I watched Don Juan de Marco again the other day, that charming Johnny Depp/Marlon Brando movie, and was struck when Depp’s character mentioned that we “surrendered our lives to the momentum of mediocrity.”
Mediocrity does gain momentum doesn’t it? You just wake up one day asking yourself if this is all there is. So I began to wonder what the symptoms of a mediocre life would be. See if any of the following statements resonate with you.
- I cook predictable dinners and don’t remember the last time I tried a new recipe.
- Sex is same old same old and not as often.
- My job has become repetitive and boring OR my job is so stressful that I’m exhausted at the end of every day.
- I haven’t changed my hairstyle or hair color in several years.
- I haven’t been on a picnic in years.
- I keep buying the same kinds of clothes in the same colors, or worse, I haven’t been clothes shopping in over a year.
- I find myself doing just enough to get by.
- I often wonder if this is all there is.
- I can’t remember the last time my significant other and I had a genuinely intimate conversation.
- I haven’t had a genuine belly laugh in a long time.
- It never occurs to me to make a date with myself and spend a few hours doing what I like to do OR worse, I have no idea what I’d do with a few hours of free time.
- I haven’t learned anything new since I was in school.
- I don’t feel like I’m an expert at anything.
- I don’t have much joy in my life.
- I watch more than an hour of TV each day.
- I don’t really get much exercise.
- I haven’t tried something new in a long time.
- My spouse and I don’t go on dates anymore.
- I’m pretty plugged in and can’t imagine going for a couple of days without texting, emailing, or going onto Facebook.
- My life is comfortable and predictable.
- I go to bed early because I’m bored and want the day to be over with.
- I don’t remember the last time I joyfully sang along to a favorite song in the car.
- I don’t know how to make a more interesting sandwich.
- I haven’t left the town where I live in over two years.
- I don’t go to museums, shows, or other cultural events.
- I haven’t had a nice long talk with a close friend in a while.
- I don’t know much about my children’s hopes and dreams.
Any of these statements hit home for you? Then you may be stuck in a rut; you have surrendered your life to the momentum of mediocrity. You may even be a bit depressed. While I’m not qualified to help with clinical depression, I can tell you what I did to take more interest in my life and to therefore, have a lot more fun.
The first thing I did was get to know myself again so I wrote my life story. No, it isn’t a novel and it didn’t take nearly as much time as you may fear it will take. The process of reviewing my life shook me out of my mediocrity. By reconnecting with my authentic self, I was better able to figure out what I really want from my life. Then I was ready to take actions like:
- Date night every week
- Move my body every day – I joined a yoga studio and I also walk with my neighbor four – six mornings a week.
- Explore new recipes (I love AllRecipes.com) and cook something different at least twice a month.
- Take time for myself to recharge my batteries – I get a monthly massage. I meditate. I take myself out of the house by myself – even grocery shopping can be an adventure with the proper mindset (see the last item on this list, Focus).
- Eliminate friends – yes, your read that correctly. I went through my Facebook friends and culled the list down to people I know, I like, and I would like to get together with.
- Get together with friends – then I started making lunch dates with girlfriends, and dinner dates with other couples.
- Get a hobby – This one took me a while, but I’ve recently taken up photography.
- Learn something new every week – I’m learning another language and playing the piano more.
- Help someone else – a phone call to a friend to see how she is doing, baking a cake for a charity bake sale, opening the door for someone, letting someone in front of me during rush hour. Small, simple, kindnesses.
- Focus – Being fully present in each moment enables me to see even the most routine tasks in a new way. It also reminds me to make my best effort – to do a little more so that the results of my actions aren’t mediocre.
See the pattern here? Stopping the momentum of mediocrity is to not have a set pattern; to stay open to new experiences; to shake things up, and to refuse to stay in a set routine.
You may grumble at me and say, “Well, it’s easy for you because your kids are out of the house and you work from home.” Fair enough. But I started this process when I did have kids in the house and did have to show up for work. Back when I worked in an office, my lunch hour was sacred – that’s one way I made sure I got in some “me” time.
I worked my way out of mediocrity by actually scheduling time on my calendar. My kids made fun of me and said I was too uptight needing to schedule everything. Ironically, by scheduling time to get out, or to try new and different things, I became much less uptight. So yes, I schedule things, but they are reminders rather than strict appointments. I keep things flexible so that no two days are ever the same and no two weeks are ever the same.
Here is how I approach each day now.
- Wake up and decide to be happy, even if I don’t feel well or am grumpy. Happiness is a choice.
- Make myself a cup of hot tea, grab my notebook, and journal for a few minutes. This clears my mind and often generates some great ideas for blog posts.
- Review my calendar for the day and for the week – check to see if I’m out of balance. Do I have some fun things scheduled? What am I going to learn this week? Which friend will I make extra time for this week? Did I remember to try a new recipe? When am I going to clean the house? Stuff like that.
- Walk for an hour with my neighbor or by myself if she can’t walk that day.
- Shower, fix my hair, put on some makeup, and get dressed in something other than shorts and a t-shirt. It’s amazing how making the effort to look my best can lift my spirits.
- Fix a light breakfast.
After breakfast all bets are off! By the time breakfast is finished I’ve got eight whole hours open to possibilities. Am I blogging today? Taking pictures? Meeting a friend for lunch? Working on that second language? Cleaning the house? Getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist (not everything in life is fun – sigh)?
I haven’t been bored in a long time. I’ll tell you a little trick I learned that eliminates boredom almost instantly. When I am bored, I’m am being self-centered. It’s all about me. I’m so bored. What about me? The cure for boredom is to get out of myself and do something for someone else. It can be as easy as calling a friend to check on her, making my husband a cup of coffee, playing with my dogs, texting a note of encouragement to one of my kids.
