Are you truly driven or just afraid of mediocrity? 11 ways to tell

We all have ambitions, but sometimes those ambitions are fueled by shadows deeper than we’d like to admit.

You might look at your relentless drive and wonder if it’s truly passion that’s propelling you or just an unvoiced fear of mediocrity. The line can often be blurred between true aspiration and the dread of being average.

How do you know if you are genuinely driven by your dreams, or just motivated by the fear of falling short?

After observing my own behavior and the behavior of those around me, I have identified 11 telltale signs that could help you decipher the true motivations behind your drive.

This may not be an easy journey of self-discovery. Some truths might be a little hard to swallow.

But remember this: I’m not here to discourage you or cast judgment. No matter what drives you, understanding it is the first step towards harnessing it in the most productive way.

1. You’re Never Satisfied

Ever feel like you’re on a hamster wheel? No matter how much you achieve or how successful you become, it never seems enough.

I remember when I got my first big promotion. It was a role I’d been working towards for years, and when I finally got it, I felt incredibly happy. But then a strange thing happened. After a few days, that feeling of accomplishment started to fade. I was already looking at the next role up the ladder.

That’s when I had my first inkling that maybe it wasn’t ambition driving me, but rather a fear of stagnation.

2. You Constantly Compare Yourself to Others

Let me tell you about my friend, John. He’s one of those naturally gifted people who seem to excel at everything they touch. And for the longest time, I found myself comparing my achievements to his.

Every time John would achieve something, whether in his professional or personal life, I’d feel this nagging feeling of not measuring up. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy for him; I just felt like I needed to keep up.

This constant comparison is another sign that it might not be genuine drive pushing you forward, but fear of being left behind in mediocrity.

3. The Perfectionist Trap

Did you know that perfectionism can actually be a sign of fear? It’s true.

Perfectionism is often linked to fear of failure or criticism.

So, if you find yourself obsessing over every detail, striving for that unattainable perfect outcome, it may not be high standards driving you. Instead, it could be an attempt to avoid the perceived mediocrity of making a mistake or falling short of expectations.

This insight underscores the importance of understanding the underlying emotions that drive our perfectionist tendencies.

By addressing these fears, we can find a healthier balance between striving for excellence and accepting that mistakes are a natural part of growth and learning.

4. You’re Losing the Joy

Remember when you first started your journey? The excitement, the passion, the pure joy you felt when you were doing what you loved?

If you’re finding that joy is slowly being replaced by anxiety and stress, it’s time to take a step back.

When genuine drive fuels us, we experience a sense of fulfillment and happiness from our achievements.

But when fear of mediocrity takes over, our accomplishments are often overshadowed by worry about what’s next and how we can outdo ourselves.

So, take a moment. Think back to why you started.

5. You’re Always on the Clock

I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic. I used to wear it as a badge of honor, proof of my dedication and drive. But then, one day, it hit me.

It was my daughter’s birthday, and as I sat at my laptop, working late into the night while the rest of the family celebrated, I realized something. I wasn’t driven; I was scared. Scared that if I took my foot off the gas for even a moment, I’d fall into mediocrity.

If, like me, you find yourself unable to switch off, working long hours and sacrificing personal time out of fear of falling behind, it’s a sign you may be running from mediocrity rather than being propelled by true ambition.

To regain a healthier work-life balance and ensure your drive is fueled by genuine ambition rather than fear, set clear boundaries for work and personal time. Allocate specific hours for work and stick to them as much as possible. Dedicate quality time to your loved ones and personal interests.

Remember that taking breaks and recharging can actually boost productivity and creativity in the long run. It’s not about working less, but working smarter and in a way that aligns with your true goals and values.

6. You’re Overly Critical of Yourself

We all have an inner critic, but if yours is continually in overdrive, scrutinizing every move you make and decision you take, it might not be ambition that’s propelling you forward, but rather a fear of mediocrity.

For instance, if you chastise yourself for every minor mistake or missed opportunity, it’s a sign that your dread of being labeled ‘average’ or ‘mediocre’ is obstructing your true drive.

7. You Avoid Activities You’re Not Skilled At

Building on the previous point, this self-criticism often leads to avoiding activities in which you believe you lack proficiency.

This tendency arises from the fear of mediocrity, as we tend to gravitate toward areas where we excel to evade the prospect of failure or appearing ordinary.

However, growth and learning frequently stem from confronting challenges and embracing new experiences, even if it entails initial setbacks.

8. You’re Afraid to Take Risks

Linked to the fear of mediocrity, if your ambition is fueled by this fear, you might find yourself playing it safe, sticking to what you know, and avoiding new opportunities that could potentially lead to failure.

True drive is about challenging yourself, stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the potential for failure as a part of the journey to success. 

Did you know that some of the most successful people in the world attribute their success to taking calculated risks?

To overcome the fear of mediocrity and embrace a healthier, more ambitious drive, start by identifying areas where you tend to play it safe.

Challenge yourself to take calculated risks in these areas.

Set specific goals for stepping out of your comfort zone, whether it’s pursuing a new project at work, exploring a different hobby, or even initiating a conversation with someone you admire.

9. Success Feels More Like a Relief Than Triumph

When you achieve something big, does it feel like a big win, or do you just feel relieved? If it’s mostly relief, you might be acting out of fear rather than genuine ambition.

I remember when I got my dream job. Instead of being super happy, I just felt relieved—like I had dodged being ‘average’ a little longer.

But then I figured out something important: Real ambition comes from finding joy and satisfaction in what you do, not just from trying to avoid being ordinary.

So, I started thinking about what truly makes me excited, and I tried to put that enthusiasm into my work to feel a stronger sense of accomplishment.

10. You’re Focused on External Validation

External recognition is something that can easily become a driving force in my life.

There are times when I measure my self-worth solely by the validation I receive from others. I actively seek praise and recognition, believing that it’s the ultimate indicator of my success.

However, there comes a point when I receive accolades or awards for endeavors that I feel little passion for.

It’s in those moments that I need to pause and question my motivations. Why am I chasing approval from others when my true drive should be rooted in fulfilling my own ambitions and pursuing my passions?

Genuine ambition isn’t about constantly seeking external validation. Instead, it’s about finding personal satisfaction in your achievements, driven by what truly matters to you.

Ask I mentioned above, it’s important to redirect your focus towards what genuinely fulfills you and aligns with your inner aspirations.

11. You Lose Sight of Your Well-being

Lastly, if you’re neglecting your physical and mental well-being in pursuit of success, it’s a surefire sign that fear is in the driver’s seat.

True ambition recognizes the importance of balance and self-care. But when we’re ruled by fear, we tend to push ourselves beyond our limits, often at the expense of our health and happiness.

So, if you’re losing sleep, skipping meals, or feeling chronically stressed in your quest to avoid mediocrity, it may be time to reassess what’s truly driving you.

Understanding whether you’re genuinely driven or just afraid of mediocrity isn’t easy.

But by recognizing these signs, you can start to realign your motivations and reignite that original passion and ambition that got you started in the first place.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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