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A Wake-Up Call: Why You’re Just Mediocre and What to Do About It

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oh no!

Our parents were well-intentioned, I’m sure. As they bubble-wrapped and sugarcoated us, they thought they were doing us a favor. “You’re so special,” they’d say, plucking our cheeks like they were made of memory foam. “You’re mommy’s little angel.”

I vividly remember my cheeks blushing as my mother would rave on to her fellow church ladies, “My Heather is the best, smartest, prettiest…” (You catch my drift. Aw, mom…)

Most of us were raised to believe we could do anything, be anything. Our parents trumpeted our skills with fanfare and celebration. “Look, little Johnny hit the baseball!” Society whipped on an extra helping of praise with gold stars every time we used the potty and allowances every week we remembered to make the bed.

From the start, we were rewarded for being regular, or at least better behaved than the so-called troublemakers. “Special” was never really special to us. Special was always average. It’s no wonder we now think we’re doing our best when we’re only being mediocre.

But mediocrity in the real world doesn’t amount to much — especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. It takes passion, persistence and eternal optimism to be truly special. So if you want to succeed, you have to ditch the act, stop listening to mom’s praise for awhile and learn to avoid the many allures of mediocrity. You’re better than they pretend, aren’t you?

Step 1: Take pats on the back at face value

We all love compliments. Love, love, love. We want to hear about how much we look like Brad Pitt and how our house is the nicest one on the whole block. We expect compliments when we make dinner, when we clean the house, when we submit a project.

And the funny thing is, we often get them. People pat us on the back with such frequency it feels like an injustice when someone doesn’t acknowledge that we did what we were supposed to do in the first place.

That’s why it’s so important to stop resting on your laurels. Believing the hype from those who love you doesn’t encourage you to take a realistic look at how you can improve.

Don’t be afraid to ask strangers for honest feedback, or better yet, learn to be your own best critic. Take an honest look at how you’re doing business. Where is your Achilles’ heel? Where are you missing the mark? Focus on those things rather than indulging in all the pats on the back. Everything will be better for it.

Step 2: Stop obsessing with “fun”

In James Altucher’s 100 Rules of Being an Entrepreneur, his first rule is: It’s not fun.

“I’m not going to explain why it’s not fun,” he says. “These are rules. Not theories. I don’t need to prove them. But there’s a strong chance you can hate yourself throughout the process of being an entrepreneur. Keep sharp objects and pills away during your worst moments.”

OK, so that might be a little dramatic. And I certainly don’t buy into all his rules, but the heart of this one is dead right.

When we were growing up being sold the bill of goods about just how darn special we are, we also got a load of lies about how “fun” life is. Everything is supposed to be like Candy Land all the time. And if it’s not like Candy Land, you’re not doing it right.

Wrong.

Building a business is hard work. And not just, “Honey, I chipped a nail!” hard work, but genuine hard work. You will sweat. You will cry. You will feel defeated. People will be mean. Things will go wrong. Multiple times.

The only businesses and ideas that succeed are those pioneered by people who are willing to accept the sweat and slog. People who want to play board games should just stay home in their jammies. My compromise: Working from home on Fridays… in my jammies. (Don’t judge me.)

Step 3: Rest on persistence

To quote German genius Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, “In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.”

I wish it were enough that you love your idea. That you think your idea is totally unique and will revolutionize the face of humanity. I wish it were, but it’s not. Why? Because real success isn’t built on warm fuzzies. It’s built by hard work and an honorable amount of persistence. And a healthy dose of of hopeless optimism doesn’t hurt either.

Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group, says tons of pitches come across his desk from people who believe their ideas are concocted of unicorn dust and Steve Jobs’ magic. These genius entrepreneurs come equipped with NDAs and a huge side of secrecy. To Feld, it’s laughable.

The greatest ideas and best companies often didn’t succeed because they were the first of their kind. It wasn’t that they were special. To quote Feld, they “became great because of execution.”

So stop believing you’re a unicorn and actually become one. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Work hard. Be special. Inspire others to join you on your mission. Rinse and repeat. Forge through the ugly. There’s only so much room at the top, and I guarantee you there are no spots for puny ponies.

Heather Anne Carson is the co-founder of Onboardly, a company that works with venture-backed startups to help them with customer acquisition. Heather manages PR strategies for a variety of clients and has helped them secure coverage in publications like Inc, Entrepreneur, Shape Magazine, New York Times Magazine, BetaKit, TechCrunch, PandoDaily,TechCocktail, Mashable and many more. Follow her on Twitter @heatheranne.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Monica Strobel

    You’d be surprised at how unappreciated most people are (#1) and that some more appreciation would actually ramp up their desire to Be More, to expand into the positive vision you hold of and share with them.They get so much less acknowledgement from their boss, their spouse, their kids than you imply. Sure false praise doesn’t work but we don’t believe it, really either. Show people you believe in them and that they can do it and they’ll dig deep.

    • http://www.desireefrieson.com dfrieson

      I was having this argument with a friend recently as well. Her argument is you can push people as much as you want but they have to believe it and see it too, if not, there is nothing else you can do for them. I half agreed with that statement but people are used to people giving up on them as well. I wouldn’t make it a life job to help others realize their potential but you don’t forget them and push them in ways that make sense. Sometimes tough love works and sometimes it doesn’t. Its completely based on the person and the situation on what time of inspiration is needed.

    • Guest

      Go to Oprah!
      Go to Oprah!
      Go to Oprah!
      Go to Oprah!
      Go to Oprah!

  • Bob Klaas

    It all started going downhill with the “participation” trophies they started giving to kids playing sports. Heaven forbid that someone, or their team, could be in second place (or worse).

    So, the solution was to make everyone a winner. No more keeping scores or team standings. The well-intentioned result…mediocrity!

    If you want to be an entrepreneur, you better believe you need the will to win. That’s why I think some of the best entrepreneurs have a competitive background. Whether it’s in sports, or debate club, if you want to build a business, you need to be ready to take the hard knocks. Get up, dust yourself off, and go at it again.

    I just saw a slide that said 48% of salespeople never follow up on a prospect. 25% give up after the second attempt. We’ll give these people participation trophies. As it turns out, 80% of sales are made on the fifth through twelfth contact.

  • C.J Milburn

    I think we forget how special we are as adults and this is the reason we become mediocre.

    • Guest

      Shut up, Millennial loser. Go back to playing Candy Crush in mommy’s basement. Make sure you study for that Sociology of My Little Pony class the taxpayers are footing the bill for.

  • Pyrrho Nist

    Step 4: Stop reading blogs on Brazen Life

  • Krista Hasling

    Growing up, I always hated the question “What do you want to be when you grow up” because I felt like it limited me to one definition of success. There are differences between working towards a goal and having a dream. I liked your quote of “In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.” Having creativity and actually implementing that creativity take different skills and it comes from two different areas of our hearts. Thanks for the article!

    • Guest

      “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

      That is… IF you grow up!

  • Guest

    This blog is bullshit. I just read an article about “Why you’re AWESOME” and now I’m reading one about “Why you’re just mediocre.” Make up your mind, that is if you have a mind to make up and don’t attribute everything to “heart” or “spirit” or some other Care Bear crap you learned from PSAs in the McDonald’s box. How about an article that really hits home with these participation-trophy narcissists that says “Why you, your mother, your pervy uncle Harvey, and Leeroy Jenkins (whoever the hell that is), all SUCK, and should do everyone a favor and remove yourselves from the population?” That’d be a wake-up call, all right, and a well-deserved slap upside the head!