When all else fails, excel in mediocrity
Failure is something you can easily succeed in. Take the phenomenal 19 percent I scored on my ninth-grade geometry test. The failure was so spectacular it actually felt triumphant. My friends saw it as subversively heroic. “Jenn Kim got a 19 on the geometry test. How do you even get a 19? That is so phat.” “Phat” was the most scandalous thing you could be in 1999 Long Island, New York. After all, rebellion is a trait of valor in the eyes of adolescents. With a 19 on the test, I proudly flew the “I don’t give a shit” flag to impress peers and got a week’s worth of classroom attention. There is something dark, romantic, and even sexy about failure.
Success is universally admired and, unlike failure, you get your money’s worth, when you’re still breathing and around to enjoy it. But success can be just as dark as failure: Matthew Perry had his intoxicated Porsche accidents, Dick Cheney had his 287 heart attacks, and Paris Hilton, the Olsen sisters, and Lindsay Lohan apparently share their men.
When I was a kid, in response to my parents’ enthusiastic misunderstanding of me, I aspired to become something so undeniably unique and renowned, so sublime and awesome that my parents would be a joke. I would be a female rock star!
I was in love with British pop and modern rock. The listening part kind of got boring after a while, and I wanted to take part in the genre. And after years of lessons and countless hours of playing guitar instead of doing my homework, I became the world’s most average guitar player and the world’s most out-of-tune vocalist. Yeah, I had my own punk band in 10th grade, and for three weeks I sang in a hideously Korean/American/British accent. It was painfully clear that I would never be a lady Beatle, nor a madam Pistol, let alone an Avril Lavigne. (She’s not part of Brit pop, by the way.)
Still, I thought there must be something else I could excel in, that could make me an irrefutable success. There it was staring at me from the television, every night at eight o’clock sharp: I’d become a famous anchorwoman, like Connie Chung! In Korea!
Think of it: All I would have to do is read and people would watch me every day if they wanted to keep in touch with the rest of the world. They would adore me and respect me. Every word out of my mouth would carry such credibility. I would be rich, but everyone would give me everything I wanted for free. It seemed to be the most clever pathway to success yet.
I got a bit further pursuing this dream than becoming a rock star. I worked as an intern for a summer at perhaps the most-watched national news station in South Korea — the eight o’clock news on KBS, the Korean Broadcasting System. I received a delightful, hands-on experience, following reporters around and helping out with the busy-work at the news station. It seemed so simple and easy; I wondered why everyone in the world did not also want to be a famous anchorwoman. And then I realized that everyone in Korea does want to. I attended a panel at Ewha Women’s University (the most highly respected women’s college in the country) for students wishing to advance in journalism after graduation. I saw about 5000 young women of my age, all beautiful, intelligent, and academically successful, crammed into a rather large auditorium on campus. I instantly became aware of my weaknesses: most prominently my weird “American” accent when speaking Korean and my noticeably small Korean vocabulary.
I was at a crossroads. I could give up my dreams of success and greatness and become that noble failure — dabble in drugs and cultivate an aggressive alcoholism — or, I could turn to the very first passion that I had had ever since I could scribble the alphabet. Writing! Why not? I could spend hours just writing away about the complexities about life, death, emotions, and relationships, the daily endeavors, and nightly fantasies. I’m short, dramatic, sentimental, and Asian — why, I might as well become the next Amy Tan.
Yet, I was as far from success as I ever was. I strove to write more vividly, inspirationally, beautifully, perfectly! But my grades don’t quite meet my parents’ or my own standards. I have never received any awards for my writing. However, I’m also not an utter failure. No, I’m something much, much worse. I am mediocre. Success is great, and there seems to be some type of nobility in failure. But mediocrity is quicksand. All my life I feared it. To be common, ordinary, neither here nor there, middling, moderate, standard, so-so, par, normal, average!
You may be saying to yourselves that this is all just a shameless piece written solely to make you feel sorry for me. I can’t help it. I’m mediocre! From now on, my sole recourse is to find peace in mediocrity. To embrace my tepid fate for all it’s worth. Let’s face it, most of the world is mediocre and they don’t seem to mind. This is America. We’ve made mediocrity an art form here. We take cinema and turn it into Walking Tall starring the Rock. News journalism becomes Fox News. Our president, George W. Bush, is the poster child of mediocrity. I have to learn to stop trying so hard and start caring a lot less. Instead of fighting it, I should dive into the pool of mediocrity and enjoy the over-crowded, lukewarm, kids-peeing-in-the-water with the rest of humanity. Who’s to say that I couldn’t ironically succeed at being mediocre? Perhaps, I have finally found something I can genuinely excel in.
Dear God, I pray that you help me find peace on this perpetual loop of mediocrity I’m spinning in, like some giant hamster wheel. No more rock star, no more famous anchorwoman; forget that whole “I’m the next Amy Tan” statement. Just help get me a staff job on TV Guide and we’ll call it a life!