The other night as I was washing my hair and brushing my teeth and playing piano, I started thinking about being ordinary. A lot of times I get through hard or unpleasant things (like the flu, a fight with my parents, stepping in poo, etc.) by reminding myself that billions of people before me have gone through the same things and survived, so I can too. I’m a normal human being, capable of all the normal things we go through. Ordinary is good!
I want to be extraordinary too. I want a long, successful career as an author, and as we all know (or if you don’t, I’m telling you now) the odds of that are not high. For all the Stephen Kings, Amy Tans, and JK Rowlings, there are hundreds if not thousands of unknowns sitting at their desks, typing/writing out what they believe to be The Next Great Book.
Just like there are tons of programmers who want to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, tons of film students who want to be the next Steven Spielberg or Ang Lee, tons of athletes who want to be the next Derek Jeter or LeBron James.
So who gets there? Who rises to the top, while the rest toil anonymously?
Think about it before you read the rest. I really do want to know your thoughts, so please leave them in a comment.
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My answer (if you’ll allow me to “think aloud”) is just one answer, and perhaps not my final answer.
But for right now, I’m thinking it’s often the ones who are extraordinary all along. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about thin-slicing, the act of understanding a large thing by analyzing a small piece of it. I bet if you thin-sliced Spielberg, Gates, or LeBron, you’d see something extraordinary about them every day, every hour, maybe even every minute. Their work ethic. Their creativity. Their focus.
I look at the people in my life, and I believe I can see that difference. For example, Andy is extraordinary. I jokingly call him The Robot, but the truth is, I’m jealous of his concentration and productivity. It’s absolutely not ordinary the way he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to, whether at work or at home. Unlike me, he isn’t distracted by (sorry) stupid things like Twitter or Facebook, or the vast number of blogs on the internet. He doesn’t hem and haw over decisions; he just makes them and moves forward. Even though his life may look somewhat ordinary right now, I can tell you it won’t be for long.
In a lot of ways, Andy reminds me of my mom. She has the same self-discipline and incredible work ethic (and the same frustratingly high expectations of me). But my mom doesn’t think she’s accomplished anything extraordinary with her life. I suppose relative to some of the people I’ve named, she hasn’t. But if I look at where she came from, what she had when she moved to this country, and what she made of it, I can’t help disagreeing with her. She learned a new language in her twenties, earned a Master’s degree in a foreign country, founded a business unrelated to what she’d studied, and kept it running for over 25 years. She even raised a pig-headed, know-it-all daughter. Don’t you think that’s pretty extraordinary? I do.
On the other hand, my dad and I don’t have those kinds of extraordinary personalities. We like to watch a lot of movies and take a lot of naps and look up a lot of random things on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it sure cuts down on productivity. Now don’t get me wrong, I think my dad has done a lot of extraordinary things too. But I guess that’s what I have to figure out now: how?
How did my dad, an ordinary person, like me, lead an extraordinary life? How did he travel around the world? How did he build a city in Saudi Arabia for the king? How did he put up with a sassy, chatterbox daughter?
I know I’m an ordinary person, but I think I have extraordinary potential, and I want to reach it.
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Again, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject…