My mum saw a blackboard outside a café once (I think that’s what it was) that made her mad. If it were me, a misplaced or missing apostrophe is what would get my goat. But mum? Mum was mad that the hand written sign was imploring her to live an extraordinary life.
‘What’s wrong with an ordinary life?’ she huffed.
I’ve grown up surrounded by messages to be extraordinary, so I think I’m a bit immune. Is this a recent thing? I feel like once upon a time, there was maybe more value placed on just living an ordinary, good life. Apart from the fact there was no internet to make you think there was something wrong with your life, I suspect most people just couldn’t afford to imagine anything much different to working and raising a family – and that’s if you were lucky. There were also different social norms that came with certain expectations around what was considered “normal”, which was not necessarily a good thing. I might be romanticising the past, of course. Readers older than me (uncle John) please feel free to set me right.
I’m talking about messages like: Do one thing each day that scares you. A life lived in fear is a life half lived. Do something you love and never work a day in your life. Every single meme in my Facebook feed. Sunrises and seascapes and triumphant people wearing expensive hiking clothes standing on clifftops with their arms in the air, all encouraging me to be extraordinary, to live my dreams, to hope, to believe. The signs on the walls at Emma’s gymbaroo class, imploring me to feel joy, every moment of every day of my beautiful life. Girls at the gym wearing singlets telling me to run faster, jump higher, dance like nobody’s watching. Entire sections of the bookshop dedicated to living a life less ordinary, to taking the road less travelled, to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Inspiring articles everywhere I look about people who left the corporate rat race to sell jewellery or make natural cleaning products or grow their own kale. Yoga teachers who spend the meditation telling me I’m amazing and haven’t yet discovered my own potential, when they don’t even know me or my potential. Tony Robbins and all the people like him – an industry that’s popped up encouraging us to want to be extraordinary, a whole industry, an actual job called motivational speaker. I barely notice it anymore. The whole (Western) world is one big pep talk.
But mum’s right, of course, as she almost always is. There’s nothing wrong with an ordinary life, and thank goodness for that, because it’s what most of us end up living. We might have glimpses of the extraordinary – even mum’s been 4WD-ing in East Timor, after all – but wherever we are, whatever we do with our days, whoever we spend them with, most of it is utterly, relatively ordinary. And I think it’s time to reclaim that. To see the dignity and value in it. It’s enough to be good enough, to be a good enough partner and parent and friend and colleague. It’s enough to work – in fact for most of us, “doing what we love” is a privilege we can’t afford or just don’t have. It’s enough to have a hobby that everyone else has (cycling if you’re a man aged over 30) or no one else has (yes I’m still enjoying jazzercise classes), and to spend time with people you like, and to have the occasional holiday. It’s enough to feel sad some days, and joyful other days, and to take your family and health for granted sometimes, and be overcome with gratitude other times. It’s enough to eat good food sometimes, and crap food other times, and watch good TV sometimes, and crap TV other times, and read the books you want to read even though you know they’re also crap. It’s all enough, and we should never feel that it isn’t. Indeed, if this is your life, you are already incredibly privileged and to think there should be any more than that – or else there is something wrong with you, or the life you are living – is almost perverse.
I have friends who live by inspiring Facebook memes and I love those friends. I love how they approach life and I come away from our conversations feeling inspired and interested in everything, which is exactly how friends should make you feel. And I would never want people who naturally gravitate towards this sort of philosophy – or who want to – to rein it in. I want them to keep posting sunsets and cute baby gorillas and inspiring quotes from historical figures in fancy font. All I’m doing – for myself, for my sanity – is reclaiming the word ‘ordinary’. And if your Facebook feed and all the blackboards outside cafes are making you feel like the ordinary life you’re pretty happy with is actually something you should be ashamed of – something that needs fixing – then feel free to join me. Because it’s not. You, in your ordinariness, are perfectly fine. Ordinary is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice if it’s what you want. Even if it will never spawn an aspirational lifestyle website a la Gwyneth or earn you a book deal. I hope to enjoy a long, healthy life as a decent human being and if I can achieve that, that’s extraordinary enough for me.