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How society conditions you for mediocrity

Why, despite a strong economy and virtually unlimited opportunities, only a small number of people in developed countries live the life that they are fully satisfied with? There are many reasons for this and, sometimes, there are individual circumstances beyond people's control that get in people's way. However, there is one key reason why most of the people are not achieving what they personally would define as success: the society deliberately conditions people for mediocrity.

This is not just another conspiracy theory. As you will see, there are plenty of observable and demonstrable facts which suggest that the society indeed conditions people for mediocrity, or is at least trying to. There are many things going on in the society which are widespread and socially acceptable that either provide no benefit to people who do them or even make their lives worse. Likewise, there are things that, despite not causing any harm to anyone, aren't considered to be socially acceptable, despite the fact that practicing those can have a great positive effect on one's life.

Before I continue, I need to make an important statement: there is, actually, nothing wrong with being mediocre. If you are living an ordinary life and are fully satisfied with it, there is no need to change anything in your life. This article is not aimed at you, although you may still want to read it out of interest. However, if you, just like me, have a nagging feeling that you are not living up to your full potential, read on.


Many fun activities are not fundamentally different from the mundane ones

Most people within the society associate their job with a series of chores and never see it as fun. This is why many are so obsessed with "work life balance" these days. The concept implies that work is not a part of life. It's merely something that you endure to earn money, which then helps you to actually live your life.

This is totally understandable for mundane and dirty jobs that require very little qualification or no qualification at all. Those are not the jobs people choose because they dreamed about getting into them. Rather, those are the positions people reluctantly accept because nothing else is available to them and they need some source of income. However, many people who chose jobs based on their interests and have worked hard to get into those careers still see their work as a never-ending series of chores and can't wait to clock out at the end of the day.

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed playing video games on my PC. I was not your average gamer though. I enjoyed learning how computers and software work. I also enjoyed making mods for games, which sometimes was a complex and laborious process. However, to me, it was just as exciting as actually playing the games. I also knew how to build my own PC and, sometimes, I was able to modify the existing games, so they would run nicely on a machine with lower than recommended specs.

I haven't played video games for a while. One day, I was sitting at work, thinking about how unenjoyable my duties were. I suddenly recalled how fun it was to play a certain real-time strategy game that I haven't touched for several years. So, in my thoughts, I couldn't wait to go home and do something that was fun.

However, something suddenly has hit me. A realisation came that the tasks I perform at work are not fundamentally different from playing a real-time strategy game. I was (and still am) a software developer and my job requires exactly the same thinking process as playing challenging video games does. Just like in games, I was solving complex problems. Just like in games, I had a clear set of challenging objectives.

Then I recalled spending time fiddling with my old PC making the games played better. As well as being somewhat similar to playing certain types of video games, my everyday duties were extremely similar to making video game mods, the activity that I enjoyed in the past as much as I enjoyed playing the games. My job was what I, as a teenager, would consider a perfect job. Not only was I doing what I enjoyed doing, but I was also making good money doing it. Also, the product that I was making was no longer meant for my own enjoyment only. I was actually making people's lives easier.

So, how come playing video games was still fun, while doing the actual work wasn't, despite the activities being pretty much equivalent? It wasn't very long until the answer came to me. The reason why the work was perceived as something to endure rather than something to enjoy was because of years upon years of listening to people saying things like "I'm glad it's Friday ", "My job comes with a great work-life balance" and "Vacation is over. Back to reality now".

Many tasks are only perceived mundane when they are associated with an actual job. The proof that many tasks associated with certain professions are inherently exciting lays in the fact that kids play being professionals for fun and many people willingly spend their free time playing video games that accurately simulate real-life jobs

When this realisation came, my job suddenly became exciting and enjoyable. I had exactly the same job, but my attitude towards it had changed. My main career has improved, I started getting noticed by my superiors and I also started building my own software as side projects in my spare time.

When I showed one of Android apps that I've built to my co-workers, they have told me that they wished they had as much spare time as I had. However, I could overhear the same co-workers discussing "The Walking Dead", "Game of Thrones" and football scores. Well, guess what? I haven't watched any of these series and I don't watch football. This is where my spare time comes from.

