“A great man is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson American philosopher and poet
I’ve noticed a growing trend, particularly with us 30/40-somethings, a fear of being average. To live a life deemed to be mediocre seems to be something not just to actively avoid but dread. Our lives apparently must be extraordinary and special (no pressure there then)! And yet surely the majority of us will achieve an average existence. It’s a bit like those surveys which show that over 50% of drivers rate themselves as above average (a concept known as illusory superiority).
So why are we so scared of being ordinary? Why has being average got such a bad rep?
I’ll use a personal example, which might help explore this a little. Recently a friend asked me what I did at the weekend. The truth was I spent most of it taking walks, sitting by the fire, reading and reflecting on the past week and preparing for one ahead. Not massively exciting stuff I admit, but very much needed self-care which helped me to recharge my flagging batteries. I noticed I felt rather inadequate holding my reality and there was a strong desire within me to beef it up a bit, to make it sound more interesting. I worried that my friend would judge me for being boring, for not “living life to the max” (a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) type feeling). I thankfully stayed authentic in my response and her reaction was one of envy and appreciation, not one of judgement. Why did I feel shame for admitting my ordinariness?
We live in a society where productivity is held in high esteem. To not fill time or even waste it (shock horror) is something we “should” feel shame about, (this fascinating topic is a blog post in itself). So maybe my non-exciting weekend was reflecting a lack of productivity or effort on my part? By having an ordinary time, I was inadvertently shunning our society’s (and certainly social media’s) assumption that we should all be doing something special or awesome and this in turn would make us extraordinary. By being ordinary I felt I would be judged and found wanting.
By still believing that we can be extraordinary we appear to be almost returning to the magical thinking or omnipotence we first had as young children. This was our very young belief that we were in control of our external world, cry and mum would come running, wish for a puppy and one would appear. John Steiner a contemporary psychoanalyst says that we must learn to “relinquish our omnipotence”. In other words we need to embrace our humanness and our personal limitations
So maybe our fear of being ordinary is about a lack of control somehow? For us to accept the ordinary is to give up on some kind of magical or special dream. But surely once we accept who we are, then we can begin to grow towards fulfilment? We can then start to experience our dreams in reality.
As with most thing I witter on about, I don’t have any definitive answers (sorry), but maybe a few of the ideas above could lead somewhere.
So anyway let’s raise a toast (ideally a decent cuppa) to embracing the ordinary. Sometimes all we need is the present moment, the ground below supporting us and the sheer expanse of sky above us. Less is more after all.
As the wonderful late Sally Brampton once wrote, “If we are always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we don’t see the brilliant glory of the sky.”
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash