I grew up under a strange and rather painful contradiction. Those who loved me told me I was special, that I had greatness in me. My peers told me I was garbage, that I was beneath them. As a result, I spent a lot of energy just trying to pass as ordinary, hoping that my latent greatness would get its chance to shine later on.
I guess I’m still doing that, except now it’s with the awareness that there’s a lot less “later on” left, and coming to terms with the possibility that the greatness is really more like “just-okay-ness.”
Think of how young you were when you first thought you had to be the hero of your own story. I must have been barely older than a baby. My father called me maverick. It made me feel like a rebel. I wanted to be a star. I had to win at all costs. And yet: when was the last time anyone ever told a man to be ordinary? Think of the difference that would make, to begin to dismantle our need to be heroes, to finish things, to consider ourselves defined by accomplishment…
While no one is encouraged explicitly to be ordinary, it’s pretty obviously and vigorously implied. But I do not think we are ever encouraged to be extra-ordinary. We are told to excel, to achieve, to be great. Great, but not different. Be the same as everyone else, but be better at it.
What if you’re decidedly extraordinary, as in un-ordinary, but not quite great? Oddness can be forgiven if it comes with a superpower. You can be weird, sub-ordinary, if you truly excel at something. But not if you’re “just okay” at a few things.
Those of us who are weird and just-okay at things can be envious of the ordinary. Astounding no one, but not disappointing anyone either.
No one should feel pressured to be ordinary. But nor should anyone feel like a failure for not being great. What we should encourage in others, and aspire to for ourselves, is to be at peace with who we already are, and utterly free to discover what we might be.
We may discover more ordinariness. We may discover greatness. We may discover flaws and deficits. But whatever we find, we should be free to feel we are enough.