Think mediocrity

by tamarjacobson

Years ago, when I was in the struggling to complete my doctoral dissertation phase, a parent of one of the children at our center, who was also a professor at the college, said to me, "Tamar, think mediocrity." He meant that if I tried to create the world’s best masterpiece dissertation, I would never get it done. His words released my brain from its perfectionist streak and I was able to write, write, write until it was finished.

From time to time, when I get stuck with a piece of writing, work or life project, I think mediocrity, and my brain is freed to breathe for itself. What a strange notion, you might be thinking, not to strive for excellence. After all, we tell everyone to be the very best they can be for the rewards, once we have arrived at the destination at the top, are golden. I have always tried to be extra special at whatever it was I was doing, even washing floors. I always said that I learned to wash floors from the one person who knew best how to clean. I met her on kibbutz in the children’s house where I worked when I was twenty one. Everyone was in awe because we got on so well. She was known to be a perfectionist and no one could match up to her expectations. However, I learned fast. She was especially impressed with how I wiped clean the light switches, without her having to tell me!

Competition for my mother’s love was great in my family. Her favorites were clear. As a child I had the illusion that if I could just be as strong, as great, intelligent, lovely as whomever her favorite was, whether my brother, a cousin, or friend, I would finally become her priority. I worked hard at that and, naturally, transferred those desires to the rest of my life: husbands, work, friendships, mothering, you name it! Mostly I would put myself in impossible situations where the die was cast before I started out and, somehow, I just could never match up. In the end, I started to realize that getting it right to become everyone’s priority was a futile task. It just was not going to happen.

About six years ago, it seemed as if I had reached the peak of my career. It was an exciting time. I headed up organizations, was recruited and sought out in the local early childhood community, invited to speak all over the place, and was even offered the opportunity to write a book. During that year I lost 40 pounds weight and looked and felt great. I was flying high. It almost felt as if I had made it, whatever that means. And then … one day, it seems, it was over.

We moved away and I found myself alone, anonymous, and without work. It has taken two and a half years to regroup, rebuild myself, and find my place professionally. Personally, I realize that fifty eight years later, I am still not my mother’s priority. Nothing has changed. I have to face the fact that I am just plain and simply me. Sometimes I do great work, give a terrific speech, write a good piece or two, but mostly I am as average as can be. No startling revelations or brilliant intelligence. On the whole, I like to get up in the morning, play with my cat, drink a cup of coffee and look out at the tall oak tree that stands outside my window. I do not get into a sweat if it seems I might be five minutes late for a meeting, or if my class does not go as well as planned. Somehow it does not seem as important to match up. I would not know anymore to whom anyway. All those so-called great people out there are just people, plain and simple, like me.

I joined the health club last week and as I was swimming in the pool back and forth, back and forth, in the lukewarm water with gentle meditation music piped through in the back ground, I started to weep. It felt like relief. It was as if I was wrapping my arms around me and warming my hungry, hole-in-the-soul spirit. It felt safe, caring, comforting. As if I have survived something. Like my favorite scene in The Last Temptation of Christ, when the angel saves Jesus from the cross and bathes his wounds. I can stop working so hard to be the most special professor, author, mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend, blogger … whatever. Just relax and be me and if people like or want me – great. If not, it does not matter. Not really. Not in the grand scheme of things. I think I was there for a short while, at the top, I mean, and although there was a thrill, a buzz, it did not bring me any closer to feeling extra specially loved or acknowledged.

I smiled through my tears remembering Jeff’s words: "Tamar[ika], think mediocrity."

A year ago at Tamarika: A few reflections