Maybe It’s Ok To Be Ordinary
The scariest thing that can happen for someone in my generation is to be ordinary. To live a normal, unremarkable life. To be average.
It almost sounds like an insult.
But maybe — just maybe — being ordinary is not that bad. Perhaps resorting to the ordinary is what we need in our hyper-obsessive world.
How It Came To Be
Imagine living a life in which all you ever read is gossip and news about celebrities.
You’d assume that life is all about becoming filthy-rich, having yachts, champagne, girls, boys, and generally leading a lavish lifestyle.
Then you’d look back at your own life — at that half-eaten sandwich and credit card statements on the kitchen table — and feel as if you’re not living up to your potential.
That’s exactly how people from my generation live. Because the internet — with its YouTube vlogs and Instagram posts — is one giant Glamour magazine.
You only see the top-1% of what’s happening.
The bad and the good, the fascinating and the outrageous, the black and white get all the eyeballs, clicks, views, exposure, and advertising revenue.
This is what you read about on the web — the very tip of the iceberg.
But the real-life is not black and white. It’s actually gray. It’s often pretty dull too, and nothing exceptional can be happening.
The real-life — the one you’re experiencing, not just reading about on Medium or Instagram — is everything that’s underneath the iceberg.
It’s everything that’s not seen.
When you live like this, it’s easy to assume that:
- You have no choice but to become successful too. And by success, we mean money, as if that’s all that matters;
- Your life now sucks, and you should be ashamed of yourself.
It gets worse when you read/watch/listen to some “inspirational speaker” telling you what to do: “You must be successful…” or, as I once heard Grant Cardone say,
“If you’re not rich, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
In Praise Of The Ordinary
I was brought up to think I was special. Or that I should be unique.
I don’t know exactly how it happened, either I was reading too much motivational non-fiction during my teenage years — or my narcissistic father’s example became the way I lead my life too — but for a long time, I lived by the motto “best or nothing.”
I wanted to make the most money. Be the most successful. Build the biggest business. So on, so forth.
But if I am frank with myself — and ask myself, “What do I actually want to do in life?” or “How do I want my life to look like?” the answers I get are contradicting everything I thought I “should” believe.
- I don’t care that much about money.
- I don’t care that much about “beating” someone.
- I don’t like being busy. (Oh, and I hate the word “hustle.”)
I find joy in quiet contemplation, philosophical ideas, reading, writing, books, and tranquility.
I figured out long ago that you can tell yourself whatever you want, but you can’t ever bullshit yourself. Your values are rock solid — part DNA, part upbringing, and you can’t change them.
The truth always wins at the end.
Striving to be exceptional is stressful.
Imagine needing to fulfill those big expectations. And if you don’t, you’ll think of yourself as a loser.
When you design a life around the values and ideals of other people, Instagram posts, or what the gurus tell you to do, you end up wasting your life doing things you don’t care about.
It’s much better to start off by being yourself, not exceptional.
The image of your ‘ideal life’ and the reality of it is often different.
When you see a beautiful image of somebody else’s life on Instagram — you’re looking at just that, an image.
You might like how it looks like from the outside — and you might even feel it’s what will make you happy — but if you started to live that way, you’d realize it’s not what you wanted.
For example, “everyone should be a blogger.”
I mean, it sounds cool — to be able to make money from words or to travel the world, to be free, to be unattached to everything and anything.
But if you tried living that way, you might have realized that while yes — such life looks appealing on the outside — it’s actually quite annoying (for you) on the inside.
You’re not ready to get up each day and write.
You might not even like writing at all.
And you might discover that with all the benefits that being a free-spirited blogger, it’s just not that fulfilling — not for you at least.
You can’t have it all.
You might have several opposing ideas on how to live your life. They might contradict each other to the point that drives you crazy.
Say, you might want to be a writer but also an entrepreneur. These are very different lives, with very different lifestyles. And you can’t have both. At some point, you’ll have to choose.
As my father always told me, “Life is a portfolio of opportunity costs.” You choose one thing and let go of another. You can be anything, but you can’t be everything.
The best way to make a choice based on your true values, I’ve discovered, is to ask yourself a series of questions that put the two opposing ideas against each other, until you’ve selected the winner.
For example, what do you choose: building great businesses or great ideas? You can’t have both.
When Jim Collins — the bestselling author of business classics like Good To Great — asked himself this question, he chose ideas. (Look how that turned out for him.)
I struggle with this occasionally — since I identify myself as both an “entrepreneur” and “writer,” yet I know that if I am honest with myself, I am more a writer than an entrepreneur. If I had to choose, I’d most definitely want a calm, creative life over the life of “hustle,” “money,” and long hours.
We can become happy first.
I used to watch a lot of Gary Vaynerchuk when I was 18–20 years old. Then I quit. I guess it’s like smoking — at some point, you just know it’s time to quit.
But among the many things I don’t agree with that Gary said, there was one that I agree with: make yourself happy first.
Too many people strategize to get to happiness in the end through accumulating things, money, successes, etc. When the world actually works backward: to achieve success, you first need to position yourself for doing what you love.
You first make yourself happy by picking a job that you enjoy — and only then figure out how to get the things you want.
“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then, do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” — Margaret Young
The beauty of life is in little things.
And the only life worth living is the one full of beauty.
When John Stuart Mill — one of the most influential western philosophers, turned 20 — he suffered a nervous breakdown. His overworked body after a demanding childhood, finally said, “enough,” and John spent the following six months in a deep depression.
The only thing that saved him at that time was poetry. He discovered the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth and started listening to music for the first time in his life. In other words, he resorted to the ordinary.
From them [poems] I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed… I needed to be made to feel that there was real, permanent happiness in tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this…
John learned that human existence is imperfect, and no matter how much you want to change society, yourself, or what big goals to achieve — the beauty of life is captured in the little things: inspirational poem, a good book, beautiful ideas, nature. These things are what make life worth living.
Not achieving more goals.
There are people who wake up, brush their teeth, go for a run or sit down to write, and then have a hearty breakfast. They work during the day, and they’re happy doing so. They come back from work also happy because they want to spend time with their family. These people seem to have it all “figured out” — yet, they lead a plain, middle-class existence that most people take for granted.
It’s hard to judge such people for not being the “best in the world” at what they do. Yes, they are not Grant Cardones or Gary Vaynerchuks of the world, but they are happy, they love their life — and that’s what matters.
Such a happy life is not about the external things you have or don’t have — money, house, partner, kids, a well-paying job, or an interesting hobby. It’s more about what’s happening inside of you — and the kind of attitude you have towards life.
That’s what we should be working on.