This is similar to why many object against working long hours. People will say that they could work more, but they have to spend more time being good parents and having urgent household activities done. However, the reality is that most people spend many hours of their spare time just watching TV and mindlessly browsing the web. So, it is possible to work fairly long hours and still be a good parents if you get your priorities right.

If you do your job with passion and spend over 10 hours per day mastering your craft, you will soon gain a distinct advantage over those who spend no more than 8 hours on the same job and do it with resentment. Indeed, you will soon be among those highly-paid outliers that are commonly referred to in the society as "lucky".

All mega-successful people, including Bill Gates and Elon Musk, work crazy hours. And this is not because they are mad workaholics or have tremendous amounts of willpower to push through mundane activities. These are the people who knew what they wanted and didn't allow public opinion to affect their worldviews.

Of course, this is not an excuse for any employer to exploit their workers and it doesn't apply to genuinely mundane jobs that people do only to get by. If you are in one of such jobs and you don't see how it can ever lead you to a type of a job that you really want, doing extra hours doesn't actually make any sense, unless you are paid extra for them. Every additional unpaid hour that you sacrifice to a job that doesn't give you anything apart from a steady paycheck is an hour you cannot spend on developing the skills for the job you want or building your own business. This is why you should probably be looking to leave a job where working long hours wasn't a choice that you have willingly made. This is also why workers' rights that protect employees from being exploited are as necessary as ever.


People who enjoy doing something practical are demonised

The previous point was all about a peer pressure that, over time, can change your worldview in an unhelpful way if you aren't aware of it. If you know, however, that this subtle peer pressure exists and that you are being constantly subjected to it, not succumbing to the public opinion is not excessively difficult. The next point, however, is much more sinister.

People who show potential for success or display outer appearances of success are often demonised without any rational reason. This starts with school, where students who openly display interest in practical but unpopular things are called "nerds" or "geeks" and are bullied. For example, being interested in computers, maths or natural sciences is considered to be uncool and will exclude you from many social circles. This is not always due to social awkwardness of technically-minded students either. It is true that people who genuinely find it difficult to communicate with others, for example, people on the Autistic spectrum, often are attracted to complex technical subjects. However, many students who are technically literate have no problem to communicate with others to start with. Many, however, become extremely introverted due to the low self-esteem caused by prolonged periods of being bullied.

This phenomenon is international in scope. In Russia, for example, "botanist" is a derogatory term that is used to refer to school pupils who express any interest in complex technical and/or scientific subjects. Just like in the West, those people are made into social outcasts and are considering to be legitimate targets for bullying.

On the other hand, teenagers who either obsessively follow a spectator sport that is popular in a given country or are into the celebrity culture are considered cool amongst their peers almost universally. This, however, does not make any rational sense. Football fans, for example, fill their memory with large number of completely useless facts, such as what is the net worth of each player, who scored what goal and when, when did a particular manager joined the club and who was the last wealthy person to purchase the club and how much they paid for it. They spend the same amount of time and mental effort as "geeks" do. However, unlike the knowledge that tech enthusiast collect, that has a realistic chance of setting them up for a fulfilling and potentially well-paid career, the knowledge that the sport enthusiast collect is completely useless. This, of course, doesn't apply to people who are serious about entering a given sport professionally and are putting real effort into achieving this goal. Despite popular belief, the sport enthusiasts from this category are much less likely to be bullies.

The result of this culture in schools is that many people who had a realistic potential to become truly successful in a field that they had a lot of enthusiasm for instead either develop whole range of mental issues or abandon their hobbies in order to fit in before they become adults. As the consequence of either of those, instead of a fulfilling life they dreamed of, they end up living pretty mediocre one. Some, however, persevere and become successful anyway. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, for example, was heavily bullied in school. Although he is successful by any definition, some of his bullies are probably still stacking shelves in supermarkets and cleaning floors in offices. After all, Capitalism is a system that often gives school bullies their comeuppance.

