Sorting through excellence, mediocrity, and the need to be the best


I'm an avid bumper sticker hobbyist, though bumper stickers don't always pop up on auto bumpers. I mean by "bumper sticker" that ever growing collection of cultural parables, maxims, and random observations that can pop up anywhere: Posters, billboards, tiny desk plaques with their own little easels, religious gatherings, refrigerator magnets, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, framed embroidery ... up to and including actual auto bumper stickers.

I think a great book title would be Coining a Great Catch Phrase for Fun and Profit.

More precisely, my actual hobby is critical thinking, which is why I'm so interested in bumper stickers. It intrigues me how many of these drippy little sayings get bandied about as truth, motivation, and inspiration which, when we hold them up to the light, sorta fall apart as the drippy little sayings that they are.

Today a friend said he was working on inner peace. Worthwhile goal, in my book. I myself have been craving more of that lately.  And, to that end, my friend is contemplating a bumper sticker he found in his email: "By not deciding to be the best, you have chosen to be mediocre."

I listen to the bumper sticker.  I read the bumper sticker.  And I have the same reaction both times:  My inner peace is not nurtured.  Rather it is disturbed. Intruded upon.

I have two problems here ...

First, the NeedToBeTheBest has NEVER been my friend.  The NeedToBeTheBest is like one of those 'friends' Tommy Shaw (Styx) sang about in the song Too Much Time on My Hands:  "I got dozens of friends, as long as I'm buying." The NeedToBeTheBest is like the Queen's mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Does she seem to you like someone with Inner Peace?

Inner Peace is a marriage of self-respect and self-acceptance yielding contentment.  For me, NeedToBeTheBest has always been a cocktail of ego, insecurity, and envy.

But, secondly, isn't this bumper sticker a bit of a strained dichotomy?  Couldn't there be a place between mediocrity and being the best?  I think so.  And I think the name of that place is "excellence."

A commitment to excellence makes me feel alive, makes me smile, energizes and motivates me, even on those days that I fall short of excellence, (which, in one way or another, is EVERY day.) I respect myself when I aim for excellence. I enjoy admiring excellence in the work and life of others.

I'm saying the bumper sticker is just plain not true. Relinquishing my need to be the best is NOT a de facto choice for mediocrity. Not even sort of.

For example: I know sometimes achieve excellence as a therapist, a public speaker, a father, a friend, a writer, and a songwriter.  Not every time.  But often enough to notice and enjoy. But, am I the BEST at any of these?  Don't know. And, more importantly as regards my inner peace, don't care.

What do you think?