Dubai: “Why can’t I be 30?”, I asked. I could almost hear the confusion in my dad’s silence as he processed my question. Sparing him the trouble of figuring out what I was talking about, I proceeded to explain what I meant.
When you’re 30, you look at a world filled with opportunity and possibility. Typically, you still put the effort in to better yourself, to make the best possible version of you. At 30, growth and development are still priorities.
Then, as one year rolls into the next, your outlook gradually changes and, without even noticing it, by the time you reach your 50’s, you will likely have accepted what is as what will be. At that point, opportunity, possibility and the pursuit of something new are replaced with the countdown to retirement.
Once upon a time, doing things the way you have always done them would have been frowned upon, but suddenly that’s called “experience” and is seen as something to celebrate.
The day I asked my dad why I couldn’t be 30 again, I was frustrated by the pressure to transition into that very group — the group perceived as normal for my generation. Of course, I didn’t literally mean that I wanted the age on my ID to change, but I certainly wanted to be 30 in nearly every other way.
I was angered by the injustice. Why couldn’t I be in the same physical shape, or better shape, than a 30-year-old, even if I am two decades older? Why couldn’t I have the same energy? And most importantly, why couldn’t I approach the future as if I were 30?
Then it struck me. Who gives someone else the power to say I can’t?
Several years ago, I wrote about the disadvantage of being normal. The point I wanted to make was that if you desire to be like everyone else, then you’re actually pursuing normalcy. That’s perfectly acceptable if you desire an average life and a predictable future, but when I think of average, my mind gravitates to mediocre.
It’s a word that describes something that is neither good nor bad, but that usually falls below expectations.
Mediocrity shouldn’t be accepted, tolerated, entertained, even thought about. Push yourself to perform better, do more, be more. Time is way too valuable to waste it on mediocre work, idle chat, incremental improvement or doing the expected.
Only accept being uncommon — an outlier who is different from the rank and file.
Mediocrity is often the accepted standard and it can creep up on you if you grow complacent. When early-career entrepreneurs decide to set up businesses while those around them take the employee route, that makes them distinct, different.
But mediocrity can show back up when they find themselves in a new, like-minded group. There, they become just like every other business owner.
Similarly, when an employee puts in the effort to break into the management ranks, they initially set themselves apart, but then risk becoming indifferentiable from their equally successful manager peers.
The question is, how can you escape the clutches of mediocracy? And the answer: never settle! Reward good work with great work.
Reward success with winning in a new league. Reward winning in a new league with repeated championships. Be a shaper of the future instead of settling for the expected.
It’s never too late to discover what makes you unique and separate yourself from ordinary people. All being well, I will be able to work for another two decades at least, so instead of looking at the future as a 51-year-old with retirement on the horizon, I’m approaching life as if I were 30 and seeing the opportunity in front of me.
Most importantly of all, I’m rebuilding myself and turning possibility into my own reality.
One day, the time will come to look back, and when it does, I will be satisfied that I lived life to the full. Meanwhile, I choose to look forward.
(Tommy Weir is the CEO of EMLC Leadership AI Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at email@example.com.)