Past lives, unrequited potential and mediocrity

Thursday, July 13, 2017 Permalink

I couldn’t decide what to write about today. A few ideas popped into my head, but none seemed fully formed. Until I realised there was a common thread running through all of them. One of unrequited potential and mediocrity. Well, kinda…

It all started yesterday morning as I woke up from a dream… *insert wavy vision and dream sequence as seen on 1980s TV here*

The recurring dream I thought had disappeared

I’ve written before about a few recurring dreams I’ve had. I don’t put a HUGE amount of stock in the dream analysis thing but it seems kinda logical that stuff plaguing us in real life, plays on our minds when we are asleep. And perhaps manifests (#sorrynotsorry for the wanky word) in a more honest and confronting way.

In this dream I’d gone to an old workplace, but in a new job. There – in the dream – were people I knew, but I was almost invisible. Unrecognisable. Unimportant. Insignificant. I’ve mentioned this dream before and it was one I had A LOT before I eventually found a regular part-time gig. I have it irregularly now, but the theme is always similar. I’m arriving at a workplace (new job, new office) and my desk isn’t ready. There’s no work for me. Or I can’t even get in the door.

The most common / easiest analysis of this dream is that it’s about a crisis of confidence or a feeling of not belonging or not measuring up. And – when I first started having it – I could see why. I’d felt valued in my previous working life and in (some) jobs. I’d been respected. It was part of my identity. Which was no longer the case after I left the full-time workforce at a moderately senior level. And although I now have a job, I suspect I worry my role isn’t particularly important or wonder what it is I’m achieving.

unrequited potential and mediocrity

Weight-loss surgery anniversary

Yesterday marked one year since my weight-loss surgery. The 2-3 days in hospital were probably a few of the worst of my life. I didn’t react well to the surgery and was probably released a little too quickly given I had memory farts and lost my words a little shortly after.

However, the event is also one of those defining moments in my life. I’m still not ready to write about it all in detail but essentially it’s changed my life completely. And that’s not just about the weight I’ve lost. It’s about the way I cope with stuff and how I live (and enjoy) my life. (And #spoileralert: they’re not necessarily positives!)

It’s also about the fact I’m plagued with guilt about how I’m kinda disappointed in myself. Again.

Developing an eating disorder (becoming anorexic, later bulimic and a binge-eater) in the mid 1980s is another defining moment in my life. And not a good one. I can’t identify the moment in time, but suddenly my world became about weight, food, eating, exercise (for a while) and food. Oh, and did I mention food?

There were a lot of negatives – obviously – and the personality changes and then the 100kg (220lbs) I later gained were just a couple of them – but there were also some vague positives. For the first time I was noticed (which is possibly part of the reason I did it in the first place). People thought nice things about me (though were possibly worried at the same time) but it was like I had potential. I was destined for something OTHER THAN mediocrity.

And then… I crashed and burned. Gained weight. Became invisible. Did okay career-wise (kinda – though refer to first point!) but achieved nothing particularly amazing. Despite the potential.

And now… I suspect I’m feeling the same. Not that I thought losing 60kg would bring me fame and fortune. Indeed I don’t want it. Well, fortune would kinda be nice. But, although I’ve lost over 40kg I’m struggling with the guilt it’s not more. That – yet again – I haven’t reached my potential. That I could have done better.

And then on the flipside I can’t help but wish both events; the eating disorder (though it’s not a ‘moment’) and the surgery would bookend that part of my life. 30-35 years, many of which were wasted to obsession, angst and self-hatred.

Mediocrity

Recently I re-read Mark Manson’s post, In Defense of Being Average and listened to The Let It Be podcast about mediocrity and the fact it’s undervalued. And I think it is – for some. Particularly the perfectionists out there. The type As who conquer one mountain and barely take time to acknowledge the achievement before wondering what’s next. Β And I’m kinda like this.

I thought I was destined for more. And I suspect most people are the same. Manson talks about this expectation that we’ll be exceptional in some way. It’s a fairly juvenile fantasy I realise – the fame and fortune thing – but I can’t help but wonder if some of us are hard-wired to think we should be achieving ‘more’… even once we get a glimpse of the realities of life.

