Are You Getting Better Or Are You Happy Being Average?

Matthew McConaughey accepts the Oscar for best actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California March 2, 2014

“Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.” – Rust Cohle

After many years as the go-to leading man for dire romantic comedies and roles that required nothing more than standing around without a shirt – Matthew McConaughey’s transition into one of the greatest actors alive today has been nothing short of astounding.

So how does someone go from earning a reputation as Hollywood’s biggest waster into an Academy award winner in just a few short years?

According to McConaughey himself, it was just a simple change in focus. It turned out that he wanted to “make some movies that I would pick out, that I would see.”

Approaching his 40’s and worried that he was getting too old for his usual roles, McConaughey stepped away from the public eye and entered a strange, yet carefully orchestrated ‘drying out’ period in which he turned down every offer than came his way.

The plan worked. He was a forgotten man. It was time to finally put the past decade behind him and rebrand himself as a serious actor.

Taking smaller, character driven roles – the reinvention began with movies such as The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, Killer Joe and Mud before reaching the career high excellence of Dallas Buyers Club and his potential Emmy winning performance as Rust Cohle in HBO’s True Detective.

The metamorphosis was complete.

Why the need for change? He had a great life. Recently married with 3 children and an unfathomably healthy bank balance, he could have surfed his way into semi-retirement and no one would have batted an eyelid.

But, like any great actor when presented with the role of a lifetime – he simply became.

 “For the next two months, I’m playing the character of Matthew McConaughey, an actor proud of the films he’s been in,” he says, before again opting for the third person. “And if any of those films or his performances are in awards shows, he’s going to go, heart high and head up, and look them all in the eye and say, ‘Damn right this is a great time in my career.’ That’s the role I’m in now. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

Take a lead from Matthew McConaughey and ask yourself…

Is it the right option or just the easy option?

Let’s be honest. Most people are coasters.

Are you blindly stumbling through life, doing the bare minimum, hoping that nobody will call you out on your laziness?

I can empathise. Doing shit takes effort. Screw that, right?

At one time or another you’ve probably sat back and wondered if life is worth the hassle.

“Meh, I’ll just do whatever it takes to reach the end of the day without breaking sweat.”

Hauling yourself out of bed at 6am every morning to face another dreary day at your job is tough, sure. But it’s infinitely easier than waking up at 5.30am to write a letter of resignation.

Bollocks to that, you want your extra half hour sleep, even if it means never escaping your own personal Groundhog Day of perpetual hell.

The same can be said of your health. I know you want to be fitter, look better. We all do. But when you’ve dusted off your best spandex shorts and you’re laid on that bench, staring at the barbell that looms above – are you prepared to set another PB or do you want to just go through the motions?

You can trick the ego into believing you’ve had a great workout but deep down, that emptiness you feel when you stand before a full length mirror is a great reminder of your inner deception.

Take a look around.

Did you get married because you couldn’t say no? Are you stuck in a dead-end job because you can’t be bothered to look elsewhere? Is your expanding waist line forcing you to buy new clothes because you’d rather binge in front of the television instead of hitting the gym?

The correct option almost always takes effort. If you ever catch yourself wondering whether you made the right choice – here’s a hint…

You didn’t.

Do something different.

Success is just one step further forward

100lb (50kg) dumbbells

It’s amazing how often people give up when they are on the cusp of success. They toil and struggle – putting in countless hours of blood, sweat and tears only to walk away at the final hurdle.

I often use the gym as a great analogy for life and I’m about to do it again.

Two years ago I set myself an arbitrary goal of being able to chest press 50kg dumbbells (110 lbs). I didn’t care if it was just for a single rep – they were the heaviest dumbbells in the gym and unsurprisingly, they were in pristine condition.

Nobody used them.

I wanted to be THAT guy.

Over a period of roughly 6 weeks I transitioned from the 40kg to 46kg. The goal was within my sights. I felt confident because I was easily performing 6 reps at this weight. Surely I was ready?

I managed to crank out 3 reps of the 48’s but my muscles were gone, depleted, the tank was empty.

Obviously overjoyed at my new PB – I took a few days off to nurse my weary joints and inexplicably, had a few heavy nights out followed by a very lazy week of almost no training. I then began a cutting phase to rid myself of the fat I had gained during my bulk.

The 50’s would have to wait.

I was close, but at the final hurdle I made a decision, consciously or otherwise, not to go for it.

