The Thing I Fear Most Is Being Mediocre. I Like To Excel

Gregory Peck? Jaime Escalante? Madonna Louise Ciccone? Jeff Smith? Robert Downey Jr.? Chet Atkins?

Dear Quote Investigator: The fear of being mediocre activates a compulsion to achieve fame and excellence for some artists, performers, and educators. Would you please explore the people who expressed this notion?

Quote Investigator: The desire to avoid mediocrity is present in many people who have remained unsung. A 1919 article in “Harper’s Magazine” contained the following counter-intuitive cautionary words. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The fear of mediocrity. The fear of commonplace. We are so afraid of being ordinary that it keeps us from being extraordinary; so afraid of being ridiculous that we dare not risk sublimity.

In 1958 Academy-Award-winning movie star Gregory Peck was asked about his fears: 2

“I don’t have much time to speculate on what I’m afraid of,” he remarked, “but I suppose the thing I fear most is being mediocre. I like to excel.
“I like to make the most out of life and get the most out of it.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Thing I Fear Most Is Being Mediocre. I Like To Excel

Notes:

  1. 1919 May, Harper’s Magazine, Volume 138, A Word for Hypocrisy by Fleta Campbell Springer, Start Page 786, Quote Page 786, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1958 August 22, Plainfield Courier-News, Meet Gregory Peck: His Big Fear Is Mediocrity by Hal Boyle (Associated Press), Quote Page 16, Column 2, Bridgewater, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

Mediocrity is My Biggest Fear

Creator: Robert Downey Jr., Hollywood star known for playing comic book hero Iron Man and famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes

Context: While living in Los Angles the photographer Karen Hardy Bystedt met with young performers who were launching their movie careers: 1

Amazingly, more than half the actors and actresses I interviewed and photographed between 1987 and 1993 went on to become megastars.

She spoke with Robert Downey Jr. in 1988 after he had appeared in “The Pick-up Artist” and “Less Than Zero”. Downey discussed his fears and sacrifices. Emphasis added: 2

Mediocrity is my biggest fear. I’m not afraid of total failure, because I don’t think that will happen. I’m not afraid of success, because that beats the hell out of failure. It’s being in the middle that scares me.

My biggest sacrifice for success has been losing touch with the day-to-day reality of a modest existence. Los Angeles isn’t reality, and making a movie in Los Angeles is a double-entendre of non-reality.

Image Notes: Picture of Robert Downey, Jr.; creator Gage Skidmore; accessed via Flickr. License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Notes:

  1. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Section: Introduction, Start Page 8, Quote Page 9, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1996 Copyright, Before They Were Famous: In Their Own Words by Karen Hardy Bystedt, (Collection of Interviews), Interview with Robert Downey Jr., Date: January 1988, Start Page 108, Quote Page 113, General Publishing Group Inc., Santa Monica, California. (Verified with hardcopy)