Everything in life is a trade-off. Some of us are born with high abilities for academic learning. Others are athletic and have great physical strengths. Others are artistic, and others have an aptitude for business. In terms of skills and talents, humans are a wildly diverse species. Sure, what we accomplish in life will eventually depend on our focus, practice and effort, but we are all born with different talents and potentials.
We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. In fact, most of us are average at most things we do. Even if you’re truly exceptional at one thing – say mathematics, or golf, or making money – chances are you’re average or even below average at most other things.
That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all. We can then say that it is a complete statistical improbability that any single person can be an extraordinary performer in all areas of their life, or even many areas of their life.
It just doesn’t happen. Brilliant businessmen are often struggling in their personal lives. Extraordinary athletes are often shallow and fixated. Most celebrities are probably just as insecure and clueless about their life as the people who follow their every move.
We’re all, for the most part, average, ordinary people. But it’s the extremes that get all of the publicity. We all kind of intuitively know this, but we rarely talk about it.
So, here’s the problem.
We have access to more information than at any other time in history. Having the internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube and television. And although it is great, our attention is still limited. There’s no way we can process all of the information flowing through the internet at any given time.
Therefore, the only ones that break through and catch our attention are the truly extreme pieces of information. And we are flooded with the extremes. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest and the foulest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats.
Our lives today are filled with information coming from the extremes, because in the media that’s what gets the numbers and the numbers brings in the money. That’s it. Yet the most of everyday life continues to reside in the middle somewhere, pretty ordinary.
It’s my belief that this flood of thrill-seeking information has conditioned us to believe that “extremes” is the new normal. And since all our lives are seldom exceptional and extreme, we all feel insecure and desperate to feel “exceptional” all the time.
So, we start to compensate. Some of us do this by trying out every get-rich-quick scheme. Others do it by going to a far off country to help save starving people. Others join a new religion or sect. Others do it by excelling in school and winning every award. Others do it by shooting or bombing innocent people. Others do it by trying to have mind altering experiences with drugs and call it vision quests. Others try to have sex with everyone that’s willing and others just don’t ever stop working.
There’s this kind of psychological tyranny in our culture today, a sense that we must always be proving that we’re special, unique, exceptional all the time, no matter what, only to have that moment of exceptionalism swept away in the current of all the other tragic and great things constantly happening.
The crazy thing is that every single person in life, for their fifteen minutes of fame, likely spent years and years and years practicing their craft. Yet we are not exposed to those years of practice and discipline. Or to those times they failed miserably. We’re merely exposed to each person’s absolute finest moment – possibly in their entire lives. Being ordinary and normal has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is unknown or unnoticed, invisible and no one special.
Many people are so afraid to accept normality, because they believe that if they accept being ordinary, then they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life doesn’t matter. I find this sort of thinking to be dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is only worthwhile if it is notable and extreme, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human life is worthless and boring. And that is a really dark place to put yourself.
This is a misguided belief. The people who become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become remarkable because they are focussed on growing. And that focus stems from a certain belief that they are, in fact, not that exceptional at all. That they are ordinary. And that they can be so much better.
This is the great irony about motivation. If you wish to be smarter and more successful than everybody else, you will always feel like a failure. If you wish to be the most loved and most popular, then you will always feel alone. If you wish to be the most powerful and admired, then you will always feel weak and impotent.
And yes, I know it’s an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to live an extraordinary life. Celebrities say it. Business tycoons preach it. The media proclaims it. Politicians assert it. Even religious leaders emphasise it. Each and every one of us can have an extraordinary life. We all deserve only greatness every day.
But it is a lie! All of this is basically just stroking your ego. It’s empty air sold to you to make you feel good for a few minutes. It’s a drug. It’s a message that tastes good, but in reality, is nothing more than empty calories that make you emotionally fat and unhealthy.
No, the truth is to start by accepting the life in front of you. The everyday ordinary routine. After all, that constant pressure to always be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of feeling inadequate will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish with no judgements and no unrealistic expectations. You’ll be free.
You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences. You will learn to measure yourself through new, healthier means: the pleasures of slowing down and really experiencing the small things, simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, watching a great movie, laughing with someone you care about, enjoying a good Whisky and smoking a Cuban cigar. And by that you’ll rediscover the magic of the now.
Sounds boring? That’s because these things are regular, ordinary and obvious everyday life. But maybe they’re regular and ordinary for a reason. Because they are what is needed to unlock what really matters. The true reason for being here. The secret to finding a deep, meaningful and beautiful life.
That which cannot be found in the extremes, the extraordinary, the highs and the lows. Only in the stillness of the moment, whatever the moment may be.
Precisely what the poet Max Ehrmann points to with his most famous poem, Desiderata. Take a moment, breathe and slowly drink in his words of wisdom and may it help you to find yourself wherever you may find yourself in your ordinary day…
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.