Pretty Good (In Praise of Mediocrity)

Some of my very earliest memories are of music. Music on the radio in the milk shed, music on the radio in the car, music on the radio in the house. Mom and Dad singing. Singing in church, singing in the car on the way to church, on the way home from church. Singing in the milk barn, singing on the tractor. Pretty much everywhere. My parents loved singing and loved music. My family loved music.

At church, and frequently at home when Dad was singing lead, Mom sang alto. My oldest brother taught me how to sing bass when I was twelve years old. Sitting on an oak pew with our feet on the oak floor, he’d sing and with one finger point out each note on the bass line. Listening to his voice and following his finger as it connected the dots, I began to understand how those notes harmonized with the others, particular the lead or soprano part.

Admittedly, I never applied the effort necessary to remember the names of the notes. But I could tell by sight whether the next note was higher or lower and have an approximate idea of how far apart they were. By listening for the harmony with the soprano, I could usually find the right pitch.

I don’t know how much more effort it would have taken to learn each note and be able to produce each one on demand without reference to anything else. Once I’d convinced myself that I could sing the line close enough to blend in with the other singers, that was pretty much good enough for me.

Even now, I’m not sure where that approach has left me. Not just in music but in other things as well: cabinet-making, furniture-building, playing the guitar, using computer software, drawing and painting. I’ve rarely aspired to be really great at anything. I wanted to be good enough to not embarrass myself at it. Better than some, not nearly as good as others.

I think to be truly accomplished at most anything, you have to be almost obsessed with it. To be remarkable, there’s no almost; it consumes you. Live, sleep, eat, drink, think, do that thing.

I can only think of two or three things in my life that have even approached the sort of obsession that it takes to develop talent to an unusual level. But that absence of fixation and a lack of perfectionism have allowed me to enjoy doing a number of different things. Fortunately, God has rarely called an expert to do anything.

Even mediocrity with a dedicated focus can accomplish quite a bit. And being average at a really good thing is far better than being outstanding at something that makes no contribution to others.

H. Arnett
2/12/19

About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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