I am something of a standing ovation snob. I sit stubbornly in my seat and clap politely while the people around me cave in to peer pressure and give a standing ovation to a mediocre community production of A Christmas Carol or a mostly in-tune rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” And it’s really not because I’m a jerk; it’s because I want my standing ovation to mean something. I want it to mean that whatever was just presented was so impressive technically or so moving personally that a normal ovation just won’t cut it. If I give a standing ovation for every badly choreographed, adequately executed dance solo at the talent show, what meaning does it have? Not much.
So when I gave a standing ovation at Becky’s sophomore piano recital, it was because I meant it. Becky and I had been in high school together, and she was extremely intelligent and could have gone into basically any field she chose. She was also, however, one of the few people I’ve ever met that was so talented it would be a downright shame if she hadn’t become a music major. Her recital was absolutely fantastic to the point of being nearly overwhelming.
See, I also play the piano. I started taking lessons from my mom as a very eager five year old, and I was pretty good (for a five year old), but somewhere around age twelve, I stopped really doing lessons. I still played often because I enjoyed it, but in the decade and a half since then, I have improved only marginally.
Anyway, back to the recital. Listening to Becky’s final piece, a “Danse Macabre” whose composer I wish I could remember, and to which I gave the well-earned standing ovation, I was entranced. And a little sad. I thought, “Wow… I’m never going to play the piano again.”
Really impressive people tend to do that to me. It’s this idea of “I will never be that good, so I should probably give up.”
And it’s stupid. I realized sometime after Becky’s recital that of course I would still play the piano. I’m not really bad at it and I can generally do what I want to with it. I can sight read most things if I play slowly enough; I figured out how to play the intro to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with through extensive trial and error; I can pull out the Reader’s Digest Christmas Songbook and accompany a group of Christmas revelers while carefully hiding my mistakes and leaving out a few notes here and there. And more importantly, I like it.
Am I willing to put as much time and effort into the piano as Becky surely did? No, I’m not. But just because I will never be the best at it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Sure, I wouldn’t give myself a standing ovation, but if it makes me happy, so what?
In the Internet Age, more than ever we are exposed to people that are very, very good at what they do. (And many more people that are very, very bad at it.) That is a beautiful thing. And it’s wonderful that we can be inspired by people who are amazing. But, please, let’s not let other people’s triumphs make us sad. It’s OK to be just OK at pretty much everything.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to be great at a few things and to share those talents with other people. Of course we should work hard to be very good at the things we do in our careers and (even more importantly) in the way we treat other people. Working hard and improving helps us feel good about ourselves and able to help others. But it’s also fine to do things that you’re downright terrible at. If it’s important to you to get better, practice. If it’s not important to you, don’t stop doing it just because you’re bad at it. Enjoy your mediocrity.
You don’t have to get standing ovations in everything to be happy.