Don’t you hate it when bloggers preach to you as if they have all the answers?
So I’m not planning to do that in this post. 🙂
After all, I still struggle.
I get distracted by unimportant tasks.
I’m not as disciplined as I should be.
I lack the motivation to do some things that I know I ought to.
I am, however, a relentless observer of what makes for a remarkable life. I realize that, in the pursuit of a meaningful life, we often make this mistake:
We confuse what describes us with what defines us.
People describe us based on our characteristics:
- Physical appearance
- Social status
But there are only two things that define us: our character and our commitments.
If we focus on our “description” instead of our “definition,” we’ll eventually end up shortchanging ourselves.
Here are three mistakes I’ve seen people make, which lead to mediocrity:
1. You solve problems instead of committing to causes.
It’s easy to become a hostage to the present, hostage to the urgent issues that are crying out for your attention.
Remember, however, that you’re the custodian and creator of the future.
You’re not defined by the problems you solve, especially not the urgent but unimportant ones. You’re defined by the causes you commit yourself to.
Sure, even if you commit yourself to a cause, there will still be fires to put out.
But your focus won’t be on eliminating the problem. Instead, it’ll be on elevating the cause.
There’s a big difference.
Clearly, it’s impossible to commit to that many causes, whether they’re social, environmental, entrepreneurial or family ones. But whatever cause you do commit yourself to, make sure you’re all in, all the time.
2. You work hard to achieve goals instead of working hard to live out your values.
Whether or not you write down your goals, you’re probably a goal-oriented person.
You want to attain a certain amount of material wealth, a certain level of education, or enjoy a certain kind of family life.
Despite our fascination with people who have achieved incredible goals, it’s not the goals we achieve that define us.
We’re defined by the principles we embody.
It’s not about professing what’s important to you or what you stand for. It’s not about declaring what values you hold to.
It’s about allowing those values to get a hold of you and guide you in everything you do.
Mediocrity is centered on performance, rather than principles.
3. You’re more focused on building a legacy than on empowering people.
I know lots of driven, ambitious people who want to both be amazing and do amazing things.
Nothing wrong with that.
Nonetheless, we shouldn’t primarily be concerned about the awesomeness of the campfire that we’re building. Rather, we should concentrate on how we’re keeping other people warm.
We shouldn’t merely aim to help others and meet their needs.
More than that, we should aim to empower them.
If you help people without simultaneously empowering them, you make them feel even more helpless and needy.
This principle holds true whether you’re a social worker, personal trainer, business person, investment banker or parent.
At the heart of it, real poverty isn’t a lack of material things. It’s a feeling of powerlessness. We hurt people every time we help them without also empowering them.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wisely observed that “a fundamental sign of mental health is the realization that life is tough.”
There are pressing concerns we need to address if we’re to survive in this world, because life is tough.
But we also need to periodically take a step back from our busy lives to ask ourselves: Who or what defines me?
Yes, it’s your character and your commitments that define you. Nevertheless, when it’s all said and done, it’s your choices that define you.
A meaningful life isn’t built in a day. It’s built one day at a time, one decision at a time.
Let’s not settle for mediocrity when meaning is what we’re after.