Pixel Tracker

Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 7:53 am | Fair 47º


Tim Durnin: We Need to Give Ourselves, and Others, Permission to Be Mediocre

Without the elusive goal of perfection, we can enjoy the freedom to just live in the moment

Several years ago, I passed along an article to a colleague and his secretary with a note that read, “Interesting reading for the two most anal people I know.”

The title of the article was, “In Praise of Mediocrity,” and it followed the exploits of the writer’s husband as he took up what I remember to be the tuba. He was awful. Folks would hire him for the comedic value of watching him play.

My colleague and his secretary were appalled, initially because they mistook my use of the term “anal” to indicate I was calling them jerks (with a bit more emphasis). It took me several days and a lot of persuading to put the word in its proper context.

After I had been forgiven for that transgression, I discovered they had no use for the article. They did not discover any insight in the moral of the story. In short, they didn’t get it and thought both the husband and the wife to be buffoons. Such is the life of perfectionists.

I loved the story and have returned to it often both to put my own life in context as well as the world around me. To me, a middle-age, mediocre tuba player offers the perfect metaphor for life. Because we have all been there, we all are there in one respect or another.

There is a certain liberation in not having to be the best, in not seeking the elusive goal of perfection. It affords the freedom to be in the moment without being tied to completely unrealistic standards.

That is the kind of space I have created for singing in my car on my daily commute. Were you to pass me on the freeway you would be embarrassed for me. On the off chance you heard a few notes you would certainly recoil in horror. But there it is. I love to sing, and sing I do.

I believe the lesson of the tuba player has the greatest significance for our youth. With the goal of perfection, the most reasonable response is simply not to try. I can’t count the number of my students and friends who have told me they have given something up simply because they didn’t think they were good enough.

When I see parents on the field of play or in the dance studio pushing their children beyond all reasonable expectation, I want to pull out a copy of the article and say, “Lighten up. It’s just a tuba. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Each week when I sit down to write this column, I pick up my own tuba and start to play. Sometimes something rough, but recognizable, comes out. At other times, the best I can hope for is a polite nod and sympathetic smile. Laughter is fine, too. But I love to write, and so I do.

I often think about what happened to that tuba player. In my imagination he has worked his way up to second chair in his local symphony.

But I also like to imagine he misses the early days, sitting in front of an audience, tears of laughter streaming down their faces. He knows they weren’t laughing at him. They were laughing because each of them could see themselves in that chair.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to be mediocre and give those around us that same permission. We can all use more tears of laughter in our lives.

Maybe someday you’ll see me on the freeway, lost in my performance as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Don’t hesitate to give a honk, and, please, laugh until you cry.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.