Many people quit when the discomfort is at its peak. This is illogical. It’s not going to get any harder, so why not keep going? Following a period of relative inactivity, I’ve managed to regain some of my previous strength and last week I blasted through 5 reps of 44kg dumbbells.

I will soon make those 50’s my bitch – but I won’t stop. I will continue adding the reps. I won’t make the same mistake again, and hopefully, this mentality will find its way into other areas of my life.

I’ve learnt my lesson – but can you say the same thing?

Do you tend to stop running when your lungs are screaming for mercy? Carry on for 5 more minutes and see what happens.

Are you absolutely salivating at the prospect of eating a chocolate bar following your 30 day no junk food challenge? Whack an extra day on the end – then another – and another. Keep going.

Successful people don’t break the chain. As soon as they hit a goal, their mind is already focusing on the next one. Regardless if this is measured in days, reps, monetary gains or time – they continue to move forwards because they have eliminated all other routes.

“Today, you’ve got a decision to make. You’re gonna get better or you’re gonna get worse, but you’re not gonna stay the same. Which will it be?”  –  Joe Paterno

Out of necessity comes growth

So what happens when you eliminate the possibility of deviation? What occurs within the body and the mind when you force yourself to keep going?

There is only one possible outcome, and that’s growth.

Richard Branson started his fledgling music store by advertising records for considerably less than their high street value. The only problem being he didn’t have any to sell. This wasn’t an issue – he simply took the money and used necessity to find these items for an even cheaper price before giving them to his customers.

Growth occurred. It had to.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – possibly the owner of the greatest physique in bodybuilding history had one major flaw. He had relatively small calves – at least when compared to the rest of his body.

Faced with the prospect of underperforming at the Mr Olympia and losing vital points due to his one major weakness, Arnie had to create necessity in order to achieve growth. How did he do this?

He cut every pair of training bottoms just below the knee, thus exposing his calves to the world. In order to look (slightly) less ridiculous the only option was to train his calves with ferocious intensity.

Growth occurred. It had to.

How can you use this principle?

You need to start putting yourself in the firing line. You need to eliminate the possibility of deviation.

With the safety net of a regular income you’re probably lacking the intensity needed to change your job, your career or your lifestyle. The quickest way to achieve your dream is to put yourself in a position where you have no option but to grab it. You’ll never be ready – no one ever is.

If you quit your job you’ll be forced into action because the consequences of failure are terrifying.

If you continue to pick up heavier weights, your muscles will be forced to grow to meet the demand.

If you spend several hours a day on your chosen craft, the only possible outcome is one of excellence.

We’re all capable of amazing things. You’re capable of amazing things. There is no such thing as ‘sink or swim’. When backed into a corner – you’ll have no choice but to unleash your inner beast.

Lumps of coal are said to turn into diamonds via a combination of pressure and time.

Are you putting yourself through this pressure? Are you giving yourself the necessary time to succeed?

Without pressure or time you will remain average. However, if you combine the two and give yourself a chance – success is inevitable.

Are you getting better or are you happy being average?

The choice is yours.

How content are you with your lot? Do you have a plan for success? let me know in the comments below.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please share using Facebook, Twitter or Google +


About Jamie

Jamie is a guitar teacher and writer who hates the typical 9-5 existence. After quitting his job to enter the world of guitar tuition, he created this blog to document his thoughts and struggles as he takes on societies norms armed with nothing more than his cheeky wit and undeniable charm - Give his Facebook page a like, add him on Twitter or follow his Google+ page and he will repay you with even more awesome words!


  1. Hi Jamie,
    Interest post, great example in Matthew M. … I appreciate that he took his destiny back into his own hands, understanding what he was up against … most of us don’t have to deal with the Hollywood type-casting machine … for his choices in this case, he’s earned my respect. We don’t have to continue being who we were told we are but changing that requires awareness/skillfulness and compassionate choices. Being together in being average is cold comfort compared to what we could be and sharing following our bliss.

    • Thanks Lee – I agree that we don’t live under the same microscope as a Hollywood A-Lister but in a way we are still forced into certain areas due to the perceptions of others and our own ego.

      I like how you wrote ‘Matthew M.’ – You have no idea how hard it was typing his name out several times.. it’s impossible to spell without breaking it down into Mc Con Aug Hey! 🙂

      • Yes, that he let his former (self) career dry up and out, and held the space for the right opportunities … that is the lesson I learned. That what he did, he was willing to do, for a calculated outcome. I know I can apply that to my life. Pressure and time … it’s about being able to bear them, that resistance that allows you to grow from where you are to where you want to be, isn’t it … maybe they will be more tolerable if I think about myself as a diamond in the making. Nietzsche: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Thanks, again!!