I made huge changes almost 5yrs ago. I reassessed my life and realised I wasn’t happy. I was hardly hugely ambitious but I was always looking for the next big thing. So I made my seachange. Deciding I’d live a less-desperate life. And I am – seriously – happier than I ever thought I could or would be.

However… now I’m wondering if my unconscious is trying to tell me something.

So I’m intrigued:

Do you have regular dreams you think mean something in particular?
Do you think ALL of us think we’re destined for great things when we’re young?
Any advice in general?

the-lovin-life-linky I’ve joined Leanne from Deep Fried Fruit and some other bloggers to help promote “ageing positively” and the Lovin’ Life mindset across the interwebz. You can link up via any one of us!

The Lovin’ Life Team includes:


38 Comments
  • Jo
    July 13, 2017

    I suffer a lot from what I call almost there. I start heaps of stuff, make huge inroads, have huge potential & almost get there – but not quite. As for dreams, my recurrent one is about being on a bridge like the Gateway (which gives me nightmares) & I’m driving, but can’t see the road or the top or the way. I always have this dream when things are out of my control – it’s like I’m being told to trust myself/the car/the road/the way/whatever.

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      Oh, that’s an interesting dream Jo. It sounds as if it’s very similar to that feeling you’ve got that you’re almost at the top (and over) but not quite.

      I tend not to try so I really envy people who make that attempt even if they don’t quite get ‘there’. And I suspect others would probably argue with you on your feeling of not quite getting there. Actually writing, finishing books, self publishing and the other writing you do is a huge achievement!

  • Vanessa
    July 13, 2017

    Well, I’m pretty sure when I was a kid I thought I was Queen of the world (none of this second rate princess bullshit for me, thanks) and everyone was just pretending I wasn’t so that I could have a normal childhood. There’s probably some kind of analysis that could go on there about me not having a normal childhood, but anyway.

    I struggle on the career side too. I’m not particularly ambitious in the traditional sense. But I do miss working on things that really matter and being an expert in my area. Yes, I know I traded in contract work to get some security because the applying for your own job every 6 months thing did my head in after nearly a decade of it…but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss being respected for my knowledge. Sure, I keep seek.com alerts for jobs that more closely meet my criteria. But I guess part of my life is acknowledging that security and what I’m interested in doing are not hand in hand.

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      I think I was the opposite when I was young Vanessa. I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it here but I had a high-achieving older brother so very much felt like I was the support act. And it was a role I was happy to play. And – though this sounds terrible – I think I thought any success I had would be in that role and when younger I imagined myself as the girlfriend of someone famous. Not actually famous for anything myself (possibly I felt there was nothing I really excelled enough in…. which I guess was true.

      It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and in working in Exec Officer roles with Deputy Directors-General and the like I realised how I still remained ‘behind the scenes’. I liked doing edgy and interesting stuff and being in high-profile roles (by association) but never really put myself out there.

      I’m not sure if that’s changed. Perhaps….

      PS. Enough about me!!! It’s good you recognise that – although you’re not completely fulfilled now – the option is still there and you’re still looking.

      • Vanessa
        July 13, 2017

        I guess it depends if you really want to put yourself out there. I don’t have many feelings towards that – I guess if I need to, I do talk myself up or go for jobs ‘above me’ or whatever – but I don’t feel the need to do that with all the things.
        I also found that I kind of prefer being behind the scenes, if only because being “on” all the time is too exhausting for an introvert personality.
        I honestly don’t have a lot to complain about in my day job. It’s fairly independent, I have fair control, I have some flexibility of hours – for working for someone else, it’s not bad. I just keep an eye out for the roles that give me the other things I want – a smaller commute and a role in an industry I’m more interested in. It might come up tomorrow, it might come up in 2 years…

        • Debbish
          July 13, 2017

          Oh yes, something to cut down your commute would be great wouldn’t it?! That’s something I don’t miss (ie. the commute) in my seachange life.

  • Kathy Marris
    July 13, 2017

    I think sometimes mediocrity is ok. We’re not all destined to be high flyers. I have big dreams about my potential and work hard for weeks or months to try and achieve greatness, but then run out of steam. I’m definitely one to be destined for mediocrity, but I’m reasonably happy with where I am. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You have achieved a lot in 5 years. πŸ™‚ #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      I think the term mediocrity is half of the problem isn’t it Kathy? It (along with ‘average’) can have negative connotations. I enjoyed the article by Mark Manson (and have read something else similar but I couldn’t remember where) kinda saying that living an average life doesn’t necessarily equate to not achieving stuff. And when I was trying to find the other article I found pieces about ‘slow’ living and the like. Perhaps it’s about the way we define stuff.

