Up until now, I haven’t shared any direct quotes from my ‘almost ready for the world’ memoir — Where Have I Been All My Life. I suppose it’s about time (and fitting for this topic), to offer a few lines from the opening pages.
‘My story isn’t about an extraordinary life. It’s quite the opposite actually. It’s the story of an ordinary life. It’s a cautionary tale. A warning. An example of what not to do. It is a story for anyone who has ever felt stuck or has lost hope for the future.’
Ordinary by definition means ‘with no special or distinctive features; normal.’ Extraordinary is said to be ‘very unusual or remarkable.’ No wonder people strive to be extraordinary when ordinary has such unappealing and bland connotations.
I’d prefer to think of ordinary as a common ground we all share. The familiar characteristics and emotions we identify in each other that make us feel less alone. They give us a sense of connection. A feeling that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.
In some cultures (such as the Native American Indians), sharing stories has medicinal value. Those with physical symptoms are asked, ‘When did you last tell your story?’ as they believe it to be essential for complete health and wellbeing. When we offer our stories, we support the healing of ourselves and each other, by sharing the burden of the parallel events and lessons that occur at different times throughout all of our lives. Ordinary events shared, can have a massive impact. People with uncommon stories may touch us momentarily, but it’s the simplicity and the way we bond through shared experiences and emotions, that has lasting value.
Everyone perceives the word ‘extraordinary’ in a unique way. It could represent someone who has celebrity fame, a leader in a specialised field of work, or being the best or fastest in a particular sport. Many leaders say it’s lonely at the top because their success and achievements bridge a gap between themselves and the average person, making it almost impossible for others to relate to them.
On a smaller scale, being extraordinary could simply mean you are on a path aligned with a purpose that serves others. It could also be a representation of the ridiculously high standards you set for yourself. I am talking to all the perfectionists out there who are attempting to be extraordinary on a daily basis. What they may actually be doing, is trying to achieve control, approval, or acceptance. You may have guessed that I’m speaking from experience.
I expended a lot of energy in this space in my twenties and thirties and I was called ‘Little Miss Perfect’ throughout my school years. I was also the one who had every week scheduled to the minute, and religiously performed a five-hour cleaning frenzy each Saturday. I totally get it. What we don’t often realise though, is that while we are trying to be faultless, we are actually separating ourselves from others. Attempting to be perfect disconnects us. We can end up appearing out of reach because people can’t relate to the level of order we portray.
It’s ironic that as we are trying to achieve perfection for ourselves, we connect to others in their imperfection. We want to hear about how others overcome problems and hardship. We are drawn to the imperfect stuff that is happening in other people’s lives. Those ‘lump in the throat’ moments that bring a tear to our eye, as we feel another’s pain. These are the times that we feel more human, while we are fruitlessly pretending to be superhuman. Life can also become a lot less fun, if we are forever organising a future that never arrives, when we could be embracing the magic and spontaneity of this moment. It took me some time to find it… but a healthy balance is the key.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aiming for greatness. I still want to do extraordinary things. I want to have an impact. I’m just suggesting that we remain aware that it’s our pure, grounded self that craves basic connections and relationships. This is where we find fulfilment. Like when a friend helps us through our pain. Or when we suffer through shared grief or heartache. We get a feeling like someone is holding our hand or giving us a comforting hug. We feel aligned. We empathise because we all face similar circumstances.
I believe that we are all born with unlimited potential to do extraordinary things. I encourage you here though, to take a moment to acknowledge the limitless gifts of your ordinariness. Appreciate the valuable ways you relate to others in your ‘down-to-earth’ness, regardless of whether or not you achieve anything you consider extraordinary.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. If you want to hear more from me, please like my ‘Lisa Benson Author’ page on Facebook or follow me (lisabensonauthor) on Instagram.