I have to laugh sometimes when I take stock and decide I’m living my dream life. Is this really what I imagined for myself? Staying at home with a toddler, taking care of the domestic duties, frequently feeling a little frazzled or overwhelmed and taking time for myself only in the evenings, if I magically have some energy left?
But yes, this is my dream. It’s not ALL of the dreams I have for my life, but for the stage I am in, I’m pretty well on track for creating the life I’ve desired. But it is nevertheless amusing that what I’ve detailed as my dream life is rather ordinary, because generally, we don’t regard ordinary as a great thing.
But we need to rethink the term.
We are All Ordinary People
One of the frequent criticisms of my generation is that we all believe we are special, and that that attitude of “specialness” leads to an attitude of entitlement, and ultimately discontent when we don’t get our way. While I take issue with some of these assessments, I do believe that the “I’m special” attitude exists and can lead to a lot of dissatisfaction, especially with the idea of living an ordinary life.
While it’s great to dream big, set high expectations, and live a life of adventure, it’s just as important and valid to embrace the fact that our dreams can also be small. Humanity is, after all, made up of billions of ordinary people and their ordinary lives. They are no less important and their lives no less fulfilling for that fact.
What about “Dead Poets Society”?
But what of “Carpe diem,” “Make your lives extraordinary” and all the rest of Professor Keating’s infamous, inspiring speech delivered by the late, great Robin Williams? I do believe all of that, truly. But think on it: these words were spoken by a teacher–a profession that, while generally regarded as important and noble, sounds pretty… well, ordinary.
The question is how we define “extraordinary.” Ordinary in this context refers to a life of just getting by. But we can be extraordinary in our “ordinary” life, by approaching this everyday existence with everything we are. Mr. Keating wasn’t a sad, boring, old teacher. He was an extraordinary teacher (who also did provide the admonishment that “sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone”).
Layaway Dreams and Living in the Moment
Finally, in getting comfortable with “ordinary,” it’s also good to remember that our present day life doesn’t have to feature all of our dreams–some may have to be on hold until later. Big dreams take time, and we’re never going to get there just by thinking about that endgame–we need to be fully present where we are NOW to push through and build to those bigger goals.
Much “happiness” advice talks about living in the moment, and I think the value of this is in finding the contentment that allows us to operate at our highest levels, whatever it is that we’re doing now.
I get a little uncomfortable when I write a piece linking back to so much previous writing on the self-styled life. That’s a clear indication that I’m being redundant. But that’s what happens when I take stock and evaluate–I have to review the goals, priorities, and philosophies I’ve set out for myself, like an essay-length mantra.
Ultimately, I think it all coalesces into this: appearing “ordinary” doesn’t mean I’m not living an extraordinary life. The appearance is what other people see. The experience is what I feel. I define that.
Are you happily living an “ordinary” life? Do you agree that “ordinary” can be “extraordinary,” depending on how we approach it?