“A great man is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Over the past decade, superheroes have been enjoying a resurgence of popularity. As a result, the Marvel franchise is busy re-creating the narratives of some of the most beloved characters from the yesteryears, such as Thor, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain America.
Superhero tales are being consumed voraciously by ardent movie-goers who long to get lost in the stories. I believe that these movies have achieved gold status at the box office because it provides a vicarious experience for those who fantasize about being a hero with exceptional powers. The high demand is a testament to an underlying need to feel special and to stand out.
The desire to be extraordinary has a strong and direct impact on people’s actions, decisions, and how they feel about their worth and identity. Almost everyone aspires to be smarter, prettier and more accomplished than the rest of the crowd. Being average or ordinary has earned a negative connotation because it implies that someone is undistinguished, boring, and is a nobody.
The truth is that our perception of being ordinary is based on a one-dimensional yardstick that solely measures the superficial criteria we’re used to and disregards virtuous qualities such as our compassion, kindness, dependability, and other honorable traits. But being ordinary didn’t always have such a bad rap. It’s only recently been cast away into society’s attic of past relics.
Back in the day, folks were a lot more open to embracing the ordinary. There was a degree of humility and grace, which was inadvertently instilled by the religious and social institutions of those times. In David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character, he states that we are now facing a moral crisis where our society has devolved into an ever-increasing celebration of the self.
According to Brooks, there was a distinct culture of “moral realism” from the biblical times until the mid-1940s, when people were aware of their limitations and were encouraged to practice self-circumscription. After the Second World War, there was a major shift where culture became centered on the self: self-expression, following one’s passion and being true to oneself.
Today, we live in the “Age of the Selfie”, where garnering more “likes” and broadcasting one’s social media persona has become more important than expressing empathy and kindness. Having said that, I don’t think it’s the Internet we should blame. If used for the right reasons, it can be an invaluable tool to build a platform where we can share our creations and thoughts.
The Internet has leveled the playing field for our global community, thereby making it easier for everyone to share, connect and promote. But if we’re not careful, we can over-do it and get carried away in the race for self-promotion. An unhealthy need to attract more eyeballs can breed a sense of desperation and take us into the dark realm of needy attention-seekers. It’s easy to be seduced by prolific symbols of the wealth, fame and affluence that we see all around us.
The media and advertisers deceive the masses with the false impression that by consuming their products, you can become richer, prettier and more popular. These manufactured illusions inflate our expectations and induce feelings of dissatisfaction and lack. And so, from a young age, we’re conditioned to believe that in order to thrive, we should be anything but ordinary.
I admit that there were times in my life when I held the idea of being ordinary in contempt. Although I was never an overt attention-seeker and preferred to blend into the background, there was an underlying need for me to feel special in the world. I wanted to be complimented on my looks, projects, and my personality to confirm that I was important and that I mattered.
As I matured, I gradually accepted my humble place in the larger scheme of things. Surprisingly, it was my deep studies in astronomy that induced the heaviest dose of humility. When you grasp the brevity of your existence in cosmic time and the inconceivable vastness of the Universe, you’ll unequivocally realize (and feel in your bones) that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
John Steiner, a contemporary psychoanalyst, says that we must learn to “relinquish our omnipotence”, which is another way of saying that we must acknowledge that we are mere mortals who should embrace our ordinary human life with all the limitations, unpredictabilities and disappointments that come with it. By relinquishing our pursuit to be extraordinary, we’ll be able to gracefully accept reality and give ourselves a better shot at experiencing fulfillment.
My spiritual mentor, Caroline Myss, says that the road to spiritual maturity must begin with the process of “humbling up” and accepting our ordinariness in the natural world. We need to respect that, just like other creatures on the planet, we are subject to the physical forces and cosmic laws that govern our eco-system. Resisting the natural order will only bring suffering.
I have to mention that embracing our ordinary nature doesn’t imply that we should dim our light, play down our strengths and lower our standards. We must continue to dream big and work hard, but we should do it on a solid foundation of self-awareness that’s based on reality. Our desires for worldly achievement should be substantiated by honorable intentions such as fulfilling our purpose and contributing to the greater good.
Some of the most seemingly ordinary folks who don’t make it on the cover of magazines actually provide the greatest benefit to our society, such as firefighters, nurses, teachers, and even janitors who keep our streets clean. Most of them don’t demand attention for their contributions and are more interested in living modest and ethical lives within their families and communities.
We can certainly learn a lot from their selfless and unassuming ways! Here are some ideas on how you can follow their footsteps and celebrate your ordinariness:
- Redefine what it means to be ordinary: We’re genetically wired with a survival instinct, which makes us feel that the only way to beat out the competition is by not being ordinary. We can overcome these instinctual urges by consciously redefining what it means to be ordinary. Traditionally, ordinary is associated with words like normal, standard, typical, usual. We can give it a positive spin by replacing them with words like drama-free, peaceful and content. It is possible to follow the hero’s journey without having to make a big splash in world arena. The extraordinary aspects of living can take place within our inner world, where we’ll be constantly dealing with our inner foes and triumphantly emerging on the other side with wisdom and gifts to share with the world.
- Cultivate meaning and purpose: When you’ve figured out the why of your life’s journey, your path will seem a lot more meaningful. Every action step that you take, from caring for your loved ones to tackling rote job tasks, will be infused with purpose. You’ll realize that your life is actually bursting with meaning, only if you notice it and connect it to your values, character traits and your personal story. Get in touch with the subtle aspects of your soul essence that bring you a sense of meaning by practicing those activities that are a reflection of your purpose and the vision that you have for your life.
- Embrace your community and contribute: Anyone who genuinely loves you and cares about you will tell you that to them, you’re anything but ordinary. We’re social species whose personal wellbeing is directly linked to the bonds that we share with family members, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. That’s why sharing and bonding with your community will not only make you feel good but expand your heart space and your capacity to give to others. It will inspire you to spread love all around you and to demonstrate acts of kindness to those who need it the most. It’s through the altruistic participation in the lives of the people around us that fulfillment can be found. You can get in touch with your humanity, in a small way, by contributing to causes that are important to you such as animal rights, violence and abuse, global warming, etc.
- Get out into nature: Connect with the natural flow and rhythm of our global habitat by spending some time in nature. The beauty of our home planet evokes a sense of awe, wonder and gratitude. Look up at the sky, stand on top of a mountain, dip your feet into a river stream or watch a sunset to establish a connection with Earth. Even if the vastness and diversity intimidate you, use it as a reminder of the vital role that you play. Let it move you to take care of our precious planet and preserve it for future generations.
It’s quite ironic that as you grow to accept your ordinariness, you’ll find it easier to express your extraordinariness. That’s because when you eradicate the blocks caused by your insecurities and fear, you’ll have clear access to tap into the amazing potential that lies within your spirit.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What does being ordinary mean to you? Do you see it as being a positive or negative trait?