In my last blog, I quoted researcher Brené Brown, from her book, “Daring Greatly,” on the subject of the scarcity many people feel about not having enough money, and not being good enough, perfect enough, smart enough, or successful enough. Connected to this, she says, is a fear of being ordinary, “never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
American storyteller and radio personality Garrison Keeler, always reminds us that in his imaginary hometown of Lake Wobegon, “All the children are above average.”
He’s not the only one to open our eyes to our cultural reluctance to accept the ordinary. Enter what’s wrong with ordinary in your search engine and you’ll find many references to this topic, such as this one from a blog called pinetribe: “In the back of our minds, we all strive for the extraordinary. We live in a culture which doesn’t celebrate the ordinary, everyday victories.”
I once had a boss, who didn’t have time to write an evaluation of my first year on a new job. Instead, she asked to meet and talk about my performance. She opened with, “You were average. That sounds about right, doesn’t it?” She laughed while she said it, so I knew it was a joke. “Eeww,” I thought. Joke or not, I never want to be average.
The problem with not wanting to be ordinary is that, “We engage too much in comparison, and we desire to be considered special in comparison to others.”
What happens when we compare ourselves to others? We can always find someone who does something better than we do. This brings us to the topic of self-compassion, which, compared to self-esteem, doesn’t involve comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like a winner or loser.
Kristin Neff is an author and researcher on the subject of self-compassion. She gives a TED Talk in which she describes self-compassion as treating ourselves with the same kindness we might treat a friend. For example, if I make what I consider a stupid mistake, I might say to myself, “What an idiot,” but I would never say that to a friend. Self-compassion means accepting our humanity, i.e., accepting that each of us is imperfect and not beating ourselves up about it.
When we have self-compassion, we don’t have to search for someone who does something worse than we do, puff ourselves up so we can maintain a sense of superiority, or — when we find evidence of our imperfections — produce more of the stress hormone cortisol to ward off threats to our egos.
You can find advice urging you to appreciate the ordinary and urging you to aim for extraordinary. I like this quote from novelist Peter Hoeg in support of the former. “We all try to camouflage the monotony, But it takes a lot of energy. To insist on being special all the time. When we’re so much like one another anyway. Our triumphs are the same. Our pain. Try for a moment to feel what relief there is in the ordinary.”