The desire, temptation, and lure to live an extraordinary life is strong; to figure out our “one thing;” to do – create – be – achieve – rise up – astonish – accomplish – shine.
It’s exhausting, really.
And it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Far before pressing existential questions like “what is my life’s purpose,” everyday choices were shaped by survival and perseverance, seasons and hours, shelter and sustenance, tribe and family. Ordinary life took precedence. And somehow, in the midst of such, extraordinary lives were lived.
A few examples from my lineage of stories:
- Hagar: a slave who was forced to bear the child of her master and then banished to the desert with her young son, Ishmael – the eventual patriarch of Islam.
- Ruth: a too-young widow who took care of a bitter mother-in-law. Hungry, she
stolegathered wheat left behind by the harvesters. Eventually found out by the wealthy owner of that land, he married her. Their great-grandson was King David.
- Mary: an engaged girl trying to make sense of an unexpected pregnancy became the mother of Jesus.
Their stories (and so many more) are of ordinary life lived. Like us, they were wives and mothers, daughters and cousins, sisters and friends. They knew desire and choice, tears and trauma. They birthed and nurtured, fed and cleaned. They spoke and sang, laughed and loved. They were fertile and barren, healthy and ill, strong and less-than, brave and afraid, named and unnamed. Ordinary lives that changed the entire world.
Lately, I have been fixated on the idea of living an ordinary life.
Parenting. Paying bills. Grocery shopping. Brewing coffee. Fixing meals. Cleaning. Driving. Writing. Working. Having conversations. Drinking wine. Sleeping. Waking. Laughing. Grieving. Being alone. Being together. Living life.
Still, underneath and throughout it all, I feel the incessant and insipid pressure to do more, be more, achieve more, accomplish more. Those internal and external messages have the wily ability to take front-and-center stage in my mind and heart. And when that happens, all the day-to-day aspects of my life get shoved into the shadows; the ordinary becomes drudgery in the illusive pursuit of the extraordinary.
BUT THAT’S NOT HOW IT (actually) WORKS!
It is in living an ordinary life that we are (actually) extraordinary. Not because we are trying. Not because we are striving. But because we are surviving and persevering – day-in, day-out. Good and bad. Easy and hard. Joyful and excruciating. Wins and losses. Gifts and hassles. People and places. Normal, everyday stuff.
Our choice to be ordinary, to simply be awake and present to what is happening around us, is what enables an extraordinary life. Nothing more. And certainly nothing less.
If, in the mix of all that we write a book, or stand on a stage, or build a successful business (and maybe all three!), it will only be because we have – in obvious and ordinary ways – taken the next step, done the next thing, walked through the next door, lived through the next day. NOT because we have pushed and prodded and persuaded ourselves to be more amazing and incredible than we already are.
Follow the lead of Hagar and Ruth and Mary. Of Louisa May Alcott and Sojourner Truth and Audre Lorde. Of Golda Meir and Mother Teresa and ___________ (fill in the blank of your favorite extraordinary woman). They did not spend one moment trying to figure out how to be amazing and larger-than-life and phenomenal and extraordinary. They lived ordinary lives – one day at a time – focused on what mattered most, on the things about which they could not remain silent, on the work they could not not do.
Believe that you are enough…and not too much. And then just live your ordinary life. That is extraordinary. And so are you – already!
May it be so.
[A version of this post appeared on my blog just over 3 years ago. It feels just as true today…]
Toward this end, toward a way of honoring the ordinary in your life, all that you already know, the woman you already are, I’d invite you to give serious consideration to the writing retreat I (in partnership with Julie Daley) have coming up the end of September. A weekend together. Looking kindly and truthfully at our lives and the wisdom our hearts already hold. Writing and conversing and being – together. Learn more: Writing (and Trusting) Your Heart: A Women’s Weekend