Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Today I posted another blog stating "I am...ORDINARY" -- it isn't being met with great popularity and it IS a stereotype - a label and THAT my friends is the point. It is part of a homework assignment I was doing that I came across these and want to share. I do believe that as the following states we are doing our children a disservice grooming them to all believe that they are all to be super stars, soccer stars, Mensa bound, Julliard bound etc. etc. SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE ORDINARY and we need to encourage our children to embrace that we cannot all be astronauts and Tour De France winners etc. etc. etc. Someone has to tend the farm and teach the students and when and WHY did those professions become mundane and ORDINARY and passe? I know I'm unique. God knows I don't fit in very well with any group. I am always too _____ or that or the other thing. And that is A OK! I am who I am and while I do get my feelings hurt easily you know what? I am just exactly who I am supposed to be and who God made me to be and I am doing what I was put on this earth to do!
Just sayin'. That doesn't mean I'm mediocre - not at all. I am pretty darn stellar at some things. Not everything. Nor was I meant to be.
I love helping others embrace their strengths and their weaknesses and love themselves and I'm pretty good at it. Not mediocre. It's a bit of a strength. (not to be boastful).
So please don't feel you have to reassure me that I'm not ordinary but DO feel you need to shout to the world and most especially our children that it's perfectly fine to be ordinary and not top notch, exemplary, over the top, perfectomundo at every single thing because that is way too much pressure and the world needs some nurturing, loving, kind, well mannered and nice, unique GOOD people who don't want to take over the world or be nuclear scientists to keep it going round on its axis.
Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
At a time when young people are exhorted and expected to be exceptional, there may be something to say for the virtues of being unremarkable.
By ALINA TUGEND
Published: June 29, 2012
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ordinary and extraordinary lately. All year, my sons’ school newsletters were filled with stories about students winning prizes for university-level scientific research, stellar musical accomplishments and statewide athletic laurels.
I wonder if there is any room for the ordinary any more, for the child or teenager — or adult — who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material, who will be a good citizen but won’t set the world on fire.
We hold so dearly onto the idea that we should all aspire to being remarkable that when David McCullough Jr., an English teacher,told graduating seniors at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts recently, “You are not special. You are not exceptional,” the speech went viral.
“In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another — which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement,” he told the students and parents. “We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.”
I understand that Mr. McCullough, son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, is telling these high school seniors that the world might not embrace them as unconditionally as their parents have. That just because they’ve been told they’re amazing doesn’t mean that they are. That they have to do something to prove themselves, not just accept compliments and trophies.
So where did this intense need to be exceptional come from?
Madeline Levine, a psychologist, said that for baby boomers, “the notion of being special is in our blood.” She added: “How could our children be anything but? And future generations kept building on that.”
More recently, parents seem to be increasingly anxious that there just isn’t going to be enough — enough room at good colleges or graduate schools or the top companies — for even the straight-A, piano-playing quarterback, and we end up convinced that being average will doom our children to a life that will fall far short of what we want for them. As Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work and author of the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Hazelden, 2010) said, “In this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life.”
And that’s a problem. Because “extraordinary is often what the general public views as success,” said Jeff Snipes, co-founder of PDI Ninth House, a corporate leadership consulting firm. “You make a lot of money or have athletic success. That’s a very, very narrow definition. What about being compassionate or living a life of integrity?”
Ordinary and normal smack too much of average. It seems that we all want to live in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average.
Ms. Levine said she was once scheduled to give a talk on parenting the average child at a school in Marin County, Calif. Although she usually packs in the audiences, not one person showed up.
“Apparently no one in the county has an average child,” said Ms. Levine, the author of the forthcoming book, “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins).
While there are some extraordinary children out there, the myth is that all children in high school will be like that, she said. And that, Ms. Levine said, is putting enormous stress on students.
Most people, she said, have talent in some areas, are average performers in many areas and are subpar in some areas.
The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important.
“We would do kids a great service if we opened the tent a little more,” Ms. Levine said.
The Toronto Star did that in March 2012 when it printed a column about Shelagh Gordon, who recently died of a brain aneurysm, with the headline, “Shelagh was here — an ordinary, magical life.” At the same time, The Star ran online interviews with more than 100 people whose life had been touched by the 55-year-old Ms. Gordon.
“We had come up with the idea of grooming the obituaries and re-creating a life from the people at the funeral,” said Catherine Porter, who wrote the column about Ms. Gordon. “We thought it might be a fun journey.” Ms. Gordon’s obituary stood out, Ms. Porter said, because “a lot of obits read like a résumé — an accumulation of concrete action. Her legacy was in her relationships to people.”
She didn’t have a great job, she wasn’t married and never had children, so she wasn’t successful in either the traditional male or female sense, Ms. Porter said. But people would keep telling stories about her kindness.
“She had a lot of magic in her life, and that’s reassuring,” Ms. Porter said. “That you can live a full, interesting, ordinary life.”
How do we go back to the idea that ordinary can be extraordinary? How do we teach our children — and remind ourselves — that life doesn’t have to be all about public recognition and prizes, but can be more about our relationships and special moments?
“It’s a value I have to choose again and again, as is true with all of us,” said Katrina Kenison, author of “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” (Grand Central Publishing, 2009). “My job as a mother is not to get my son in the top college, but to enjoy ordinary life. To swim in a pond on a hot day or walk with a friend or make dinner from scratch.”
As Ms. Kenison said, one of the most important conversations we can have with our children is what we mean by success.
“Ordinary has a bad rap, and so does settling — there is the idea is that we should always want more,” she said. “But there’s a beauty in cultivating an appreciation for what we already have.”
And that’s not easy, she acknowledged, especially in affluent areas where success — or the perception of success — is like a drug that we can never get enough of.
“I know I began writing in an attempt to heal the disconnect between what I observed around me — the pressure to excel, to be special, to succeed — and what I felt were the real values I wanted to pass on to my children: kindness, service, compassion, gratitude for life as it is,” she said.
People are hungry for such reassurance. Ms. Kenison’s book trailer has received 1.6 million views, which is far from ordinary.
Some people may fear that embracing the ordinary means that they are letting themselves and their children off easy. If it’s all right to be average, why try to excel? But the message isn’t to settle for a life on the couch playing Xbox (though, yes, playing Xbox is O.K. sometimes), but rather to to make sure you aspire to goals because they are important to you, not because you want to impress your parents, your community or your friends.
As Mr. McCullough said in his graduation speech: “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”
When I told a friend that I was writing this column, she reminded me of the last paragraph of George Eliot’s great novel “Middlemarch” and its celebration of the ordinary: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Member Comments About This Blog Post
Thanks for the blog. i really enjoyed and took notes!!! LOL As a parent of a 9 year old I experience the pressure to keep her in so many activities and excel her in education. i loved this article...Thank you for sharing....
The people that plant and water the seed are just as important as those that harvest the plant.....
1361 days ago
Thank you for this reminder ... especially for our children. We all want the "best" for them and sometimes that desire can push us to do or say things that really aren't productive. Here's to being "ordinary" ... it got me thinking of the word "extraordinary" which we are by being "extra - ordinary"
1362 days ago
Great blog and I appreciate the article you shared. As a teacher, I can identify with so much of this.
1365 days ago
Thank You. I needed this. I am amazed at the wisdom I gather here at Sparkpeople. Thanks again.
1367 days ago
Well said, Kal. After all how can we celebrate the extraordinary in all of us if we don't acknowledge the ordinary in us as well?
1367 days ago
As I stated in response to your other post. I am ordinary too. Most of my friends have a higher IQ (hey I LIKE being around smart people, K?), are more outspoken, creative, or whatever you want to say. I'm just... me. Now as me I am unique and I have strong points and weak areas. Just like everyone else.
Truthfully though I don't think I really WANT to be extraordinary. I don't want all that extra pressure to be great at, or excel at whatever I've been recognized for.
Thanks for sharing!
1367 days ago
Personally, I found your ordinary blog refreshing. We get so caught up in how special we are-- and often that just lends itself to separation-- and alienating ourselves from others.
Generally, when I find myself frustrated/angry/ sad/ misunderstood it comes down to me not realizing that I'm NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE. That guy that cut me off in traffic? Yeah, not a special snowflake. On hold with customer service? No snowflakes here.
Not losing weight? It's not because I have alien thyroid super special issue that means I gain weight breathing-- it's because I'm not exercising enough, eating too much junk, really.
It's a 5% nation thing. There's a 5% nation of everything under the sun. Absent dad? healthy raw food? allergic to gluten, corn syrup, coedine?
Dammit-- I am ordinary. I most likely have the same dang issues you do. It's when you start thinking "I'm the ONLY one that feels this way" or "NO ONE else understands" or "YOU haven't gone through what I have gone through, so you DON'T KNOW" that you do yourself a disservice. You disallow others from feeling connected to you, from identifying with you, from sharing in your triumphs and sympathizing with your failures because you've made yourself so alien as to not have anyone to truly share with.
Bless your ordinariness, Kal. (And, yes, that just came out of my atheist mouth.)
1367 days ago
:-) Agreed that there is nothing wrong with the ordinary ... often it is exactly perfect.
This time of year we are going through evaluations at work. I work for a consulting firm, so you can imagine the size of the egos and the competition to always be "the best."
During evaluations, we spend a good deal of time "Laddering" groups of people in order of their contributions. And there is a whole group of managers that have to agree together on the ratings. As if THAT isn;t enough (imagine all the parents of a 6th grade class agreeing who has the smartest children) When we are through, we expect there to be a bell curve with approximately 40% of the people falling into the "Meets Expectations" or "Ordinary" category. with the other 15% falling above and 15% below.
It's for sure interesting how no one expects to be other than "Exceeds"
But when you do the math .... well,
1367 days ago
hi love,sorry if my comment got you rattled didn´t mean it to i think there is a differance to an ordinary life and being ordinary.as i said in my last comment i think that no one is ordinary though there life maybe if that makes sense.sorry kal i am not so articular as you,lol.but this last blog really spoke to me my older sister(the one who was only a year above me in school)is a member of mensa and is very intelligent and has a photographic memory.all through school i got off the teachers why can´t you be more like your sister.don´t get me wrong i wasn´t stupid just not as intelligent as her.when i used to get upset over the teachers comments my nana used to ask me.did you do your best.i said yes.she would then ask really did your best.i would mostly say yes then(not always)she would then say that is ok then,no one can do more than their best and no one can ask you for more than that.if the answer was no she would then say well you know then to do better next time.i think that was why in the end i turned to crafts and sports as i could never beat my sister academically and i was sick of people compareing me to her.even though i did long jump and high jump for wales when younger and won the european dance competition several years in a row in my dads eye i was never good enough not like my sister.to him anyone could do sport if they want but not everyone is clever.maybe you can see why i wrote my last comment o your last blog.
1367 days ago
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