      I was thinking about my mum as I was writing this and she would say she didn’t ever aspire to greatness in stuff or want a life she didn’t want… however I also think she would say she is contented and happy with life and has achieved a lot. (A quiet achiever perhaps!)

  • writeofthemiddle
    July 13, 2017

    I can relate to what you’re saying Deb. I had climbed the corporate ladder and was moderately senior with quite a bit of responsibility. I had the respect of my peers and I was a person that many work colleagues came to for advice. I felt somewhat important and at the end of a workday there was a sense of achievement and satisfaction that I had contributed to the world. As you know though – in mid 2012 I walked away from that life (though I didn’t know it at the time) and therefore lost my identity along with it. Who was I now? I’ve dabbled in this and that since then but I feel like people think less of me now because I don’t have a real job that earns a real, proper income. I am happier and more balanced though and have been fortunate to have the time to focus on my several recent health issues. Why do people place so little importance on health and life balance as opposed to work, work, work. I do work – I run a home, cook healthy meals for the family, do the laundry, clean the house, tend the garden, wash the clothes. I studied photography. I created my own little blog. I love what I do. I just don’t earn money doing it so that somehow lessons who I am and how I’m thought of. I think you and I and many of us are far too hard on ourselves. You’ve done good Deb! πŸ™‚ #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      I think people are probably jealous Min, rather than thinking less of you. I know when I wasn’t working I found fulfillment in other ways but I guess I did feel as if society (or others) felt like I should be working. I think if I didn’t need to work financially I’d try to find other meaningful stuff to do – and by that I mean meaningful to me, not others. And I think you’re certainly doing that.

  • Retiring not Shy!
    July 13, 2017

    Yes, let’s just find a new word. Mediocre is so, well mediocre and so is average. We need a word that defines us achieving a comfortable and satisfying point of being ‘good enough’. How about trying that one. We all feel mediocre at best from time to time, the solution seems to deciding what good enough is for you. Maybe you are already there?

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      Oh yes….and I think there are things that I’m happy to do ‘just good enough’ and not much more. I wonder if that’s the case for most of us….

  • Jodie
    July 13, 2017

    What an interesting post to really make one think, Deb. I guess I’m one of those that doesn’t dream of fame & fortune. I want to feel like I did my best and helped others, but more on a small scale!!
    I have those same kind of dreams though—the kind where I go to a final exam and realize I had never attended the class—totally unprepared. which is really the opposite of how I live.
    XOXO
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

    • Debbish
      July 13, 2017

      I had that exam dream for a while as well and think linked to it in the post and apparently it can be a fear or feeling or being judged, setting your targets too high, and not being prepared (very literal translation I guess).

    • April
      July 17, 2017

      I have that one too. I had a lot more fun in college than I should have and being the first in my family to graduate from college (I had grandparents and great grandparents looking to me) there was A LOT of pressure. I wonder if I have it because I didn’t get out of college what I should have and then didn’t use it. I have a degree in middle school education, but was a stay at home mom for years. The dream feels more like a nightmare!

      • Debbish
        July 17, 2017

        I wasn’t a particularly good student. I was doing my MBA before I discovered there really was no need to try to ‘learn’ stuff by heart. The realisation was weird and for the first time it made sense that I was better at stuff I didn’t need to study for (math, english etc). I used to love maths because once you understood ‘how’ to do something you could just do it. It was at least a decade later when I was doing my Masters that it occurred to me that – just understanding a concept – meant that I could explain it when required. No wonder I was so crap at exams!

  • leannelc
    July 13, 2017

    I’ve never invested myself in my career Deb – probably because I’ve never worked anywhere that inspired me – it has always been “just a job” so I don’t tend to dream about it much. I’ve been taking a sleeping pill for the last few years and don’t seem to dream much at all anymore but I totally understand what you mean about thinking there should be more, or wishing there was more to life. I’m pretty okay with things now but I still have kernel of envy when I see/read about people who succeed in something they love, or have adult kids who love being with them, or who have great bodies/exercise routines, or fantastic careers etc. I’m settling for mediocrity because if I don’t I’ll lead a very dissatisfied second half of life.

