Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our choice: Rise to greatness or wallow in mediocrity

“It is in the nature of man to rise to greatness if greatness is expected of him.”  —John Steinbeck

These words greet me twice a week as I prepare to push myself in physical therapy. Though a lot of energy is going into keeping track of reps, making sure each of my muscles are in proper alignment, and focusing on breaking past the mental block of anticipated pain, this quote still finds room to rattle away in my brain; as do all the other inspirational quotes and pictures of world-famous athletes surrounding me.

This week I happened to look at my bookshelf after returning home and realized Steinbeck had it right. Each story I cherish begins with ordinary people who became heroes because they recognized there was something they had to do, and that the fate of their world depended on it.

Bilbo Baggins chose to join a quest so quickly he forgot his hat and handkerchief at home. He went head to head with a dragon and lived to tell of it. His nephew decided to take on the task of destroying the ring Bilbo “won” in a game of riddles. He lost more than his finger, but more than his life was saved.

Pastor Dedrick Bonhoeffer set aside his life in order to stand opposed to the evil he saw coming out of the leadership of the Third Reich. He was executed just before the Allies freed Germany, but his life continues to inspire and the writings he never “perfected” impact countless lives each year.

And little Hellen Keller learned she didn’t have to have sight to see or ears to hear. Instead, with a little help from Anne Sullivan, she found a way to live vibrantly rather than wallow forever in the dungeon of “Life’s not fair.” And our world is a better place because of it.

Whether real or created, each of the individuals represented on my shelves captured my attention and admiration because they chose the path of the impossible, recognizing there was no other way to move forward in their lives.

That’s when it occurred to me: If it’s in the nature of man to rise to greatness when greatness is expected, then the reverse is also true.

It is in our nature to wallow in mediocrity if mediocrity is all that is required of us.

I’m not sure why it is that way, but so many of us, myself included, can be trapped into believing we have nothing of value to offer the world.

We’re not educated enough. Not attractive enough. Not driven enough. Not bold enough. Not strong enough….

And so like John Watson at the beginning of the BBC pilot of “Sherlock,” we sit in a chair and sullenly state, “Nothing ever happens to me.” Little do we understand that is only true so long as we allow it to be.

Is there an opportunity waiting on your doorstep today? Is a little choice knocking that has to potential to become a great adventure? Let’s stop hiding in the pantry chewing on the food of discontentment and mediocrity and throw the door wide open!

Yes, the road to greatness is filled with hurdles, hurts, trials, and disappointments. But there is a payoff at the end.

On the other hand, the cupboard of mediocrity houses only discouragement and regret.


  1. Well said, Jen! Also: very convicting. I've found myself thinking in a mediocre way more than once in the past few months especially. I know I need to stop and start actually *doing* - your post is such a kick in the butt to actually do it.

    I hope you find it for yourself, as well. :)

    1. This post has been two weeks in the making and it took two days to write it because I had to keep stopping to do some self-evaluation. Definitely been a kick in the butt for me as well! I'll be looking for you up in the mountains. ;)