"When I look back on my ordinary, ordinary life, I see so muchmagic, though I missed it at that time!"
Jamie Cullum, jazz musician
When you think about all those past memories of childhood, school and college, though at the time they looked quite ordinary, now they feel different and special.
Yet we don't want to be ordinary, we're pushed by society, social media, our surroundings to become extraordinary. Because the assumption is, no one is leading an ordinary life. The gadgets, the holidays, the food, the relationships, the career success all seem so extraordinary.
Pressure to Be Extraordinary
Society is pushing us toward more, something better, and there is never enough. Hundreds of online articles teach us how to stand out, how to be extraordinary. Being ordinary is not cool. No matter what, your worth is justified when you have become better, faster and stronger.
There is nothing wrong in striving to become extraordinary, but let it be a choice. We can't be extraordinary in everything we turn our hands to, and the extraordinary comes with a price and many sacrifices.
One famous Indian cricketer, when retiring, apologized to his kids for missing the experience of their first tooth, parent-teacher meetings, their sports accomplishments, and not being by their side when they needed him most. He also apologized to his family for missing many festivals and weddings, and not being there when they were grappling with some serious illnesses.
Appreciating the Ordinary
Have you ever been mobbed, chased and talked about by the media? Maybe you want to be. But maybe instead we should value and celebrate the ordinary. Because it means that you can engage in any activity without being bothered by the public!
Where does this idea of having to be extraordinary come from? Is it ego, peer pressure, or the race to happiness?
Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
The ego always wants to be special, different, and of great value. Ego wants constant validation from others.
But life is hidden in its ordinariness. To do something ordinarily is the most extraordinary thing in life. For instance, think about the time you were confined to the bed after an illness, and walked for the first time after three months. That walk seemed extraordinary. Such reminders are good ways to experience the extraordinary in ordinary activities.
I remember when I was a child my parents put me in different hobby classes, because every summer I used to get curious about something else! One neighbor was really concerned and worried. She told my parents that this way I'd never become an extraordinary Kathak dancer (an Indian style of dance). My father replied that it was okay, because being exposed to all forms of music meant I'd appreciate and enjoy more!
Judging the Ordinary
People often make judgments about others' ordinariness as well. Often it's things like, "She has ordinary looks," "He comes from an ordinary background," or "Their holidays are quite ordinary." And finally, "This thought is so ordinary!"
By the way, people making these kinds of comments surely have nothing extraordinary to focus on in their life!
I don't want to take any side, but the race we are in to become extraordinary pushes me to give another perspective. Think about it: being ordinary, in any area, makes us grounded, humble, and in awe of that person who does it well. I think my team member is extraordinary in this, and it reminds me that, although I'm his manager, I have a greater dependency on him.
And to end on a philosophical note: ordinary or extraordinary, we all are destined to one end – a beautiful end – death.
Celebrating the Ordinary
During the #MTtalk Twitter chat this week, we talked about society's focus on the extraordinary and how we can better celebrate the ordinary. Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
@lg217 The words that I associate with ordinary are: regular, original, normal, and down the middle.
Q2. What's there to celebrate about being ordinary/doing ordinary things?
@Yolande_MT Ordinary actions can become winning habits – such as getting up early, making your bed, and meditating or exercising.
@TheTomGReid Even when you are ordinary, or average, you will still be uniquely you with, perhaps, an extraordinary combination of ordinary traits.
Q3. Does ordinary mean unambitious, yes or no? Why?
@DrKashmirM To me it means being satisfied with life. Treating life as it comes.
@SarahH_MT Therein lies the problem! Ordinary does mean unambitious much of the time. I was talking to someone about a Police Officer who spent his career "walking the beat" with no ambition to move up the ranks. So what? I asked. Was he a good PO? Yes. So celebrate him!
Q4. Do you remember when you were first being pushed to be extraordinary? What happened?
@MikeB_MT Not sure if I've ever done well when the person pushing is anyone other than myself. That may be a weakness and a strength. When I push myself, my mantra is to strive for good, better, best. So, I may start at ordinary.
@Yolande_MT I experienced much pressure from pre-school age to be extraordinary/an over-achiever. At times it paralyzed me with fear of failure, at times it blinded me to what I had achieved, and at times it motivated me.
Q5. How does the thought of having to be extraordinary all the time make you feel/react?
@lg217 I would say exhausting and stressful because there is a lot involved to be extraordinary. There are times when I want to be ordinary and just be normal and do normal everyday things.
@SoniaH_MT The thought of having to be extraordinary ALL OF THE TIME, brings me anxiety for trying to keep up with someone else's expectations. Let me be me.
Q6. Why do we dismiss the ordinary and only view extraordinary as something to celebrate?
@ThiamMeka2Gogue I think it's lack of practicing mindfulness: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Every breath we take and every heartbeat is an extraordinary miracle that we should celebrate!
@SarahH_MT We're constantly bombarded by the media and online with extraordinary stories of what some amazing people have achieved. Whilst these can be inspirational and should be celebrated, it naturally infers ordinary is not valued as much, as it gets no attention.
Q7. If we celebrate the ordinary, do we under-value the extraordinary?
@Dwyka_Consult Both are important. We shouldn't celebrate one at the expense of the other. It doesn't have to be either/or.
@Midgie_MT I believe that by celebrating the ordinary, we can acknowledge the simple things in life that are good enough. We can still acknowledge the extraordinary, simply with a different intention.
Q8. What is your opinion of someone who does ordinary things consistently well?
@PmTwee When we say "consistent" it does not matter whether it is ordinary or not, the delivery is done well.
@TheTomGReid There is much credit to be given for those who are reliable and dependable. You never see the crew that goes in at night to maintain the amusement park rides, but we are all grateful for their abilities and dependability.
Q9. What ordinary actions that give you pleasure/make you feel accomplished will you do more of?
@LernChance To reserve time for myself and things that are important to me.
@J_Stephens_CPA Ordinary pleasures – curling up with a book; cooking up something in the kitchen (with a recipe as a suggestion). Feel accomplished – knocking out another 250 words on Aristotle.
Q10. How might we change the perception of "ordinary" from negative to positive?
@ColfaxInsurance Celebrate the little things more – that we do and others do. Forgive ourselves for not being extraordinary all the time. Be kinder to ourselves and others.
@letusthink2 I guess by de-stigmatizing the word… by parents not pushing their children to the brink of their boundaries, by accepting who you are as a whole, and, most importantly, realizing that you are unique in your own way.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
Our Next #MTtalk
Celebrating the ordinary is a humanizing action because it means that everybody has a chance to feel seen and heard. Next time on #MTtalk we're going to discuss humanizing the workplace, how to do it, and why it's important.
So, in our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know which element you think is most important in humanizing the workplace.
To get you thinking about "humanizing the workplace," we've compiled a list of resources for you to browse. (Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.)
"It leads to what the author calls “assertive play” – not brick-on-skull assertive, but self-confident engagement, where people know they have things to contribute, and stake their claim."- Jonathan Hancock