For the Love of the Ordinary

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I used to think that ordinary was bad. Being ordinary. Ordinary things. An ordinary life. Ordinary is, by definition, not special or extraordinary. But somewhere along the way, I started to see things differently.

You see, I’m a huge fan of all things self-help. I’ve read tons of books, watched tons of videos. And I still agree that the self-help ideals of finding your passion, setting good habits, finding how you can be of service to the world, working through emotional baggage, are all wonderful, helpful and therapeutic.

But the more extreme end of the self-help spectrum mandates that you take massive action every day, that you find ways to be exceptional all the time. And, of course, asks you to optimize every aspect of your life so that you can be the most productive and excellent every day.

Again, I have no problem with excellence, and strive for it myself in certain aspects of my life.

But I’m getting a bit tired of it all. Aside from the obvious platform of privilege that a lot of self-help is based on, much of the industry seems to place a super high value on being awesome all the time, say by starting your own business (because only cucks have 9-5s apparently), and seems to denigrate simply being ordinary, not being a CEO, and doing your best.

I dunno. It’s a lot of information overload for me sometimes.

Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a hot bath, or curling up with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate, or the sweet anonymity of non-fame, or the regular to do list rather than worrying about setting up and maintaining a productivity system so that I can emulate titans of industry.

I think the pressure to be great all the time sets us up for failure, or at least, feeling like failures. And I don’t think anyone should be made to feel that way.

Leo Babauta writes about this topic perfectly on his blog Zen Habits. Too much optimization, he writes, is a never-ending perfection trap, leaving us constantly dissatisfied because we get into the habit of wanting things to be perfect, even when they’re already pretty good. Rather than being content with what is, we become dissatisfied with what is in the pursuit of perfection, or being the absolute best version of ourselves all the time. It really doesn’t leave much room for the lovely, messy chaos that is life.

I guess I’m talking about two things in this post: the love of the ordinary; and letting go of perfection and optimization. I think each informs the other. You can appreciate the ordinary moments in life when you’re actually present rather than moving through your day with an optimized checklist of tasks to do that starts with an optimized breakfast shake and ends with a 10-minute visualization session about what you want to accomplish tomorrow (not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of those things.)

As Claire says in the film Letters to Juliet: “Life is the messy bits.”