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


  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)

My Drive in Life Is from This Horrible Fear of Being Mediocre

Creator: Madonna Louise Ciccone, American singer, songwriter, and artistic entrepreneur

Context: In 1991 “Vanity Fair” published a profile of Madonna within which she discussed her “iron will” and her trepidation. Emphasis added to this excerpt by QI: 1

“And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me.

Related Article 01: “Mediocrity is My Biggest Fear” said Robert Downey Jr.


  1. 1991 April, Vanity Fair, The Misfit by Lynn Hirschberg (Profile of Madonna Louise Ciccone), Start Page 158, Quote Page 198, Column 1, Conde Nast Publications, New York. (Verified with photocopies)