I would like the opportunity to be mediocre.
I would like to be able to fail and not suffer any consequences.
Like, be average and underwhelming and just middling in work performance. This is a sentiment that I have generally felt for at least the last half decade. If it were to happen, it would of course be in a post-pandemic, COVID–19 herd immunity world. A world where people aren’t fighting to keep jobs or losing jobs or dealing with the worst people imaginable when dining out
Depending on how and where you grew up, you might have experienced this acceptance of mediocrity. It goes with the participation trophies in little leagues, the “hey, at least you tried” for something new, and “nice work” for the average C grade in school. I do not mean being allowed to be mediocre in the sense that you felt not encouraged by parents or other adults in your life. I mean, being just okay at something was… okay and acceptable.
My first B was in fourth grade and it was only because I transferred in winter, in the middle of the school year. My next B was in high school geometry class. I really hated theorems. My Saturdays were spent memorizing vocabulary words, first from the dictionary, then starting in 6th grade, SAT words. After vocab, I worked on logic puzzles and other math things. Sundays for 12 years were dedicated to Chinese school.
The above only glosses over the time that was spent outside of school hours but I hope it demonstrates a pattern of high expectations. Failure wasn’t an option, as is the experience of many children of immigrants. As an adult, it’s hard to fight against the childhood influence of high expectations. As a freelancer and consultant, you can only get so far being mediocre.
I grew up in a white bread town. In my senior class of 730 people, we had the rare occurrence of being able to sustain TWO East Asian cliques. With the exception of Chinese school, I’ve never been in a learning or work environment where I was part of the majority race and speaking the same language. Many research studies (google if you need references) have discussed how race and gender impact one’s work expectations, in a way where you need to work harder than men or white people to make it at the same level. And when you make it there? You have to fight to stay there and conditions are always working against you.
These environments do not support mediocrity or failure. You’re the only woman on the team? Well, congratulations, you now represent all women and if you fail, all women fail.
I was on a Re:co afternoon panel one year and offhandedly mentioned how I was the first Asian on stage that day. After the day’s talks were over, someone I’ve never met before walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you for repping Asians.” This was not a burden I asked to carry but it was one that others recognized.
Whether it’s imposter syndrome, anxiety, perfectionism, work environments, or all the above, being able to be mediocre in work feels like a pipe dream. I often think about what actual diversity would look like. For me, equity success would look like marginalized folks being able to just be okay, or less than average, or be able to fail, without it being any sort of Big Thing.
You’re no longer the only ____ in the room. In fact, you don’t even catch yourself reflexively counting the number of people who look like you.
You can just be you without any mental editing. I’d really love to know what that feels like.