lived, people in DC would ask, "So what are you doing in Philadelphia?"

I know what they are really asking. They are wondering what my job is. And honestly, this isn't unique to DC. It happens in many places here in the US. I'm sure I've been guilty of asking that question, although I like to think that I ask other questions first, and that I at least have the courtesy to phrase it as "So, what's your job?"

The tendency for people to identify who you are and what you do directly with your job, career, or professional progress is a horrible disease, in my opinion. Any time I tap into that, I personally am going to feel a bit sick.

After a year in Egypt, my attitude towards a career changed a lot. Over there it's really not that important what you do for a living. Hardly anyone ever asks you what you do for a living there (unless you run into expats, of course). They ask you about your family, your health.

When people in DC asked me this weekend, "What are you doing in Philadelphia?" I always answered, "Living with my fiancee." I think that's a fantastic answer. I am doing a really awesome job at that, no one is better at living with my fiancee than I am.

Also: ...I've now plateued and my attempts to grow further creatively
If you feel stifled creatively, that might be something to pay attention to. I personally find that when I have opportunities to express new forms of creativity, that gets my energy and mood growing again. Maybe find new creative things to do?

All that being said, I am not yet 35. I would not be surprised if I have some feelings of regret about what I'm doing and have done with my life when I reach that age, and maybe even earlier or later. Part of this feeling for me would revolve over not fulfilling some of my dreams. I invite you feel free to grieve and mourn whatever dreams or aspirations that you couldn't achieve, understanding that you still have plenty of time to make steps to realize those or other dreams.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:29 AM on June 21, 2009

My quick smart ass answer in violation of the culture here would be:
Are you an Oakland Raider Quarterback?
But really, my related point is that, almost no one is the best, and even if they are it can change quickly.
Compete with your self. Be better, even if you aren't the best. The journey is the reward and all that stuff.
And do stuff you like, even if you aren't best at it. The things that give me the most joy doing I happen to be really bad it. Music and sports, darn it. But I'm not going to give them up just because I suck.
posted by cccorlew at 7:32 AM on June 21, 2009

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