  2. It can be so tempting and easy to settle into a comfortable place. Even if you’ve put in so much work to better yourself/your career, if you stop trying and just start coasting, you are doing yourself a disservice. You can never stop growing!
    Janine @ Breath Of Optimism recently posted..Positive Life Quotes – March 9, 2014My Profile

    • Hey Janine, you’re right. I’ve caught myself coasting so many times it’s a wonder I’ve not invented time travel. Luckily I’m noticing my coasting periods much earlier now so I can at least snap out of it a lot quicker and correct my path before complacency sets in.

      One such example is how I approach my degree. For 18 months I coasted, doing the bare minimum – which kinda works, yet it will catch up with me during the exams. This realisation alone has kicked my ass into gear and I now treat every module and assignment with the utmost respect.

  3. Love it. It’s simple and straight to the point 🙂

  4. “Successful people don’t break the chain.” ==> Yeah man! Focus on the habits and systems!

    “You need to start putting yourself in the firing line.” ==> And stop hiding in your bunkers and shellscrapes! Just freaking go for it man.

    And I say a resounding NO to average!! Let’s do this. *WAR CRY*

  5. I love the gym comparison. I do that all the time. The gym is my biggest teacher by far.

    I heard Arnold’s story but not in that amount of detail. That was very good.
    SEBASTIAN recently posted..I Don’t Know What To DoMy Profile

    • The gym is great because we are literally transforming ourselves in a physical sense. We can see first hand how change is possible, so it gives us confidence to move forwards in other areas of our lives. That barbell could be your salary, job satisfaction, relationships etc etc.

  6. Very cool post.

    The good is ever the enemy of great, as they say. I reckon that’s always the biggest challenge. When you’re average, you don’t absolutely HAVE to change. As a health trainer (a sort of public sector life coach) I’d get to work with lots of different kinds of people, from all walks of life. I’d sometimes work with people fresh out of detox, recovering from substance abuse and in need of activities that were going to keep their minds on positive things. Let’s just say their level of motivation was several notches higher than every other client I had.

    It’s a big challenge trying to figure a way to make your goal a life and death issue when you’re comfortable with the status quo. But those people who do are the ones who have it in them to be great and not just good, whatever it is they might be doing.
    Micah recently posted..The Benefits of a Broken DreamMy Profile

    • I agree. There is no need to be great at something if you are content with being average. It’s healthy to have hobbies which we do purely for social, health or selfish reasons. Dedicating yourself to excellence can be stressful but I do think that we all owe it to ourselves to at least put greater effort into our number 1 goal, whatever that might be.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Micah.

  7. Jamie,

    Definitely agree with the gym analogy. It’s funny how the gyms are predictably crowded in January, but back to normal in February.

    I think one of the reasons why people “can’t focus” and “say no” in preference of doing just a few things well, is because it requires that you make a lot of decisions. And it’s mentally straining to do so.
    Ludvig Sunström recently posted..How to Become Skilled at Networking: Learn from a ProMy Profile

    • Ahh, the January warriors! They show remarkable consistency with their training..

      …they turn up at the same time every year! 🙂

  8. Hi Jamie,

    Excellent post, my friend.

    The point you made about success being just one more step away, reminded me of when I was first starting a business some years back, and was working with my business mentor. He told me a story about a software entrepreneur he used to work with, who would have made a ‘killing’ had he persisted a little more, but quit because it all got too ‘hard’. This has stuck with me ever since.

    Thank you.
    Hiten recently posted..Interview with Joe Wilner of Shake off the GrindMy Profile

    • Thanks Hiten. That’s unfortunate but many people quit for the same reasons – it’s as if the part of the brain responsible for anticipation can’t seem to acknowledge the possibility that things will get tougher. So when it happens it’s like a shock to the system.

  9. Thanks for this very nice contribution and valuable information.
    Using the Law of Attraction may help you further, to achieve
    your heart’s desire.
    Happiness also is a mental condition.

