Extraordinary! What a grand word. We easily use it to describe many things, especially people. People who would never understand ordinary folks.
With a PhD in Developmental Psychology, it is no surprise that I read books about how and why people think and do the things they do. Recently I added to my collection a couple new books about being extraordinary. It occurred to me, reflecting on these books, that though I support personal growth, improvement, and development, I believe thought leaders, books, and t our collective culture has shortchanged being ordinary.
I consider myself to be rather ordinary. When I say ordinary, I mean the vast majority of people who live a day-to-day life, and accomplished ordinary tasks. It’s people who live basically within the box and are content with everyday things and life. Their motivations are not necessarily money or being noticed, but rather to live within the general population and be a part of the community and not stand out or rise above everyone. It doesn’t mean we don’t have dreams and wants and strive to do more, but life’s path has not been extraordinary.
I’d like to celebrate all ordinary people. Unlike what many of the self-development books would have us believe, most of us are not Barack Obama or Steve Jobs. As some examples from such books, most of us would never shun our parents who chose to teach rather than pursue a money-making path. Most of us would not declare that everyone must leave a traditional job to follow their bliss, whatever that job may be. And most of us have not figured out how to think and grow rich. Instead, some of us understand how valuable and important those who are societally not seen as extraordinary really are extraordinary in their own right.
It’s true the books, filled with insights, ideas, knowledge and education are powerful. Though it’s not only through books, many will improve their minds and lives to accomplish their definition of personal place and satisfaction. I’ll continue to read these books. However, as I do, I do so thinking too often they sell ordinary life short, with most left out and left behind. But wait, it’s these ordinary people who do all those things that perhaps an extraordinary person might not be able to do.
I would never say the messages in these books are wrong. But they have an edge of downgrading and faulting ordinary people. This is what is so important: every one of us who does not have untold wealth and everyday job bliss are NOT incomplete or incompetent. I like that there is a friendly face when I go to the store, whether that person follows the advice in these books or not, they are there. And how valuable is great wealth in the midst of a sanitation, trucking, or like strike? The trash hauler may or may not have job bliss, but they are valuable and what they accomplish each day has greater value.
Another good question is at what cost is achieving greatness? Sometimes the person who is working toward greatness spends hours working on that task. Is the cost less leisure and family time? And for some it means not having time for a hobby that bears great joy but not great pay. Or the person who works because they want money they can use to enjoy their not –well-paying leisure time activities. Let’s not forget, many important activities may not bring fame, fortune, and greatness, yet bring significant value to our community. Imagine not having people who offer help to those who rely on community services to survive, not having that person right there who values them more than pursuing their own wealth and bliss. It’s true some people bring needed benefit, but others enrich our life. Imagine what life would be like without community theater, parade volunteers, or the vast number of community-offered enrichments.
I think we need to thank and be extremely grateful for each and every one of us and what we do in contribution to our community and its integrated success. Let’s remember there are many ways to be happy. Having a job so we can support ourselves and our families is important. And what of the household that has chosen for one of the adults to stay home to care for the children, rather than go out and become something or someone great? Let’s appreciate one another as who each of us is and how we are in that role we play. Remember we each are special in our own way and do not need to be denigrated, made to feel less-than, or told that in order to count we need to strive to achieve what another tells us should be the standard.
I’ll never say someone who collects my trash, works in a store, teaches, or all the other ordinary day jobs are not happy or unable to derive significance from the work they do. Neither will I say those who pursue great wealth and recognition are overly self-important and do not have an importance. Rather, how we contribute has value and may or may not bring with it eternal bliss, joy, and greatness. And let’s not forget how wonderful non-paid contributions are to community value. Whether these contributions are volunteer activities, personal hobbies, local groups, and the like, they create community.
I appreciate the educator who taught me and others how to read, do math, learn history, etcetera so I can decide what I find interesting, what I’ll do for personal growth, and my other life choices. Remember it was an educator who taught the doctor who assists in health: physical, dental, mental. My community is cleaner and better taken care of because of local, county, and state workers. There are so many who directly and indirectly impact my life and yours. They are considered to be ordinary – not extraordinary. Though there is value to have extraordinary people do their work, I want the vast many who see themself as ordinary to be celebrated and know we really do appreciate them. We need each and every one of us to help our community and world to go round effectively and efficiently. Let’s celebrate all of you, each of us, all of us who help create a positive place to live. Maybe it’s the everyday people who really are the extraordinary.