An Ordinary Life

To be happy, I need to hold on to the thought that I am ordinary.

It sounds wrong, I know, when everything tells us to be extraordinary, when everything we aspire to do seems so hard only extraordinary people could do it.

But a great deal of my suffering comes from the thought that I have made it this far in my life without doing anything of particular note, especially when compared to others. I know “comparison is the thief of joy,” and when I am not comparing myself to people I know, I’m comparing myself to people I read about or, worst, the person I thought I would be when I was younger. I find it difficult to stop comparing, stop blaming myself for my failure to become extraordinary. I am neither famous nor wealthy, not someone to whom others come for wisdom, not a best-selling author, not not not.

I am ordinary. But—and here’s the important part—that is all right. 

I am not sure how to explain it. Accepting my ordinariness keeps me from beating myself with the weapons of “not good enough” and “try harder” and “be different from what you are” that society provides on a daily basis. Accepting my ordinariness allows for failure without the feeling that failure is a betrayal of who I am.

All this may sound arrogant, and for this I apologize. I thought I was lucky: my family and teachers told me constantly how smart I was. They said I could do anything, be anything. There was a lot of optimism in those days, the 1970s and even the 1980s, long before folks started to realize that the gap between the rich and the rest of us was widening exponentially. As I said, I was lucky—my family loved me and wanted me to succeed.

New studies show that wording makes a difference. It’s not so useful to tell someone that they are very intelligent; it’s far more helpful to say that with hard work and determination, they can learn anything. Because the world we live in now requires versatility, with many people having several careers. Someone who is innately intelligent may not feel equipped to make the necessary changes. I know I don’t. I feel left behind by a job market that’s moving as fast as a flash flood, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

My issues have to do with career. But I am lucky again—so very lucky—that I don’t have to figure it all out yet, or perhaps ever. Because of a non-judging husband with a good job, I do not have that pressure.

Yet that luck made me feel even more pressure to be extraordinary, to do something with my time that would change the world.

Which brings me back to my 2018 mantra: I am ordinary. And if I am ordinary, I am allowed to stumble. To write things that are banal, or cliché, or just stupid—as well as, if I’m lucky, some things that have some merit, that might be good, might help someone, even one reader. If I am ordinary, I am allowed to be introverted, to loathe selling things, to sleep more hours per day than most people, to be chubby, to post numerous photos of my pets on social media. If I am ordinary, I am allowed to wish I lived again in a time before computers and cell phones, and also to check my email obsessively, several times a day.

This freedom makes me think of Walt Whitman, and this wonderful quote: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” So much of Whitman gives us permission to be our own strange, wonderful, unexpected selves. He considers it sacred, the self. I suppose that’s what I’m working towards, when I say I consider myself ordinary. Not the definition of ordinary that makes it, by default, a bad thing. But a definition that frees me from a cage created by my younger self and by society, the cage of being extraordinary by standards I cannot possibly reach, and may not even truly value.

2018, I am ready to be ordinary. To walk my dog, vacuum the house, talk to my sister on the phone, pop to the grocery store for bagels. Also to read, to dream, to write. To live an ordinary life, with generosity, gratitude, and hope.


19 replies »

  1. Generally, I do not trust people not because they are not trustworthy but because they are not trusting …

    Insecure people stimulate fear, desistence, dependence and disharmonize their coexistence group.

    Confident people stimulate creativity, courage, independence and promote greater articulation of their coexistence group.
    He who advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and strives to lead the life he imagined will find unexpected success in the ordinary hours.


  2. This is the most honest, humble and insightful post I have read in a long time. Thank you so much for writing this because I feel like a huge weight has now been lifted from my shoulders. This was beautiful, truly.


  3. Katie, WOW again. How could it be that no one comes to you for advice? I’m sure they do. You are wise and wonderful– besides being ordinary, of course, but your kind of “ordinary” is extraordinary.

    But I have to tell you, though my significant other often tells me that he wishes I had something more for myself, that I will look back ten years from now and wish I’d accomplished more, I don’t think that’s true.

    I think that because living a life where I take care of myself, him, and our home (although he certainly pitches in) is satisfactory to me now, it will be enough for me later, too. I don’t look at this as wasted time.

    I do wish I’d write more, but oddly enough, I don’t look at writers I know– not even at women writers who are younger than I– and wish I had their successes. (For one thing, most of them are teaching in addition to writing, even many big names.) They can have their lives. I have mine, and I’m happy with it.

    I’m still in my pajamas– actually, I’m not usually up at this time of day– and I’m okay with that. I think I’m ordinary, too!


    • Contentment, gratitude, feeling good about oneself—our culture doesn’t support these feelings, because a content person doesn’t buy as much stuff. I’m happy to be in such wonderful company for our ordinary, beautiful lives!


  4. I’m with Maria, trust is difficult for me because of the years of abuse. Because of it, I did become dependent, had low-self esteem, and spent years fighting depression. It took years to climb out of that disability. Once I did, my life became productive, I became a leader not a follower, and I finally found the self-happiness that had evaded me. I think you got it correct by telling our selves we can be ordinary, gives the confidence we need to push forward towards our goals. Thanks for a great post.


Please join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.