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Is It Okay to be Mediocre?

Updated: Feb 1

About two years ago, I started my surfing journey. If you recall, I promised to share my journey at some point after announcing my new exploration. I was full of promises and excitement about something new, something completely different from playing the piano. Except for the fact that I had no idea what I was about to face.

Just like any other project, I faced surfing with work ethic, discipline, and a systematic approach. I hired the champion pro surfer Michelle Bautista Layton as my coach, watched hundreds of videos, and read books about surfing. I analyzed what could be better and how I was doing every time I went out to surf and mind-surfed when I was out of town for concerts.

I am not sure what I expected, but I thought I could become good at surfing, like those videos of surfers gliding down the perfectly shaped waves and graciously walking on the board. Those surfers make surfing look easy and seamless.

Unlike my fantasy, every time I saw photos or videos of me surfing, I was in shock. I looked like a kook with an awkward pose, which is a derogatory term for a complete beginner surfer with those poo stances. That was NOT how I thought I looked or surfed in my head. I was constantly hard on myself for not being the best.

I should be able to do x, y, and z by now. What is wrong with me?

The ocean beat me up hard. For the past two years, I’ve had a foot injury, a broken nose (yup… I know…), collisions with other surfers, and two ER visits due to hits by my board. Surprisingly, those injuries happened on small one- or two-foot gentle wave days, not head-high dangerous waves on which I have no business.

As many expected, every time I was beaten by surfing with an injury, I contemplated quitting surfing. Maybe it is too dangerous and unfit for a concert pianist whose body is an asset for what she does…

Still, every time after thinking hard I picked up the board and went out to surf again with a smile. Let me try it again. Mostly, I didn’t want my fear to be a deciding factor. I could die by walking on a sidewalk… I still have to live life. With the challenge of uncertainty in life, I became at peace with the fact that I needed to be wise: don’t go out when the waves are too big for me, don’t go to the advanced break that you are not ready for, don’t go out when you’re tired, wear protective gear from head to toe, keep learning to be better and play it safely.

However, do you know what was the biggest challenge of surfing for me in the end?

It wasn’t a fear of an injury. It wasn’t the challenge of the sport of surfing.

It was embracing being mediocre at something. What is so hard about it? I don’t know, but it was the hardest thing to accept. Accepting that I could be bad at something bothered me greatly. I saw myself as a superwoman who could do everything well. And I was falling short big time in surfing.

Interestingly, once I embraced my mediocre self (even if that meant I would be a novice surfer for the rest of my life), a huge sense of relief washed over me. Let it be okay. Have fun. Feel the water. Be in the nature. Just play like a kid in a playground. No one should judge how I play in your life, and I certainly shouldn’t do that to myself.

Who told you that you need to be an A student at everything? How suffocating is that? What is wrong with being mediocre, even if you have done it for years or life?

Someone in the audience at the last concert commented: “You must be a really good surfer by now.”

I smiled and proudly told him: “Ha, you should see me in the water. I am pretty bad. In fact, I might be a danger to the lineup sometimes. But I enjoy it.”

Last week, I caught three waves in a two-hour surfing session. A beautiful morning session. I screamed like a kid with every wave I caught. More than one wave per session is a huge success for me. Waiting for waves to come, I watched pelicans dive vertically from the sky and run up with a fish in their mouth. At one moment, a tiny little fish jumped out of the ocean and landed on my board, squirming back into the water. The horizon dramatically changed its ray of color from orange to yellow over the sunrise.

Through surfing, I realize that I am learning one of the most important lessons in life: be humble and enjoy life more like a 5-year-old without the thinking and judgmental side awakening. I understand that for some people, it takes more practice to bring out the 5-year-old playful mindset once they become adults. But don’t you agree that life has more laughter with that playfulness?

What is the thing for you that you are proudly mediocre at and enjoy nonetheless? Please share it with me!


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