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A song I’ve enjoyed listening to recently:
Ordinary │ /ˈôrdnˌerē/ │ adjective: with no special or distinctive features; normal.
When I sat down to brainstorm ideas for this week’s letter, I thought, what’s something not many people write about? What would be really unique? What would WOW people? Prove it’s worthy of a subscription? Be extraordinary?
Then I got overwhelmed with the pressure to make sure every single week’s letter is something extra special, one-of-a-kind, spectacular, mind-blowing… my chest tightened a bit even typing this out. That amount of pressure to be extraordinary is just too much for me (or any of us) to carry. And I know when I strive for it, it keeps me from doing the work I’m here to do… which might not always be extraordinary but is always human and honest and from the heart. So here I am, starting from that place.
The theme of ordinary has been arising in multiple ways lately — from conversations and reflections shared by others (like this post from Phil Eastman) to the continued returning of it within myself.
In so many ways, we’re taught to strive for extraordinary — for spectacular, for the grand reveal, for the tallest peak or the biggest numbers or the best performance. We’re conditioned to believe ordinary is less than, boring, stale, stagnant — that ordinary means settling, not trying hard enough, or lacking in some way — that ordinary is inherently full of regrets, lack of excitement, void of contentment.
As a child, I remember thinking I needed to be the best reader in class. I thought I needed to be the best at anything in order to be good enough. Ordinary wouldn’t cut it — only extraordinary would. Ordinary didn’t stand out enough, and standing out was the only way I felt I could be “special.” It was the only way I believed I would feel less invisible. All of this was amplified by my experience as an adoptee, yet I believe it’s quite common for many: this idea that we’re supposed to be better than in order to be enough — that simple isn’t enough to want or find contentment in.
That belief followed me for a long time, for a variety of reasons. But the more I grow as a human, the more ordinary feels like the most true, most relieving, most human kind of life to find ourselves in. Yes, I have goals and it’s important to allow ourselves to dream, go big when it’s aligned, grow, and create the life that feels most meaningful and radiant to us. Yes, some of us might be called to the spotlight, to the “big” life, to the monumentally epic story that gets weaved by the life we choose to live. Yet I think we get it wrong when we assume we should strive for bigger, better, higher and more more more always. I think we miss out when we assume there’s always a Next Big Thing, a Next Big Goal, or a Next Huge Achievement. I think we lose sight of our humanity when we prioritize winning over everything, success over contentment, the Next Big Thing over feeling at peace in what we’re doing, followers over connection, and a continual upward trajectory over being present with what we already have/do/are.
This striving for extraordinary also quickly throws us in a place of feeling like what we have to offer isn’t ever enough — popular enough, unique enough, brilliant enough, beautiful enough, life-changing enough, original enough, visible enough… I could go on. It’s like unless our work ends up making millions or on the New York Times Bestsellers list or the front page of a magazine, it’s pointless. And as someone who has been profoundly moved and changed by humans who have never even been on Instagram, who have never been famous, who have never become well-known or lived what many would consider an extraordinary life, I know this to be false.
The truth I hold close is that we are inherently special and unique, just by being who we are… and we don’t need to do or be anything extraordinary to prove that. Extraordinary can be a choice or a natural result of being ourselves, rather than something we always think we’re falling short of. It can be something we desire instead of something we think we’re supposed to reach toward. It can be a natural result of who we are and what we do in the world, rather than a version of ourselves or our lives we feel we’re always missing.
bell hooks said, “living simply makes loving simple” — and I’ve been thinking about this lately in relation to ordinary. What if it becomes easier to love ourselves, to love what we do and to love others when we stop using extraordinary as the benchmark of Enough? What if it becomes easier to find deep joy and presence in our lives when we stop assuming our lives are supposed to be bigger? What if our work becomes more potent when we let it be what it is instead of constantly trying to make it more special, more unique, more profound? What if everything becomes more simple when we let go of needing everything to become more?
I’m tired of thinking I need to stand out above a crowd or have something to say that has never been said before. I’m over the idea that we’re supposed to prove how special or unique or one-of-a-kind we are, as if it needs proving. I’m getting bored of trying to constantly one-up myself, find the next viral idea, create the newest “it” thing. The notion of extraordinary is feeling less and less appealing, and the belief we have to be extraordinary in order to be deserving of being seen, of sharing our work or art, of having a rich life, and of doing whatever we’re called to do is feeling less and less true.
I opt out of needing to be extraordinary.
I choose to let ordinary be enough.
Ordinary allows me to slow down, to have predictability in grounding ways, to preserve my energy.
Ordinary makes room for the extra special, extraordinary moments and acts to actually mean something, rather than be everything.
Ordinary ignites awe for the small things.
Ordinary distances me from feeling like my work is always supposed to be better.
Ordinary creates gratitude where disappointment might have once been.
Ordinary invites in presence, paying attention, and slowing down.
Ordinary doesn’t ask me to be better or less than anyone else.
Ordinary cultivates a sense of appreciation instead of constant striving.
Ordinary reminds me we’re all special and also none of us are.
Ordinary moves me from always striving to being with what I already have.
Ordinary makes small moments special, meaningful, enough.
Ordinary takes the pressure off.
Ordinary allows what I have to offer be enough as it is.
Where do you find yourself thinking you, or what you do, needs to be more extraordinary in order for it to matter? What might influence that belief?
How might letting ordinary be enough change the way you show up, share, create?
What does ordinary feel like to you? Sound like? Look like?
When do you feel most connected to the ordinary in yourself and your life?
Who models for you the power of letting ordinary be beautiful and inspiring?
Who would you be if you knew you didn’t have to become more special, more famous, more successful, more accomplished, more anything?
What would you do if you knew ordinary was enough?
Questions to explore, talk about over breakfast, or silently muse on during your next neighborhood walk.
Give me ordinary. Give me cups of tea in the backyard and an afternoon so slow I can hear the hummingbirds. Give me time to look at the moon and midday trips to the bookshop. Give me satisfaction with Enough. Give me the same dinner rotation every week, because simple saves energy I’d rather spend elsewhere. Give me a tiny following of devoted & connected humans over a massive following of strangers. Give me cozy over fancy, sustainable over the latest new trend, slow progress over time over speedy growth. Give me satisfaction with the mundane. Give me creating mediocre art over not even trying to make art. Give me goals because they’re aligned, not because they’re markers of becoming more important. Give me time in nature and laughing with my child. Give me a sink full of dishes after a good meal. Give me dew on flowers and writing that isn’t the best but feels good to write and a messy top of the dresser because life is full. Give me ordinary. Give me the knowing of ordinary being enough.
Here’s to an ordinary life, peppered with extraordinary moments, experiences, and creations amid it all.
Here’s to trusting having an ordinary life, and being an ordinary person, is more than enough.
Here’s to letting ordinary guide us toward what we truly care about, and extraordinary remind us of the magic that can happen in between.
Here’s to knowing we are special enough, unique enough, powerful enough, potent enough, and worthy enough to show up and share as we are — not just when we have a massive following or reach some spectacular external goal.
Here’s to getting familiar with how being ordinary might not be such a bad thing.
Here’s to nurturing and tending to every ordinary bone and bit of ourselves, every day.
△ What is Poetry? - The New York Times
△ This essay is so endearing: Why People Name Their Things
△ I was recently on Lisa Congdon’s podcast and loved our conversation:
△ I’ve been reading this book and it is such a relief from self-development content; Chelsea’s ability to weave heart and story into the characters is truly remarkable.
△ These words from my dear friend Leesha
△ All Those Mothers I Have Been
△ Looking forward to baking this simple treat soon:
△ I appreciated this week’s newsletter from James Clear
△ I know there are a lot of writers in this community; I valued this column from Nicole Chung so much.
△ The beauty of place and space, showcased so beautifully by this account.
△ I’ll end with this poem I’ve loved for quite some time that comes more and more alive for me as life goes on:
“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
― William Martin
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I almost didn’t comment today because I felt I had nothing profound to say. And then, I smiled at the irony. In the spirit of ordinary, I’ll simply say: Thank you. I enjoyed this week’s newsletter, as always.
And I would love to participate in a weekly thread!
Beautiful words, Lisa. As I was reading I kept thinking about the final scene in the movie About Time-- will have to add a rewatch of that to my agenda this week! Grateful for this grounding and enriching newsletter that helps reveal the extraordinary in my "ordinary" Sunday mornings 💛