The demonisation of people who consistently make rational choices in their lives is not limited to the school. Even as adults, people often talk badly about "filthy rich", a large proportion of whom have actually got where they are through the effort of their own and not because they were born into wealth. Another symptom of this is how people who drive high-end German cars become subjects of jokes, such as the one about BMW, which, despite being expensive, apparently always comes with faulty indicators. It is commonly assumed that those who drive such cars are much less considerate to other road users than others. The reality is, however, that boy racers from lower socio-economic strata who drive cheap old cars are much more likely to drive dangerously and aggressively. The real reason why the owners of expensive cars are demonised is envy, which is merely expressed in a socially acceptable way. Everyone can afford the cars that boy racers drive and nobody but the boy racers themselves want those, so there is no fun in making jokes about them. However, many people want high-end German cars and few people can afford them, so making fun of those who drive those makes people feel superior to them, at least temporarily.


Misery likes company

There is a concept in psychology known as "crab bucket theory ". The idea behind it is that when a single crab is placed in a bucket, it can crawl out. However, when several crabs are placed in the same bucket, none of them can escape, as they keep pulling each other down. The same applies to people in a metaphorical way. Individuals who have sub-par life prevent those close to them from achieving success and the reason for it is simple: misery likes company.

This is the key reason why people in the West who earn an average income often vote for income redistribution policies. Many of those who do so won't even ever directly benefits from those policies and they know that. They earn too much to be recipients of the income redistribution. However, they also don't earn enough to be on the other end of redistribution either. Having no plans to ever start earning more themselves, they are satisfied that it becomes harder for other people to earn more than them, as taxes on individuals with higher income are increased. Political psychologists who are familiar with the subject have concluded a long time ago that many people who lean strongly to the left economically do so because they resent the success and not because they have compassion for the poor.

When your life is not satisfactory, it is much easier to blame everything outside of you rather than accept personal responsibility for your life choices. This is why the denial that such thing as personal responsibility even exists is becoming popular. For example, there are movements that not only promote the idea that certain unhealthy life choices are perfectly acceptable, but also glorify those choices.

Even some scientists have jumped on this bandwagon and started interpreting data way too liberally, obscuring the truth for the sake of making people feel good. For example, it has been found that morbidly obese people are likely to have certain genes that contribute towards their obesity. After these findings were published, some scientists went out of their way to tell the public that obesity is purely genetic. This would surely absolve people from personal responsibility. However, there are many individuals who used to be obese and who lost large amount of weight through a disciplined effort of their own. These people could not disagree more with the idea that weight problems are entirely genetic. After all, this hypothesis would violate one of the most fundamental laws of physics: the matter and energy can neither be destroyed not created.

Genes probably do play role in obesity, but only in an indirect way. For example, they probably control the appetite. Using sheer willpower against your body's instincts can be extremely tough; therefore it is wrong to judge people based only on their physical appearance. However, the fact remains that the only way to actually gain an excessive amount of body fat is to consume an excessive amount of food. Some of the people who don't have a body they are happy with and have given up on changing this part of their reality don't want you to think this way. Where they have given up, they don't want others to succeed.

Very similar issue is related to income inequality and social mobility. There are studies that show that the US and the UK have much fewer people moving up the socio-economic ladder compared to other developed countries. Because of this, many social scientists, economist and politicians were quick to jump to the conclusion that Americans and Brits don't have sufficient opportunities to progress up in life. Essentially, these experts use their position of authority to tell people that their life situation is settled and trying to change it is futile. However, there is an alternative explanation to this that very few of these experts would consider: social mobility may be working just fine, but cultural conditioning prevents people from taking full advantage of it.

I don't know how things are in the US, but I have lived in a working class community in the UK for a number of years. Having gained an intimate knowledge of British working class culture, I have concluded that cultural conditioning indeed plays the key role in why people stay in the same socio-economic class they were born in.

I understand that some people from British working class communities will not like what I am about to say. However, I want you to know that these statements honestly represent my opinion and are intended to motivate rather than criticise.

British working class community that I lived in was an ultimate example of a crab bucket. Most of parents living in the community conditioned their children to hate those who are one step above them on the socio-economic ladder. Assertive people who looked after their own best interests, for example, were referred to as "sharp-elbowed middle class". By the time kids grew into teenagers, "middle class" was a derogatory term. As it is extremely difficult to become what you have been conditioned to hate, but becoming it is the necessary step in the social mobility, the negative attitude towards the middle class was one thing that kept ambitious working class kids from taking advantage of the social mobility opportunities available to them.