    • Debbish
      July 14, 2017

      I love that approach Leanne, other than the notion of ‘settling’. Perhaps it’s aspiring for mediocrity or, rather balance!

  • Kate
    July 14, 2017

    Deb – haven’t looked at your blog for a long time. Ijust read this one and I want to give you a big hug.
    I think there are lots of us who haven’t fulfilled career aspirations (or expectations?) and there are heaps of reasons for that. If you are the type of person (like me) that likes achievements then it is very easy to think we have never done enough and coulda done better.
    A friend once gave her boss a mug that said “Know how you can be proud of me everyday? Lower your expectations” I think it is so important we are kind to ourselves and don’t beat ourselves up. How can it be right that an internal voice be unkind and judgemental. We’d never talk to anyone else like that.
    Take care. We will have to have a coffee when you are next in Brizzie or on the Sunshine Coast.
    Lots of hugs

    Kate

    • Debbish
      July 14, 2017

      That last workplace Kate (with you and the gig I had there before that) was one of the times I felt very valued in my job. It wasn’t something that happened often in government (particularly in EO roles).

      And I think I am very much like you and think in terms of ‘achievements’. Even in my new life I guess I feel ‘bad’ I haven’t: got paid for more freelancing work, or written a novel etc… It’s fine to say I’m enjoying more balance but there’s that old part of me who feels I should be doing / achieving more…

      • Kate
        July 14, 2017

        I know what you mean. I grieved for a while about loss of job/status/reputation/income and of course health.
        I know I’m lucky. I don’t need to work much for the money so I have been able to focus on meaning instead; working with refugees, disengaged youth, volunteering teaching people to sail as well as a self indulgence: finally learning a language. I do love my life now and wouldn’t go back even if I could. I feel I am getting to do many things that people with stronger careers will look back after they have retired and wish they had the opportunity to do. But career has definitely gone into a box of memories.
        Although I do often feel guilty about not enough gym and exercise given I usually have more time (and of course too much chocolate!!)
        But don’t beat yourself up. If you have a pt job that lets you do your writing, blogging, reading etc that sounds not bad! I’m afraid most govt jobs in the regions are underpaid compared to Brisbane head office. Can’t see that changing any time soon.

        Take care
        xxx

        • Debbish
          July 14, 2017

          No, I think options are pretty limited in the regions. There was a story in our local paper about someone being too experienced / qualified for local jobs and I could most certainly relate given the trouble I had finding something here. I think I was able to lower my expectations pretty quickly, recognising I was probably looking at earning about half of what I’d earned in the city.

          I do need to work financially but think I’d need to do something meaningful either way and you’re certainly doing that – which is obviously how and why you did so well in your ‘old’ (and perhaps less-fulfilling) life. x

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond
    July 14, 2017

    Hi Debbie I just loved your post and was nodding throughout. I’m someone who suffers from self-doubt, self-consciousness and always pushing myself to be my best. That can get tiring can’t it? Having the blog and writing about my life since retiring has helped but there are still days when I wake up and realise no ‘I”m not the next big blogging sensation or any sensation really’ I’m just me and the important lesson is to accept who I am and then happiness and contentment follows.You have been through so much so think of all the life experience you have which has made you the person you are today. #teamlovinlife

    • Debbish
      July 14, 2017

      Yes… it’s intriguing isn’t it, that some of us aspire to ‘more’ and therefore feel like we’ve underachieved. I wonder what future generations will be like as I know a lot of people talk about young people / kids today being more ‘entitled’ or being told they are. (No kids myself, so not sure about that one…)

  • Jess
    July 14, 2017

    I don’t think everyone thinks or dreams quite as big as one another but we all do it to some extent. I am the worst at this I always always thought I would travel and live some amazing, exciting place and have an amazing job and be more than mediocre. I now realise I am very mediocre. In fact people I went to school with who chased far more mediocre dreams then me are much more successful at being mediocre hahaha. I sometimes think I need to reevaluate what my ideas of success are, because in certain ways I have been extremely lucky (like with my beautiful girls). And I really don’t want to take those things for granted. But other aspects of my life I would love for more.

