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Why there's nothing wrong with being mediocre

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If you set high standards for yourself, chances are that you'll get frustrated - just because you can't always meet those standards. Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling 'Wild', discovered that the recipe for success was simply doing her best - nothing more, nothing less. 

In Oprah’s Soul Sessions, you talk about the time when you had an opportunity to write your first novel, but instead you sat watching reality shows on TV. You mentioned the phrase “embracing your mediocrity”. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

“What I mean by that is, you should give everything you’ve got while fully embracing that everything might not end up being very great, and that your job isn’t to decide whether you’re great or not. Your job is to work really hard and do your best. And then it’s up to the world to decide what that thing was that you wrote for them. You really can’t succeed if you get too bound up in your own ideas of what your success will look like.

I found out that I was blocked because I was so wanting to write the great novel and I realized I can’t do it, I can’t sit down at my computer every day and go, ‘Okay, come on, great novel.’ All I could say to myself was: ‘Come on, let’s try to write this scene and see how it goes.’”

The result was one of the most refreshing ideas about success I’ve ever heard: yours.

“My definition of success is that you can answer yes to the question: Did I do my best? Did I give it everything I have? And if you can say yes to that, you’ve succeeded. I really sincerely believe that. It’s so contrary to so many messages we get in every area: Did you earn lots of money? Did you get an A? Did you get the promotion? Did you get your book published? Did you get the part you auditioned for? All of those standards set you up to fail. They set you up to feel terrible about yourself and to prevent you from doing your best.

What I would say is, did you give it your all? Did you give it your best shot? If you answer yes to that, in all honesty, then you did it, you hit the highest mark. This is also what helped me feel okay about the success I have. It’s a little counterintuitive, but when I had this enormous success, there was a little part of me that felt almost guilty. Like, why me?

I have all these amazing friends who are also writers, who also deserve this recognition. And they were very supportive, they said, ‘You worked so hard for this.’ I know that they work hard too, because that’s how it goes: you work very hard for years and finally this big thing happens for you. You don’t get it for free.”

Text: Geertje Couwenbergh - Image: Allef Vinicius

Curious about the rest of the Cheryl Strayed interview? You can find the rest of the interview in the new issue of Happinez, Happinez - Being in the here and now.