"It is essential for a man to strive with all his heart, and to understand that it is difficult even to reach the average if he does not have the intention of surpassing others in whatever he does."
— Budo Shoshinshu
"In important matters, a ‘strong’ effort usually results in only mediocre results. Whenever we are attempting anything truly worthwhile our effort must be as if our life is at stake, just as if we were under a physical attack! It is this extraordinary effort – an effort that drives us beyond what we thought we were capable of – that ensures victory in battle and success in life’s endeavors."
— Flashing Steel: Mastering Eishin-Ryu Swordsmanship
Those quotes begin Eliezer Yudkowsky’s excellent post titled Make An Extraordinary Effort.
It’s about the importance of holding yourself to a high standard. Unfortunately, he says, "The slightest effort suffices to convince ourselves that we have done our best." I believe holding yourself to a high standard is one thing you can always control no matter what the circumstances.
Eliezer’s post is also about rejecting ordinariness. Lead an extraordinary life, he says, even if you’re one of the few:
I am not fool enough to make plans that depend on a majority of the people, or even 10% of the people, being willing to think or act outside their comfort zone. That’s why I tend to think in terms of the privately funded "brain in a box in a basement" model. Getting that private funding does require a tiny fraction of humanity’s six billions to spend more than five seconds thinking about a non-prepackaged question. As challenges posed by Nature go, this seems to have a kind of awful justice to it – that the life or death of the human species depends on whether we can put forth a few people who can do things that are at least a little extraordinary. The penalty for failure is disproportionate, but that’s still better than most challenges of Nature, which have no justice at all. Really, among the six billion of us, there ought to be at least a few who can think outside their comfort zone at least some of the time.