    • Debbish
      July 15, 2017

      Oh yes Jess…. how we define success and achievements is really important. For example I’d always assumed I’d get married and have kids and that feels like a huge failure for me, whereas others kinda take it for granted in some ways.

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    July 15, 2017

    We’re all destined for something extraordinary when we are young. Simply because at that young age we believe anything is possible. We can fly to the moon in a cardboard box if we want to. Then the cardboard box gets a bit limp and soggy and doesn’t work quite the same way as we age.

    Congratulations on one year anniversary! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend for a celebratory breakfast.
    Ooooh, and you are SO NOT mediocre.

    • Debbish
      July 15, 2017

      I’m excited about catching up as well and love your cardboard box analogy. You’ve reminded me of the fact my childhood best friend and I used to actually do exactly that!

  • Michelle W (@pinkypoinker)
    July 16, 2017

    You write so much from your heart, Deb. Yes I do have recurring and disturbing dreams. I dreamed big as a young person and have spent my life reinventing myself as I got older as well. Enjoy the journey is my motto.

    • Debbish
      July 16, 2017

      I like that concept of reinventing ourselves Michelle. And it’s so true – circumstances change. We change. Others change. It only makes sense our aspirations / dreams will have changed.

  • seizetheday20
    July 16, 2017

    I guess the whole mediocrity debate is a bit of a glass half empty/half full argument… it all depends on the way you look at it. I try to focus on all the good things I’ve achieved in my life, but there’s always that underlying sense of being mediocre or average because I may not have “fulfilled my potential”. Sometimes I get all gung ho and pursue something exciting, then like Kathy, I run out of steam. Maybe it’s a “maturity” thing? πŸ™‚ Perhaps we all just need to be kinder to ourselves xox #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      July 16, 2017

      Yes. I’m particularly bad at remembering to talk to myself the way I talk to others. (Can indeed be a nasty biatch to myself!)

  • April
    July 17, 2017

    I think we are way too hard on ourselves. I don’t think you could call yourself or your work mediocre. (I read your About page.) Society makes us think we have to be rich and famous to believe “we made it.” I believe when we go to Heaven and we are standing there not in competition with anyone else, what really matters is how we were to other people. How did we make others feel. As “older” women it takes a lot of courage to get on a computer and tell strangers about our feelings and lives. I don’t think that falls anywhere near mediocre or average.

    • Debbish
      July 17, 2017

      Oh thank you for your lovely words. And you’re very right about how we decide we’ve ‘made it’ or not. For many, having a family and partner is something they take for granted and don’t see as an achievement, but it’s most certainly something I feel I’ve ‘failed’ at.

      And of course I was reminded (by some meme on Facebook today) that we should remember that the fulfilment we seek (etc) is really only something that can be met from within ourselves and not by external sources. (Like the Wizard of Oz says! πŸ˜‰ )

  • yinyangmother
    July 18, 2017

    Deb – I have been a very slack blogger and reader, but your post arrived at exactly the right time, with exactly the right message. Thank you!! I am sure it resonates with so many people (especially our age). I am very lucky to have a loving partner and children (children not so loving some of the time). For me there is still the loss/failure of infertility within that good fortune, and so I feel guilty for any sense of sadness. Career wise I have the ‘balance’ that so many aspire to – working professionally and teaching yoga on the side (more hobby than income). Within that balance I am not taken as seriously as I deserve to be professionally (the curse of the part-time worker) and have to watch people with egos and far less experience take credit or under-rate my contributions. I’m also not the ‘serious’ (and seriously poor) yoga teacher, and as a middle-aged Mum don’t fit the ‘Instagram’ version of a yoga teacher – far from it. So – what am I saying! I think that the only measure we should have, if we have to measure (and individually, and as a society, we seem to want to do) is one of contribution – genuinely contributing with best intentions. I am pretty sure this is a definition of a good life. X

    • Debbish
      July 19, 2017

      Oh, I love this Kathy and I very much understand. I’ve been pondering a little more on that notion of ‘success’ and how we prioritise stuff since writing this post and realise that it is such a subjective thing. Others can look at our lives and think we’re doing great, but we’re our harshest critics and so often only listen to the negative stuff people are saying about us / our work rather than the positive.

  • yinyangmother
    July 18, 2017

    Oh – I meant to say on the definition of contribution – your life, my life, is good – right!

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