Most people are more frightened of failure than of mediocrity. It should be the reverse.

Failure is a broken leg — painful, but easily fixed. Mediocrity is a creeping disease — invisible and insidious — that disables so completely that there’s often no recovery.

15 Responses to “Thought for the day: Failure vs. mediocrity”

  1. Matt Blair says:

    Failure’s broken leg heals, and if your gait changes a bit, that just adds nuance. Mediocrity is chronic, sometimes terminal, and almost always contagious.

  2. James Walker says:

    As James Cameron says in his TED talk. Failure is acceptable fear is not.

  3. 😉 Hi Dan,
    such a great metaphor, indeed!

    Also those who do things and take actions, do make mistakes. It is natural part of the learning process, which unfortunately is considered as failure, whereas it should be embraced.
    Rest of the cripples are just sitting on their buts and calling it failure and they just oversee their own disability – disability to take action, which is the greatest failure of all – not to act;-)

    cheers,
    i.

  4. Shirley Munk says:

    Yes, but it’s been hammered into most of North American workers that failure is unacceptable and mediocrity is equivalent to stable. Change in this belief system has to start in the schools and from my vantage point (mother of a school aged child), failure is still a big no-no. Pleasing others and fitting into a preferred mold still dominates thinking. Could we develop a vaccine for mediocrity?

  5. You should mention that the potential benefits of risking failure are far superior than that of risking mediocrity. That’s what makes it all worth while.

    Sure, you may break your leg, but you might also fly.

  6. I always liked Jim Collins’s distinction between “failure,” and what he called “fallure.”

    Failure is falling off the side of the mountain and crashing 2,000 feet to your death. That’s bad.

    Fallure is being properly roped in, trying for a difficult hold, missing it by a whisker, and slipping back down five feet. You reposition yourself, give it another try, and see if you can get it. Repeat until successful.

    Sometimes I worry that we as a society are losing the courage and good cheer needed to work through a lot of small mistakes. Most successful people make a lot of them. They regroup and keep ascending. How did that approach give way to being “voted off the island”? Can we reconsider this?

  7. Coincidence? An excerpt from my blog about to be released. At breakfast with NHL Wash’n Caps Coach Boudreau last week: “Reporters asked me at the beginning of the season, ‘what are you going for this season, Coach, 40 wins [out of 80 games]?'” He went on, “Are they kidding? We go for 80 wins! If we lose the first game, then we’re goin’ for 79. If we lose the second, it’s 78. If you go for anything less, you’ll just end up being mediocre. You have to push to be the best; shoot for the top. I don’t want to end up mediocre. It’s not worth it.”

  8. Collin Vine says:

    I agree yet my country, Canada, is built around mediocrity. Just look through history at our Prime Ministers and the band we reward the most: Nickleback. Help us please!
    However, mediocrity doesn’t seem to piss people off as everyone likes Canadians. I agree with Shirley Munk above when she alludes to society rewarding mediocrity. What if instead schools gave grades for creativity, for innovative problem solving, and for dreaming and exploring outside the normal curriculum? I wonder how things would be different…

  9. Having a broken leg also means you’re conspicuously different from everyone else, moving at a different/slower pace. That’s too painful for most people, even if they might eventually leapfrog ahead because of what they learned through the experience.

    Mediocrity is like being 10-15 pounds overweight. It’s not your ideal and it may be keeping you from achieving your full potential, but at least you have plenty of company.

    p.s. I agree w/Shirley: we should teach Failure 101 in schools.

  10. Brett says:

    I agree with Shirley (and Renita) that this should be addressed in schools, and would expand on that to say that we – as parents – need to teach and model this at home.

    As the parent of an autistic son (teenager), Renita’s reference to “conspicuously different” really hits home. It is all too easy, and common, for parents of autistic kids to try to make them “more normal”. To me, that is like saying, “more mediocre”.

    All of our kids have great strengths, we should encourage them to develop those strengths. Even if it means a bit of “discomfort” for them (and us).

  11. Monick Halm says:

    I agree with Brett, Shirley, Renita, and Collin, that this change in paradigm should move to the schools. However, the change should begin with us. A question I like to ask myself and my clients is — how are you allowing yourself to stay stagnant and safe, for fear of failure? In the long run, is mediocrity and stagnation really safe?

  12. VaishVijay says:

    Failure is noticeable hence can be conquered. Mediocrity is invisible and hard to recognize, let alone rectify!

  13. Captain Obvious says:

    “Failure is a broken leg — painful, but easily fixed. Mediocrity is a creeping disease — invisible and insidious — that disables so completely that there’s often no recovery.”

    Failure is short term (or at least for people with the right stuff), but mediocrity lasts a life time.

    Canada is very much a country that embraces the middle or mundane, and it unites us like nothing else. This overwhelming mindset of mediocrity by consensus, seems much worse in the suburbs, than it does in a big city such as Vancouver. Perhaps it is the city itself, its sophistication and sense of largeness, that inspires people to look outside the norm, and consider the path less traveled.

    Personally I would rather deal with the odd failure than live a life of regret

  14. Jane says:

    Mediocrity is a kudzu vine. Creeps up and then chokes the new growth. I do believe, however we may have a few “defoliants” available because of significant educational research.

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