Another example is that many working class parents that I knew were extremely uncomfortable with the idea that their kids could, one day, achieve more than they ever have, so they went out of the way to ensure that it never happens. Under pretense of teaching their children work ethics, on the day their kids would turn 16 (or, sometimes, even 14), they would demand that the kids contribute their "fair share" towards the rent, household bills and day-to-day expenses. This was even the case in families where most, if not all, household expenses were paid by state benefits. This pressured the teenagers into finding any kind of work as soon as possible, which, with their level of experience, only included unskilled work at the minimum wage. Any hopes of entering specialist education and developing in-demand skills had to be abandoned.

There are also other ways of how parents discouraged their kids from education. When teenagers expressed the desire to study to be a lawyer, a medical doctor or an accountant, their parents would often say something along the lines of "This is not for the likes of us. Why can't you just be a plumber?".

Personally, I found that in the UK, social mobility works quite well. There are plenty of opportunities out there for developing your skills, both academically and professionally. My current situation is a far cry from my prior experience at the bottom of the socio-economic strata. All of this is because I refused to accept the view of the world perpetuated by my working class friends as I was growing up. My experience is not unique either. Virtually everyone I knew who had a similar outlook to mine and has started in a similar position has managed to progress well in the society.


How do I prevent myself from being conditioned into mediocrity?

You may not agree on the points I've raised and I admit that my opinion may not objectively represent the reality; therefore I don't mind if you disagree with me. However, if you are skeptical, I'll give you a challenge. Try to live your life, for at least a month, paying attention to whether any regular thoughts that you get or any daily routines that you participate in are hindering your personal growth. If you find that any of them do, try to figure out whether they are your own, or did you develop them over time because this is what everyone else does or believes.

When you realise that many people who surround you often push believes on you that prevent you from succeeding, whether they do so conciously or unconsciously, you begin to listen to yourself more and start making life choices that you truly want to make. Approval from others becomes unimportant for anything you truly believe in. Over time, the consequences of these choices are likely to accumulate and your life will probably begin to closely match what you personally define as success.

It is easy to just ignore the peer pressure when you aren't actually being coerced to do anything, but what about the scenarios where you can suffer direct consequences of doing something others disagree with, such as if you would get bullied at school for performing certain actions? This situation is much more difficult, but there is a reliable solution.

If you are bullied in school because of your hobbies, instead of abandoning your hobbies or keeping quiet about them, you can start practicing martial arts. However, not just any martial art will do. Choose a discipline where you will be exposed to physical confrontations. Boxing, Muay Thai, Olympic wrestling and Brazilian Ju-jitsu are perfect examples of those. You may, initially, feel too scared to participate in sparring matches. If so, just remember that those are unlikely to results in any injuries more serious than bruises and that bullying is infinitely worse.

When you'll master the basics of a given martial art, which will probably take you a couple of months, you'll learn that a physical confrontation is nothing to be scared of and that people who don't practice martial arts are usually easily defeated by those who do, regardless of how bid they are and how mighty they look.

Even if you have never experienced physical violence from the bullies, you may have felt that talking back to them could be something that would have provoked it. However, with basic martial arts competence, you will feel confident enough to say anything you want to the bullies, even the most insulting things ever, knowing full well that if they will retaliate physically, you will be able to handle the situation.

With martial arts competence and the confidence it will give you, you may still not be very popular in school, even if nobody would any longer dare to bully you directly. However, this is not something you should be afraid of. You can just use the school for its intended purpose: studying. You can always socialise with people outside of school who actually share your interests. Why would you want to hang out with B and C players anyway? They will probably be stacking supermarket shelves in their 40s, while you'll have a happy life and a fulfilling career.



Written by

Posted on 2 Mar 2018

Fiodar Sazanavets is a full stack software developer with several years of experience working in various industries. In his professional career, he has mainly worked with a number of different Microsoft stack technologies, both back-end and front-end, and Java for Android. Fiodar has an Honours degree in Environmental Biology and a Masters degree in Environmental Informatics.

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