Recently I’ve been reading and listening to Brene Brown. She talks a lot about vulnerability and shame. But the one take away that has really stuck with me is the way she talks about perfectionism and the ordinary. It seems in our culture we all have to be extraordinary; from pop stars, influencers, athletes, actors, leaders, parents and partners. That if we haven’t proven ourselves to be EXTRA ordinary that we are somehow not enough.
Not enough. It seems as though this sets us up for so much failure. We aren’t enough if we aren’t doing something extraordinary. What I love about Brown’s take on this is that in our effort to attain the extraordinary, we fail to live the ordinary.
And we don’t understand how important ordinary is until it isn’t ordinary anymore. We take so much for granted; our health, children, job, partners, family or community. 3 years ago, I was gardening, tripped, fell on a sharp rock and broke my leg in two places. Well, that changed my ordinary in one fall. I was bedbound for 2 weeks. Meaning I couldn’t cook or bathe myself, get to the toilet alone, drive my car or go grocery shopping. I finally had to hire home health to come in because I couldn’t wash or change my sheets or do any daily, ‘ordinary’ tasks. Then I had to face the recovery for more than 4 months. Even though I could walk with a brace and crutches this became another whole realm of new normal.
We just don’t settle into the ordinary, it isn’t acceptable. Over the past few decades we’ve been kind of brainwashed to believe that we all have to be on the path of super stardom, influencer extraordinaire, creating and doing extraordinary things and if that’s not what we are doing, we are somehow less than, which puts us into the category of shaming ourselves (which believe me isn’t obvious that we are shaming) or not moving forward in our lives because we can’t make it perfect, we’ve failed to make extraordinary.
So the ordinary. Once I kind of got on this page of seeing my ordinary life as being okay, how could I appreciate this? How could I stop with all this striving to NOT be ‘ordinary’, with all my energy focused on being extraordinary in all aspects of my life? How could I learn to just be in appreciation of what is ordinary? To let go of this notion of being ‘extraordinary’?
We’ve all heard this before and many of us practice this, but I started being even more grateful! I realized that at my age, most people are dealing with serious health issues, can’t hike, or walk easily or do 30 minutes of yoga each day. For me this is ordinary and I’m grateful! The gift of paying my bills or shopping for wholesome food, (and not having to rely on someone else to pick my veggies). Just being in that ordinary place of smiling at the checker or interacting with the bank teller. These are ordinary moments, but they can have such extraordinary meaning. By taking time to be ordinary, interact and be present with the people I see on a day to day basis, could mean something extraordinary in their day. Even at the end of the day, when I’m reviewing what I’m grateful for, I get a peek at some tiny, extraordinary moments.
And I have to say that by me accepting that it is okay to be ordinary, it has shifted my ability to be more authentic, genuine and heartfelt. As Brene says, more vulnerable. I think it is hard to be vulnerable when you are striving for that level of ‘extra ordinaryism’. (Yeah I know that’s not really a word), but it’s an ‘ism’ that has become a standard in our culture.
Extra ordinary is different than striving to be the best you can be. I strive to live my life above the line, with integrity, interact with kindness and vulnerability and to do the best I can at the time. But trying to be extraordinary, I think it sets a lot of us up for failure because if every single article isn’t over the top, absolutely stellar, it makes me want to not write. If you’re an actor and can’t go to an audition and be extraordinary every single time, how can you keep putting yourself out there and continue to go out on auditions anymore? As an executive, I’ve found that the expectations have become so high with longer and longer job descriptions that I often think only Superwoman could achieve their desired outcomes. And your staff or board expect extraordinary outcomes on a regular basis. It is such a set up because then I can no longer be human.
The simple fix for me is always getting out in nature. I find that when I take time out in nature, everything just settles quietly into ordinary. Nature doesn’t strive to be extraordinary in every moment. Yes, there are spectacular sunrises and sunsets, cloud movements and encounters with mountain lions, but generally, when I hike or sit in a spot on the trail for some time, it is just ‘ordinary’. Bird song, the caw of a raven, a chipmunk skittering past you on a way to find food, the rock you are sitting on or the odd form of a tree that you are sitting under. The bird isn’t showing off for you, the squirrel doesn’t really try to impress you with antics, the rock and tree have been this way for a very long time; nature is just slow and ordinary.
Being in nature can bring us back to who we are and bring us back to the superb ordinary. I think Covid helped drive this message home to me. With the first shutdown, we all had to stop. Stop driving, working, pushing and the interesting thing was that things were so QUIET. Skies were blue, freeways were empty and we were all huddled in our houses wondering what the heck might be next. More people took to trails and parks, neighborhood walks, and bike sales were through the roof. Whether we knew it or not, we were returning to more ‘ordinary’ things in life as a way to keep ourselves sane in a crazy and uncertain time.
Until recently, I just hadn’t realized how this idea of extraordinary was impacting me. I think within me I had this unspoken personal story that each thing I wrote had to be worthy of being a NYT best seller or any class I offered had to be of Tony Robbins caliber and if what I was creating wasn’t EXTRAORDINARY, I couldn’t put it out there. And what this was doing to me was stopping me in my tracks. Stopping me from writing or putting anything out there at all. I had become frozen in this fictional realm of “Extraordinary”. (and I realized that there was a certain sense of shame from this; that if I couldn’t be extraordinary all the time, I wasn’t good enough to do what I wanted – other more extraordinary people were already doing it. How does one compete with EXTRAORDINARY when I’m just ordinary)
Once I started understanding this concept of how our modern culture asks us to keep striving for the extraordinary, I realized that it seeped into my sense of perfectionism (and a sense of failure) and that unless I accepted the ordinary, I wouldn’t move forward. That if I could accept that even if my essay wasn’t a homerun, I might hit one theme or idea that helped make someone else’s day or shifted their awareness and that could be enough for an ordinary human.
Even though this seems a little like being mindful, staying in the now, as Ekhart Tolle would say, I can see that accepting being ‘ordinary’ allows me to step into who I really am, not some construct of someone striving to be extraordinary, above the norm. This recognition has allowed me to relax a little and enjoy being just me. So now my daily practice is about living in the ordinary. Loving the ordinary, being ordinary!!! I’m thinking that giving thought to my day to day ordinary is a good thing and being grateful for the ordinary. I’m beginning to cherish this idea that ordinary means it’s okay to live slower, not be constantly striving and setting unrealistic goals to become extraordinary. One perk I’ve noticed is that by accepting my ordinary, it allows me to be more authentic with myself and those I interact with and I think it will change my work. I can be more vulnerable. In this age of extraordinary, I never could see that ordinary is a good thing!