CATE O’BRIEN | OPINION COLUMNIST
I, like many college students, headed back to my summer job with an apron around my waist and a look of stoic resignation on my face. And, like many students, I found myself hating it. Waitressing is not my strongest skill. I forget waters and ketchups and side orders of mayo, and as someone who is constantly wanting everything to work out great, I easily become frustrated with myself, my customers and the sticky bottles of liquor on the bar: all of which are decidedly not great.
I was complaining about this to my mom one day— about myself and my customers and the sticky bottles of liquor—and she gave me some odd advice. She told me to stop trying to do everything perfectly. Instead, she said, I should just try to get the job done.
It’s not advice I had ever really gotten before. Usually I hear a lot about being the absolute best— being great. But weirdly, her advice worked. I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and went back to work without any expectations of perfection. I strived for mediocrity, and the work got done.
Without all the pressures of being the-best-waitress-ever, I remembered more waters, and ketchups and side orders of mayos. Without the expectation of having the perfect workplace, I stopped getting so annoyed with myself, and my bosses and the sticky bottles of liquor on the bar. People were happier with me as a waitress. I was happier with myself at the end of each shift. I was not a great waitress, but I was good enough.
My point in this is not to encourage people to stop trying to be great at their work. My point is that it is easy to get overwhelmed when things are far from the way we would like them to be, and sometimes that makes it feel impossible to do anything at all. High expectations can hinder us, especially when they’re far away from ever becoming reality. Sometimes, it’s better to just roll your sleeves up and strive for mediocrity: strive to get the work done.
And that’s exactly what we need to do now, in the face of the current actions of our presidential administration. I know I cannot be the only one who feels helpless, like things are so far from ever being good again that it’s better to just give up. That no matter what I do, our country will get more bigoted, biased and hateful. My family and friends worked so hard to keep President Trump out of office, and still all their hard work amounted to nothing in the end. Sometimes I can’t help wondering if it’s even worth trying to fight the seeping hatred of this administration: it’s just so powerful.
But here’s where some good old fashioned maternal advice becomes so helpful. Obviously this country is more complicated than a family-owned restaurant in downtown Wauwatosa, but I think the idea still applies. We do not need our country to be “great” right now. We just need our country to hang onto its values—diversity, compassion and religious freedom— through a presidency that acts so contrary to those values. We can’t give up just because things look bad.
If we take a deep breath, roll up our sleeves, and try as hard as we can, we might just manage to keep our country a place of complacent mediocrity for ourselves, and more importantly, for those less privileged than us. It won’t be easy, and honestly, it might not always work. But we have to keep fighting: we have to keep raising our voices for those who do not have one. One of the things that has defined America in the past is our ability to work hard. So let’s work hard, let’s keep fighting, and let’s make America mediocre again.