Why being mediocre might help you change the world

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In James Altucher’s recent piece on The Rumpus about “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Mediocre People,” he argues that mediocrity can be a good thing.

Yet nobody likes to think of themselves as average, myself included. The serial entrepreneur encourages us to think otherwise.

We can’t all be grand visionaries. We can’t all be Picassos. We want to make our business, make our art, sell it, make some money, raise a family, and try to be happy. My feeling, based on my own experience, is that aiming for grandiosity is the fastest route to failure. For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are 1000 Jack Zuckermans.

The Jack and Jackie Zuckermans of the world procrastinate, zero-task, fail, are unoriginal, don’t network a lot – all things that might seem counterintuitive, but can actually work to your advantage. Especially when that little nagging voice in your head tells you you’re not good enough to make your big ideas happen.

Here’s what Altucher would say to that: You are enough. What matters is your ability to be real.

Being mediocre doesn’t mean you won’t change the world. It means being honest with yourself and the people around you. And being honest at every level is really the most effective habit of all if you want to have massive success.

So let’s be honest for a moment, Idealist community. Which of these habits speak to you, and how have they helped you in your journey to make a difference? Any more you’d add?

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Comments (3)


  1. Julia S. writes:
    February 26, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I liked that piece. I’m definitely realizing more and more how counterproductive it is to try to multitask.

    This feels only sort of related, but I watched this quick video last night and bet others here might enjoy it. Jay Smooth talks about the voices in his head that try to interfere with his creativity and productivity: http://www.illdoctrine.com/2013/02/haters_dont_die_they_multiply.html


  2. Daniel M writes:
    March 19, 2013 at 9:39 am

    I think this blog misses the point. In Jewish liturgy we are not obligated to fix the world, we are obligated to begin – to try. The starfish story comes to mind – we cannot save all the starfish stranded on the beach at low tide but we can make a difference to the one we do throw back into the water. And finally, if you “save [help] one life, it is if you’ve saved [helped] all of humanity.” Many are afraid to try not because they are afraid to fail but because they are afraid that the will succeed only modestly. I once helped two graduate students who were in love find jobs in the same community. They told me that I changed their lives and helped ensured their future marriage. They sent me a framed dollar bill – their first that they earned! I was the Mark Zuckerberg of the moment.


  3. Celeste Hamilton Dennis writes:
    March 22, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Daniel! I love your story about helping graduate students, and think you make a really great point. I especially love this: “Many are afraid to try not because they are afraid to fail but because they are afraid that the will succeed only modestly.”

    I can definitely relate. And over and over again we’ve heard from our community about the fears that stop them, one of them being success.

    It’s great to see what happens when you do try. Thanks for sharing.


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