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The Best Defense Against Becoming Mediocre

Michael Maupin
5 min readMar 31, 2018


“Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity.” — Will Smith

I’ve thought about this since I was a kid. Well, it seems at least that long.

And I’m willing to bet it occurred to me around the time I developed a fascination with Leonardo da Vinci, Edgar Allen Poe, and Vincent van Gogh. Of course they’re artists that most people would now hold up as examples of excellence.

All-Time Hall of Excellence Greats. Oh and Homer too.

That probably wasn’t the case in their time. (And yeah, I know: aging white males. Guess this has been an ongoing problem for centuries.)

It got me thinking, curious preteen that I was, about my place in the world, raising questions such as, “Am I exceptional? What about my family? Were my late parents examples of excellence? Or were they just mediocre?”

That really got under my skin.

So now I have to ask: What is mediocrity? What is excellence? If mediocrity exists, is it harmful or helpful? Is excellence always good, or even necessary? Does one impede the other? How would we know?

Call me old fashioned, but excellence, I believe, is worthy of respect. Even of awe.

Mediocrity is the polar opposite. To call it a “nemesis” would mean it had a plan. It has no such thing. Mediocrity, I believe, is conformity, passively accepting “things as they are.” Mediocrity thrives on the assumption: “That’s the way we’ve always done it. Don’t change it just for the sake of changing it!”

Excellence, to me, isn’t talent or natural ability. That, I believe, is overrated. Excellence means starting from one level (maybe even beginner) and rising to another, higher level. The best of the best can still fail. That doesn’t mean they’re forever branded that way. It goes back to the definition of mediocrity: “That’s the way…” and there you go. Excellence can mean a multitude of things depending on ability. If you’re actively striving (and not just wishing and hoping), then you’re on the path to excellence. It doesn’t end. There is no finish line. And that’s a good thing, strange as it may seem.



Michael Maupin

Writer, editor, and media maker. Blogs at Completely in the Dark ( and lives in Minneapolis, MN. I notice things.