  10. I agree. I have many dreams and talents: Muisic, Books, Poetry, Travel, etc. The last two-three years I’ve focused on writing and blogging. However, the amount of time required to continue to build an online presence is not worth the effort involved. At some point we have to reevaluate and question our motives. When our health, our family, our jobs are being compromised to chase an online dream we have gone too far. I am not quitting, but I’m reevaluating and minimizing.
    Dan Erickson recently love/hate relationship with google analyticsMy Profile

    • Hi Dan, taking time to work out the right option and the best path to enable us to achieve our own personal success is essential. You seem to be very self aware and aren’t afraid to cut out what isn’t working – that’s tough to do. Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. I’m glad I’m not the only one that uses the gym as an analogy for life. Whenever I’m in the gym, I think about how much I can do and then I try to do a little more. It’s that little more that makes lifting weights worthwhile. Why would I go and do what I already know I can do? I’m there to push myself to do more, not the same.

    That goes for life too. You have to push past where you’re comfortable. That’s where you grow. It’s crazy how often people give up when they get close to their goals. The difficulty only gets more intense the further you go.

    By the way, that’s an interesting story about Arnold; I haven’t heard that one before. I like that: grow because you have to.
    sTeve recently posted..The Dangers of Playing it SafeMy Profile

    • Hey Steve, that’s a great philosophy to have – always striving to do a little more. A friend of mine believes in doing a new PB every time he trains, whether that’s measured in reps, weight, time is irrelevant – as long as he’s moving forwards.

  12. I really like the part where you spoke about how Matthew too time out of his movie career to refocus and rebrand himself.

    I think its crucial because sometimes you can do all you can in terms of action and still not make progress. And the only solution at that point is introversion and looking inside yourself for answers and improvements.

    Somethings wrong with what you’re doing?

    Go right back to your basics and fundamentals.

    It never seems to fail whenever I go back to the beginning as it becomes clear that i’ve either taken them for granted or become very rusty.

    Many of us don’t want to go back because all we’re focused on is what’s ahead of us. But sometimes, we need to take a few steps back in order to make giant leaps!
    Onder recently posted..If You Think Your Life Sucks…. Read ThisMy Profile

    • Yeh that’s a brave decision he took. I didn’t notice his hiatus, like I’m sure many others failed to realise – which was probably the scariest part. Knowing how easily people forget and move on – he must have had some serious doubts along the way, but he remained true.

      You’ve got the right attitude there. I’m doing that now, taking a step back in my degree to ‘re do’ the previous few weeks work because I have gaps in my knowledge. It’s tempting to keep moving forwards but to do so, in this situation at least, I need to take 2 steps back to take a giant leap forwards! Thanks for dropping by, Onder!

  13. Jim Collins says, “good is the enemy of great.” It’s about saying no to the average so we can say yes to the methods that allow us to perform at our best and that produce the most results. Great post!

    • Hi Dan, yeh it’s easy to settle once we start getting good at something. The laziness sets in and we become complacent. The next step is usually always within grasp if we are willing to keep our momentum going! Thanks for your comment!

  14. Jamie – this post is THE BEST I’ve read in a while.

    Your gym analogy is spot-on for self sabotage. I’ve done the same thing recently. I took up the 100-push-up challenge and built myself up to having done 65 in one go.

    And then? My travel schedule became insane. I was ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’ to fit it in.

    Bullshit! Excuses! Failure!

    But it’s a learning experience. Those who succeed keep going, right? So I’ve started over again and will get there. Eventually !

    – Razwana
    Razwana recently posted..Not doing this ONE THING in business could lose you thousands of dollars in profitMy Profile

    • Thank you Razwana! I heard a similar thing regarding a 30 day squat challenge.. which makes me wince with pain just thinking about it!

      That’s impressive though – I think my best without stopping is less than that.

      The beauty is that we can fail and learn – there is always an opportunity to redeem ourselves in the future!

  15. One of the very best post I have read on the topic. I love the gym illustration. Needless to say, I have done a few domestic workouts today at the time I would not have considered it on a normal day. Your post inspires – I just want you to know that.
    Tope Fabusola recently posted..How To Improve Your Self-Esteem Advanced Practical WayMy Profile

  16. Jamie,

    Great post. I wasn’t aware of Matthew McConaughey’s deliberate journey to re-invent himself. I hadn’t seen him in major roles lately, but it didn’t occur to me that this was deliberate on his part.

    It’s extremely easy to stay in the comfort zone. That’s really where we’re designed to stay. There’s an entire biological mechanism that does nothing but keep us safe. The mechanism’s hard to overcome because it’s physically designed that way. Our brains are wired to steer us back to safety every time we try something risky. It’s only exceptional people who achieve anything out of the ordinary because they override their pre-programmed tendencies. It takes deliberate effort, and present-moment awareness to achieve something out of the ordinary.

