How this ugly cauliflower became a symbol of defiance

Drawing by the author

Fighting society’s poisonous, highlight-reel age.


This is a mediocre drawing of a cauliflower.

I did it did years ago, sitting in my kitchen, bored on a Saturday afternoon.

This drawing was never supposed to be seen. It was supposed to sit in an archive somewhere until it took up too much storage space.

Ctrl + Delete.

But in an unexpected change of heart, this cauliflower became a symbol of bravery and defiance

You might be wondering how, or why—especially when I’m not proud of the drawing itself.

Here’s the story.

The fear of being average

What is your biggest fear?

Statistically, it’s probably public speaking or death. (Yes, we would literally rather be in the casket than give the eulogy).

Maybe you’re afraid of spiders, or the dark. Maybe it’s heights or rollercoasters you hate.

But for me, mediocrity was always my biggest fear.

When I was younger, I was so terrified of sitting at the peak of the bell curve, that I regarded it as something to be ashamed of.

So I studied hard to get straight As, played classical piano, polished my shoes, had the longest hair in the class. I avoided being average at all costs.

(I avoided being average so much that I became borderline obnoxious, but I’ll save that story for another time).

Ironically, I thought my fear of mediocrity made me unique; made me not mediocre.

Ha! How wrong I was.

Over the years, I’ve heard many people say that they’re afraid of being ordinary. That they’ve “wasted their time”; that they’ll “never achieve anything spectacular”.

Maybe you’ve said this yourself?

Nevertheless, it’s interesting that most of us who are “afraid of mediocrity” live incredibly mediocre lives.

No really, we embrace it.

Most of us work office jobs, eat three meals per day, watch Netflix in the evenings like 182.8 million others, spend an average 2.5 hours on social media per day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

We procrastinate, forget to exercise, pay the rent. Most of us are entirely average.

Surely, then, it’s not “mediocrity” we’re afraid of. Think of it this way:

  • If you’re afraid of spiders, you run away from them (probably screaming).
  • If you’re afraid of public speaking, you avoid it at all costs.
  • If you’re afraid of death, you spend money on anti-ageing creams and superfoods.

So how come we don’t avoid mediocrity? (Mostly, we enjoy it).

Digging deeper, it’s clear that we’re not really afraid of mediocrity.

It’s failure we’re actually afraid of.

Why the confusion?

Because our collective society has equated mediocrity with failure. And it’s poisoning our mental health.

The problem with highlight reels

In this highlight-reel age, we see 20-something years olds opening up multiple online businesses, travelling the world, moving out of home, falling in love and getting married like it’s nothing at all.

They disrupt our breakfasts, our toilet breaks, and our supermarket queues with their sparkling achievements.

Suddenly, our marmalade toast doesn’t taste so sweet.

Having this content constantly bombard our eyes and brains is unhealthy. It makes us believe that our worth is wrapped up in follower counts and Lightroom filters.

We need to actively fight this highlight-reel mindset.

How? Good question.

1. By putting physical barriers in place

The first way to fight the highlight-reel age is to stop looking at your phone.

Sure, it’s an obvious one—but how many of us actually do it?

Actively avoiding your phone before 9 am and after 6 pm is a game-changing move.

We all know the effect that social comparison can have on our mental health, so why bookend your day with it?

Whether that means locking your phone in a box, setting time limits on social media apps or filling that time with better activities, it’s important to be intentional about your usage.

2. By realising you’re not dead

This might sound morbid, but hear me out.

You could have been born in a developing country without enough food or resources to live a healthy life.

Your parents could have abandoned you as a baby.

You could have died of leukaemia; in a car crash; from COVID.

As we speak—God forbid—you could have a brain aneurism threatening to end your life that you’re totally unaware of.

I’m not trying to be morbid for the sake of it, but I hope these words offer a proverbial slap in the face: you are so lucky to be alive, let alone thriving as you are.

In fact, according to social media icon Hank Green, your existence is borderline impossible in the first place:

Watch the video by clicking here.

When you think about life this way, suddenly getting that Ferrari doesn’t seem so important. Suddenly, everything is a gift. Society’s definition of success fades into insignificance.

Practically, now that your mornings and evenings are free(er), I recommend taking a moment to fill them with gratitude.

Whether that takes place in the form of journaling (I highly recommend Amie McNee’s free journalling compendium if you want to take that route), making a list, through prayer, by speaking your thanks, or even by going on a walk and picking flowers, gratitude is a powerful practice.

Gratitude fights the comparison mindset. It helps you to remember how lucky you are to live a “mediocre” existence.

3. By redefining success through the lens of legacy

I don’t know about you, but I want to make a difference on earth before I go.

I want my one short life to mean something; to make an impact.

One of my greatest inspirations for this is the life of Jesus Christ.

Reading about his life in the Gospels comforts me. Jesus was entirely “average” by human standards, “having no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:3).

Yet, he changed the world.

(I mean, we literally measure history (BC and AD) in relation to his birth. His life was pretty significant).

Jesus didn’t change the world because of his wealth or achievements or status or talents or family reputation.

He transformed history and society because of his love for people.

He transformed my life, too.

I want to be like that. And I want you to experience it.

(To risk being morbid again), at my funeral I want people to know their value because of my influence. I want them to say “I matter” because I showed them love. And I want them to extend that love to others.

Instead of spending my time seeking success, I want to seek after connection. To share love.

And to do that best, I want to live an entirely mediocre existence. I want to be accessible to others, to be “on the ground” where they are.

And so, this humble drawing of a cauliflower is my symbol of defiance.

I want to show people that I’m mediocre.

By sharing my day-to-day life, my unfinished or imperfect content, and my human nature with you, I hope to shift the status quo.

Will you join me?

Repeat after me:

“I hereby reject the highlight-reel lifestyle. I declare that my value doesn’t come from my achievements, status or wealth. I don’t need these things to prove my worth. I don’t need to be exceptional; I am impossibly lucky to be “mediocre”.

I am valuable because I exist. My life is wonderful life as it stands, and that is enough. I am enough. I am loved.

With Jesus as my saviour and inspiration, I know my worth because I am loved by Him. I have absolutely nothing to fear — especially not mediocrity.

In fact, mediocrity is the glue that binds me to others. That manifests love.

In that sense, mediocrity basically makes you the best version of you there is. What a wonderful paradox!


Thanks for taking the time to read this piece! This article was originally published by Maryellen Hacko on Medium. Maryellen also shares reflections on creativity, wellness and spirituality on her Instagram account, website and YouTube channel.

Maryellen Hacko

Maryellen Hacko

A law graduate who fled the corporate world to write and make art for magazines, and glorify God in the process | www.maryellen-creative.com/
Sydney, Australia