Escaping Mediocrity

By Spicer Matthews

I can think of at least 10 friends who have spent years counting the days (and hours, minutes, seconds) until retirement. Most of them are fixated on retirement because they hate their job and see no other way out. They are trapped in mediocrity. That way of life is not for me—time is the ultimate nonrenewable resource, and I believe that every moment spent in mediocrity is a waste.

For this reason I would be happy if my tombstone says He Did What He Wanted, When He Wanted, How He Wanted. Not because I am a selfish dick—I live my life this way to avoid falling into the trap of mediocrity. If anything—be it a job, a task, a friend, a surrounding—is unpleasant for very long I make a change. I have trained myself not to fear change because change is often the solution to (rather than the cause of) life’s problems. For example:

  • I stopped doing yardwork. I hated the endless cycle of cutting the grass only to have it grow back—yet I enjoy having a nice yard. So I decided to have my cake and eat it too by hiring someone else to do the yardwork. The operative word being “hire” meant that I had to free up funds by reviewing the family budget and making some cuts. It turns out I do not need collision insurance on my 1994 Jeep, and I discovered that we were overpaying $50 a month for cell phone usage. Bam! Problem solved.
  • I put an end to disruptive phone calls. Apparently Phil Libin was reading my mind when he said, “I don’t like it when people call me without a prearrangement via text or email. It’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to talk at exactly the time someone arbitrarily decides to call me, so it’s more efficient and more polite to send a text or email first." Hear, hear. About a year ago I changed my voicemail greeting, instructing would-be callers to email me. People have learned to respect this request and communicate on my terms.
  • I put the kibosh on fixed-bid work. A fixed-bid contract always screws someone. Typically contractors overbid and screw the client. But that always seemed wrong to me so I routinely underbid—and I was the one who got screwed. So I decided that even if it cost me some business I was not going to work for a fixed bid anymore. My stress level decreased and my happiness level increased because I was able to focus on software development, which is what I really enjoyed.
  • I gave W2 the heave ho. I used to have a traditional job. It paid well and I liked the people I worked with—but I hated the work and the way the company was run. I tried hard to improve the company culture but failed. Though my family was counting on my salary, I knew I had to quit. So I lined up a bunch of clients and gave notice. That work led to new opportunities, and I have never looked back.

I could bore you with 100 more examples, but I won’t. The point of this post is to give you a nudge to free yourself from mediocrity. There is always a solution—you just have to be willing to find it and make it happen. I will leave you with this quotation from Steve Jobs, with which I could not agree more:

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it.… Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.”