    Very pleased I found your blog.
    Joe Stickel recently posted..4 Steps to Reach Your Goals Despite The ResistanceMy Profile

    • Hi Joe, it’s interesting isn’t it? We talk about how to get out of our comfort zone, but to do so we have to override a survival instinct in the process. That’s why I admire anyone who tries something new or faces their fears. It takes more courage than many of us realise! Thanks for your insightful comment!

  17. Good post, as it speaks to something I’ve always wanted to do. I really hate being “average”, but sometimes it seems as if there’s no other choice. I am trying to get better though, by writing a book.

    • Hi Kendria – average is fine. It’s what most of us are (in most things). Although I believe in trying to get better at something which is important to us, which, for you, seems to be writing a book.

      Write, write, write!

  18. What a killer post, this has got to be my favorite of yours so far. I love the story about Matthew McConaughey, too.

    I think when a lot of people try to make positive changes to their life, they get caught up in a trap of thinking about their goals, instead of the practical, day-to-day stuff they’ll actually have to do in order to achieve their goals. It’s a tough jump to make, but the results speak for themselves IMO 🙂
    Chris Bailey recently posted..10 huge productivity lessons I learned working 90-hour weeks last monthMy Profile

    • Hey Chris, thanks 🙂

      I agree with what you say here, sometimes the end game can be too overwhelming to contemplate and it puts a lot of people off. Setting smaller, daily goals that give immediate results makes so much difference! I’m sure Matthew winning an Oscar was a huge jump that would be unfathomable to even him a few years back, but by breaking his goals down into smaller tasks (saying no to easy roles, staying out of the limelight, taking indie roles, building a core back catalogue of respectable movies etc) he found himself on the path to his own personal success!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  19. nate river says:

    Dear Jamie,

    I’m not getting any better, my job sucks so much that I can’t even take one more day to go to it. I have so many dreams in my mind, like I wanna travel the world, do crazy stuffs that will excites me, or at least get out of being “one of those” in this world. Its like being AVERAGE means you’re a hopeless little fat ass guy whose afraid to stand up because he cares so much about not wanting a single episode in his favorite television show to escape watching. Its sickening me !!

    I know humans are capable of doing something even Greater than the Universe, but I’m still afraid, I just don’t know what to do if I decided to quit my job without thinking about the possible backlash. I just don’t have any idea where to start after possible quitting everything. But this post gives me insight then, thanks !! 🙁

    • If you’re going to quit your job and fail.. there is no better time than now. The quicker you fail the quicker you can recover.

      But of course.. you won’t fail. You’ll succeed because you made the decision to change. ‘What if..’ is the worst kind of regret.

  20. Well, that speaks a lot when it comes to proving in what you want and what you really are and indeed what you really wanna be. Focusing on a particular thing and applying your momentum and thrust over the same can be helpful for quick and effective results.
    Charmie recently posted..DigiHawker Review – The Right Strategy To Make Money OnlineMy Profile

  21. sahil dhingra says:

    Hi Jamie

    I want to ask a thing that I have completed my graduation last year and now like all other folks, I am forced into 9 to 6 shift or you can say I followed the herds of sheep like others do. I really want to get out of my routine but the thing which is pulling me back is that I am unable to discover my passion. I really want to make my career around my passion but unable to discover one. What can I do at this stage. Any suggestions?

    • Hi, sometimes people try too hard. They over think things and it can stress them out. Ask yourself this question; ‘what do I daydream about more than anything?’ – that is your answer!

      If you’re still struggling then it may help taking up new hobbies, learn a new skill, hang out with different people – anything that forces you into new and exciting areas. You might even discover that your passion isn’t a career after all – but a belief, a cause or something else non financial. Take your time and don’t stress it. Good luck.

  22. Killer post man. Matthew McConaughey definitely changed his persona as an actor. His and Jared Leto’s role in Dallas Buyer’s Club were amazing. Interesting story regarding Arnold. I didn’t know that, but I love that idea. Maybe, I need to do that for my calves haha. I hope you reached the 50kg.
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels recently posted..The Zen of Surfing – Part 4My Profile

  23. Some very thought-provoking ideas in this post! I hate the thought of settling for mediocrity, even if it is the easiest option. Much like with weight training, you’ll never see any results unless you push yourself the little extra!
    Mathias recently posted..6 Proven Ways to Influence the Decisions of Others Using PsychologyMy Profile


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