When I think of the aspirations that have governed and guided me, one that has been consistent is the desire to live an extraordinary life. For the most part, I unquestioningly believed that that involved a non-routine existence with a focused mission and superhuman deeds (the type that involved saving mankind).
“Normal” was the evil I fought, thinking that it was the antonym of “extraordinary”. Business-as-usual couldn’t possibly be fulfilling… or could it? If it wasn’t a cool innovation, or broke a world-record, it couldn’t really be gratifying… or could it?
Recently, I’ve started to challenge my own assumptions, which has led me to edit the definition of what it means to lead a life extraordinary.
Definition Edit #1
In the movie City Slickers, as Mitch rides alongside Curly, unsuccessfully trying to herd cattle, Curly addresses Mitch’s mid-life crisis with some advice. “Do you know the secret of life?” he asks. “No,” says Mitch. “There is only one thing that really matters,” Curly says. “And what is that?” Mitch asks, keen to find a way out of his funk. Curly grins. “That’s what you have to figure out.”
I lost my cousin to cancer a year ago—he was in his 50s. As his friends and family reminisced and shared stories about his life, the common theme was: “He was larger than life”; “he lived life king-size”; and plenty of “he led such an extraordinary life…”
He had achieved a lot, and was a proud, self-made man. But it was not these achievements that featured in the anecdotes that we exchanged about him. A few of the things that made him so precious to us:
He laughed—a lot.
He loved—fiercely. If you were in his life and needed him, he would be there.
He dressed in his own inimitable style—with accessories, man bags and chain necklaces… way (way!!) before they became fashionable and were featured on the cover of GQ.
These, and so many other such little moments and instances, and choices he had made about how he lived, and loved, were what made him so special.
An extraordinary life can be found in a quest to reach the moon. But it can equally be found in a calling that involves rescuing kittens. You get to choose and define what makes your life out of the ordinary.
Definition Edit #2
Isn’t good the enemy of great? If lulled into everyday patterns, how does one ever do anything outstanding? It is hard to debate that adage. And to think it is possible to achieve something exceptional, without sacrificing some of what constitutes a normal life, is, well, a bit of a pipe-dream. By definition, setting off on a different path requires taking on risk, sacrificing leisure and focus to a point where all else starts to blur.
But can one not temper this a bit? Pursuing lofty goals, without losing sight of the milestones? Aiming for that destination, and yet experiencing the roses (and cacti) that line the road? After all, the goalpost is ever-shifting, there are new things to conquer, and new worlds to discover. However, ask any super-achiever and they are likely to admit that the high of finally “getting there” is fleeting. While single-mindedness is required to achieve a lofty mission, such a pursuit shouldn’t be blinding to all else.
You need to set boundaries. Take a yoga class. Miss an important meeting. Make a meal of chocolate. Breathe. Live a little…
…because you cannot have a life extraordinary, if you have not lived at all. So, every once in a while, gaze up at the night sky. What is the point in landing on the moon if you missed the brilliance of the stars that lined your flightpath?
Definition Edit #3
A friend recently shared a memory of the day when they were leaving the hospital with their first born. At one place in the discharge papers, it noted that the delivery was “uneventful”. She wondered how they could call something so life changing “uneventful”. When she jokingly mentioned this to her doctor, she laughed and said doctors don’t like events on reports, they like “normal”.
Ten years later, they had another event in their lives—when their son was diagnosed with DMD (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy). Nothing was ever normal again—school, health check-ups, vacations, family, life… Everything was eventful. As another DMD mom said to my friend—normal, ordinary, regular and unaffected never sounded good, until Duchenne took them all away.
There is nothing like adversity to make you treasure the humdrum of everyday life. But things shouldn’t have to come to that.
Embrace the beauty of the ordinary moments, because the “extra” in “extraordinary” might be exactly what the thesaurus suggests—superfluous.