So here’s that mediocrity checklist again with the ideas I have tried for each problem.
- I cook predictable dinners and don’t remember the last time I tried a new recipe. – Check out AllRecipes.com and pick a recipe that sounds interesting. The really fun part is tweaking those recipes to make them your own.
- Sex is same old same old and not as often. – Get yourself an adult “toy,” talk to your partner about spicing things up, meet at a bar or restaurant, pretend you don’t know each other, dance together or eat dinner, and then take each other home, go parking . . .
- My job has become repetitive and boring OR my job is so stressful that I’m exhausted at the end of every day. – Ask for different assignments at work, pretend it’s your first day and everything is new again, take some vacation time, consider getting a different job, see a therapist (your work may have a free employee assistance program) to talk about how to cope with the reality of your current job, seriously downsize so you have the freedom to pursue something different, take up meditation so you can better accept your current situation
- I haven’t changed my hairstyle or hair color in several years. – Book an appointment at the hair salon and get some professional advice.
- I haven’t been on a picnic in years. – Make a picnic lunch and go to the park or have a candlelit picnic on a blanket in your living room.
- I keep buying the same kinds of clothes in the same colors, or worse, I haven’t been clothes shopping in over a year. – Take a long hard look at your closet, go window shopping for ideas, try on different outfits (you don’t have to buy anything right away), experiment with different looks, pay attention to people who catch your eye and how they dress, go shopping with a friend for a second opinion and new ideas
- I find myself doing just enough to get by. – Accept nothing but your very best.
- I often wonder if this is all there is. – This doesn’t have to be all there is – you have an imagination – use it. Check out The Artist’s Way series to get you started.
- I can’t remember the last time my significant other and I had a genuinely intimate conversation. – Go for a walk and talk.
- I haven’t had a genuine belly laugh in a long time. – Watch a funny movie, go out to dinner with friends, call up that friend who always makes you laugh, tell someone a joke
- It never occurs to me to make a date with myself and spend a few hours doing what I like to do OR worse, I have no idea what I’d do with a few hours of free time. – Start keeping a journal – the ideas will come if you put pen to paper. Make a date with yourself to do something – go to a bookstore for an hour, sit in the park, go to a museum, people watch at the mall, just find something different to do and go do it. If you don’t like it, then pick something else to do next time. Just keep on keeping on.
- I haven’t learned anything new since I was in school. – Search for online tutorials, YouTube videos, buy some watercolors and paint a picture, attend a free lecture, ask that friend who makes that great jam to teach you how to make strawberry preserves. Remember, there isn’t any pressure to actually be good at it in the beginning. There is real freedom in having a beginner’s mind. See my post – The Joy of Doing Things Badly.
- I don’t feel like I’m an expert at anything. – Practice, practice, practice – push yourself beyond the “it’s good enough” point. Yes, you’ll get frustrated. That’s a good sign. It means you are moving into uncharted territory.
- I don’t have much joy in my life. – Think about what you can do to bring joy to someone’s day – you’ll feel joy in giving to someone else, see your doctor if you think you might really be depressed, right down a list of everything you are grateful for.
- I watch more than an hour of TV each day. Turn off the TV and engage in your life instead – take walks, read poetry to each other, cook together, play card games, work a crossword puzzle, tell each other your hopes and dreams – the common denominator is “together.”
- I don’t really get much exercise. – So move your body. You can start small. Don’t park so close to the door, go for a walk after dinner, ask around – perhaps someone you know also wants to get some exercise and wants a buddy – that’s how I found my walking buddy.
- I haven’t tried something new in a long time. – Write down at least five things you haven’t tried, pick one, and do it. You can start simple. Even driving a different route to work is new isn’t it?
- My spouse and I don’t go on dates anymore. Set one night a week as sacred. That’s date night – no matter what. You don’t even have to go out if money is tight. The point is uninterrupted time – cell phones off.
- I’m pretty plugged in and can’t imagine going for a couple of days without texting, emailing, or going onto Facebook. Turn everything off for one weekend. It feels weird at first, but real life really is better than a virtual life online. We did find ways to fill our time before all this technology was invented.
- My life is comfortable and predictable. – Do something unpredictable. It doesn’t have to be wild and crazy although that would be really cool. Dance in your living room to your favorite music. Announce that it’s every man for himself night and you are taking the night off from cooking. Grab a great dessert on the way home. Buy some new earrings – make ‘em big and bold.
- I go to bed early because I’m bored and want the day to be over with. – Might want to see your doctor about that – sounds like depression.
- I don’t remember the last time I joyfully sang along to a favorite song in the car. – So sing baby sing!
- I don’t know how to make a more interesting sandwich. – Change up the bread, make a wrap instead of a sandwich, buy some interesting cheese, think about a deli sandwich you’ve had somewhere and recreate it at home . . .
- I haven’t left the town where I live in over two years. Time for a change of scenery. If you can’t afford a vacation, consider a day trip. Can’t do that? Grab your camera and pretend you are new to your town and act like tourists.
- I don’t go to museums, shows, or other cultural events. Maybe that’s not your thing. On the other hand, perhaps you should check out some live entertainment.
- I haven’t had a nice long talk with a close friend in a while. – Call that friend and talk by phone or better yet, get together and do it in person.
- I don’t know much about my children’s hopes and dreams. – Have everyone share a hope or dream at the dinner table tonight. Kids not around? Make a point of calling them or seeing them and ask them. You can start by telling them what your hopes and dreams were when you were their age.
You can act your way into a more interesting life until your get comfortable with it. The irony is that once you are comfortable with it, it’s time to shake things up again.
Now, I’m off to see a woman about a couple of alpacas . . .