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Messy, Mystery, Mediocrity in 2023

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD


Here we go.  Somehow we have survived 2022 with all of its challenges, and 2023 stands before us as a new year with new challenges, new opportunities, and new adventures.

Hopefully, you have not only survived 2022, but have grown a bit, discovered some new things about yourself, found your way into stronger relationships, and had some meaningful experiences and fun adventures along the way.  

Recently I have been extra focused on three words, and they just might be my 2023 mantra.  They’re easy to remember because they all start with the letter M.  Give these words some consideration as you enter 2023.

Messy.  Math and music (two more M words) are wonderfully precise, clean, and consistent.  But the rest of life is consistently messy, filled with the unexpected, and sometimes with the undesired.  If you invest all of your energy in trying to avoid the messiness of life you will find yourself continually exhausted and unfulfilled.  

As I noted last week, we need to exercise the radical acceptance of our circumstances, especially when we realize we have no control over them.  We must come to terms with the fact that life, for all of its wonder and goodness, also commonly knocks us off our pins, puts us in painful circumstances, and forces us to adjust and adapt.  

Here is the positive aspect of coming to terms with life’s challenges.  When we learn to accept our circumstances we tend to grow stronger rather than weaker.  We discover that we can choose our attitude in many difficult situations, even when we cannot control the situation.  

Accepting the messiness of life moves us in the direction of growth and increased resilience.

Mystery.  Almost everyone reading this article was raised in large part as a product of the Enlightenment, or of what has also been referred to as the Age of Reason.  Think eighteenth century.  During this period humanity largely concluded that reason was the way to enlightenment, and that any belief in God or a Creator was suspect since it left us with only mystery (Mystery).  Nature (and the sciences) became more trustworthy than revelation (God, Scripture).

Suddenly having a belief in God was considered unnecessary since faith does not seem to have the solid foundation of data.  Reason became more important than revelation.  Or one could say that nature and the sciences became more trustworthy than revelation and Mystery.

I think we lost a great deal when we sold our souls to reason at the expense of revelation.  Even revelation (scripture) notes that a Creator is evident in nature.  Since we have reason and the sciences solidly in place (and that is a good thing), what we may need is a return to revelation and mystery - not at the expense of reason, but alongside reason.  

Let's face it, reason has not been as successful as had been hoped and predicted.  We are not able to solve all situations, understand all things, or discover a deep sense of meaning in reason alone.  It comes up short.  We need Mystery.

Mediocrity.  It might surprise you that I would include this word.  The word is understood to be negative.  For example, dictionary definitions suggest a mediocre person is someone who is not good at something, or maybe not good at anything.

But we live in a time where the pressure is always on to be the best at everything we do.  I certainly want to pursue excellence in all that I do, but I don’t want to live life trying to be perfect at everything I do.  That simply means I am always trying to get from point A to point B, when the need is to learn how to be alive and purposeful while between the points.

Therefore I suggest that we reframe mediocrity as a positive word, and that we accept the imperfections of life while still always dedicated to a journey of growth.  Life is a circular journey of continued growth rather than a linear journey of getting from A to B to C, and so on.  

Healthy mediocrity moves us away from self-condemnation and judgment.  We become more accepting of self and more accepting of others.  We become less antagonistic, more accommodating, and more oriented to team and community.  

As we enter 2023, I encourage you to allow for the messiness of life, recognize the mystery of human existence alongside all that we discover through the sciences, and tolerate or even applaud a bit more mediocrity in your life and in the lives of those around you.  This approach to 2023 can improve your own sense of meaning, your acceptance of self, and the quality of your most important relationships.

If you want to talk about these or other things with a professional, we have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.