On Mediocrity & Moderate Success — Issue #12
The difference between mediocrity and success is imperceivable to those who look to other people for their own validation. Most of us can be described as moderately successful; we should give ourselves credit.
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Lately, I’ve listened to some people lamenting that they didn’t get the success they hoped for. And that got me reflecting on this sort of moderate success. When people are good at what you’re doing, and they also found access to enough money to live off of their skills comfortably. They have people who care for them, and furthermore, they find enjoyment in what they’re doing! But they still don’t feel satisfied with themselves.
I enjoy exploring topics like this through cultural means, so let me recommend you a movie that’s one of my favorites. It’s called Amadeus, directed by Miloš Forman (Czech director). It may seem implied through the title of the film that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the main character, but I would argue that’s not the case. In my view, the main character of the movie is Antonio Salieri.
The movie is loosely historical, but its point is not to be historically accurate. Instead, it goes deep into exploring the idea of self-perceived mediocrity. By any measure, Antonio Salieri was an immensely accomplished composer. He was financially well off and composed many great operas. Yet, all his accomplishments were overshadowed by young Mozart, who had to put seemingly no effort into his compositions. The name of the movie itself is also very clever. A movie about Salieri being called Amadeus is yet another way Salieri was beclouded by his counterpart.
Mozart’s genius was very apparent and perhaps most so to Salieri himself. No amount of Salieri’s hard work seemed to reach anywhere near Mozart’s levels of greatness.
Salieri felt himself being punished by God. And we all get haunted by the success of others from time to time. There’s always someone younger and faster than us. And it might feel like we’re working very hard while it comes effortlessly to others. In this way, I feel like we all have a little of Salieri’s character in ourselves. This can blind us to the successes throughout our lives.
To not fall into the pit of despair over the successes of others, we should get better at acknowledging our own. Only once you realize your own value can you go and advocate for yourself from a place of truth and not from a position of feeling like an impostor. Instead of being blindly confident, you should get confident intentionally.
Instead of being blindly confident, you should get confident intentionally.
A number one practice that I universally recommend is keeping a list of your accomplishments (some call it their brag book). Keep this somewhere you see it and update it regularly. Make a recurrent event in your calendar to sit down and write even the banalest of your achievements. And I especially recommend it to people who feel a bit off doing this. If you’re already not good at selling your success to yourself, you’re very likely underselling yourself to others as well.
Eventually, Mozart died in poverty while Salieri lived a well-off life. To his old age, belittled by someone else’s genius overlooking his own success. It’s a tragic story as it shows how far your self-doubt can go and how it can consume your entire life. Don’t become Salieri, but do go and watch the movie; it’s well worth the watch!
Have a wonderful Sunday!
PS: As far as I’m aware, there’s no documented historical rivalry between Salieri and Mozart. It seems to be only historical fiction. But it’s so well presented in the movie that I wanted to use it to get the point across :)
PPS: I’m slowing down with these letters. Since they already stopped being weekly, I might make them bi-weekly. It consumes surprisingly a lot of time to write up something that makes sense, even if I still keep them experimental. And other life priorities get in the way.
PPPS: I also decided to start publishing these on Medium. Let’s see what happens. If you don’t follow me there yet, please consider doing so, and let’s stay in touch if you publish there as well :)
PPPPS: I really enjoyed this tweet from Tobias van Schneider, a person I would consider very successful.
This article originally came out as an issue of my personal mailing list. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing.