The signs of inadequacy are everywhere: the lettuce rotting in the crisper, the dusty piles of Newsweek that continue to grow on the coffee table, the dishes that get washed but never actually get put away.

I'll even reach for the sheets at 7 a.m., but the glass is half-empty before I've realized what day of the week it is: Why make a bed if it's only going to get all messed up again? I toss the sheets back in defeat.

I'll bring home worldly, non-fiction best-sellers from the library, in an effort to learn more about the world. Unfortunately, my actions speak louder than my intentions: The books have got as much dust on them as the piles of Newsweek.

The truth is, championing mediocrity never felt so utterly strange. I'm neither OK with it nor am I totally upset that my ideal life is merely a dream. Instead, I'm in that in-between stage where I'm no longer miserable that I'm not headed towards a stellar magazine career where I get to live in a posh city and being OK with a quiet life where the bills get paid on time and the vegetables get eaten before they grow mold.

In my dreams, I'm haunted by these uncertain, ambiguous feelings:

"Don't do what I did!" an old, crabby man yells at me from his front-porch rocker, shaking his walking cane. "Don't let life pass you by!"

"I know! I know!" I yell back, as I speed by on my bicycle, horrified that time is slipping through my grasp. "I won't let you down, I swear!"

But where am I headed? I'm on my way, but what if I make a wrong turn? Isn't it OK to make a few wrong turns? I shudder at that last thought.

Being haunted that you'll wake up old and gray without a loving spouse or a rose garden or a book with your name on the binding are hardly nightmares.

But when I was 16, I wasn't plagued by these thoughts I knew that I knew everything. When I turned 20, I was also at peace: I realized I knew nothing.

And now at 23, I suspect that some people get to avoid this stage of middleness where they must begin to accept their limitations but just plain don't want to. They'll get happily married or go to law school or have beautiful children or land that dream job still young and only come to terms with what makes them happy and what doesn't once they've already got everything they thought they wanted. (Coming to terms with our happiness is such an American-centric plight, I wonder some days if the Founding Fathers did us more harm than good by inscribing the pursuit into the Declaration.)

So is it OK if I just stick to average? My old-self would have scoffed at my new-self, at the audacity of such a question. My old-self would also have scoffed at my new self for not being able to make up my mind. I used to have a new-age therapist. I'd complain to her these very same thoughts, upset that I wasn't able to achieve more.

She looked me straight into the soul and said it was OK not to be perfect, forced me to reduce any overbearing responsibilities and to spend time on myself.

"It can't always be go-go-go," she said to me. "You only have so much energy. But this idea you have, that your spirit of success will never come back, is false. It could and it will."

The mornings that I have two cups of coffee I believe her. The days I skip the coffee work is a drag, the bills feel like they're knocking the sides of my head as I hide them between the Newsweek covers I'll never read, and Mediocrity is laughing at me from his throne up high, his belly-shaking chuckles driving me mad.

Until the seas part or my Lotto numbers match, pour me another cup of coffee.

Staff writer Shajia Ahmad can be e-mailed at