Friday, July 22, 2011

The deception of unusual

I’m not going to say that this blog post was inspired by some philosophical musings brought on by the loss of my phone yesterday, only that it was long overdue that I wrote something new.

I was thinking about some things just now, specifically about some of the stuff I wanted to do, and how little progress I felt I had made. Then it hit me: I didn’t want to pay the price for extraordinary. I looked at what I believe I’d accomplished, looked at what I thought I wanted to accomplish, looked at what I thought myself capable of as at now, and wanted to quit, because I felt I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and that the immediate next thing seemed so ordinary.

Please mark that emphasized phrase. Really think about it. Don’t think you appreciate the enormity of that little phrase just because your eyes read it and your brain processed it. Permit me to ask you to drink it in.

Ordinary. That’s a despised word in the English language today. Ordinary doesn’t seem glamorous. It’s not heroic. It’s not mind-numbingly, breathtakingly beautiful. It’s not something any of us intends to aspire to. And yet, for all of us – including the heroes – ordinary will form the meat and potatoes – the main portion – of our lives.

Why is ordinary so despised? I think this partially has to do with our means of taking history. I’ll start with a tweet I saw last night that initially threatened to depress me. Someone tweeted about a certain 21-year-old who sold her startup for $10m. Immediately I had the sickening feeling in my gut of someone who’s a lot closer to 30 than 20 and doesn’t apparently have a great deal to show for it, especially when compared with such a success story.

We humans are time-bound creatures. We can’t exactly wait to live the entire story of your life with you, so we take snapshots. We trim out “fat”. We are masters of compression – the highest compression algorithms on the planet have nothing on us. The issue, really, is that our compression algorithm is less of PNG and more of JPEG – it’s incredibly lossy. One person’s 55-year-long journey may take us up to a week to go through. That means we covered their life story almost 3000 times at the regular rate. Thing is, bub, you walk in the park that fast, you might miss something. That’s probably why people who notice things in videos in all these movies often ask for the video to be slowed down, not sped up.

So we do our editing. We speed things up, and we cut out the “cruft”, and – tada! – our life story is ready for high-speed consumption. But we missed something. Somethings, in fact. Lots of things. Stuff we thought didn’t matter. Guess what gets cut out the most? The most ordinary stuff. But that’s the meat and potatoes of life. Ordinary stuff. And let’s face it, we humans generally suck at determining the value of any one moment, which is why we have babies who never grew out of not having cake when they were five, and people who forget that one special thing someone said that spurred them on when they were about to give up. Sometimes, we get lucky. But most times, we don’t really value our moments like we should. We tend to over- and under-value our moments.

As an example, I’ll never forget meeting the person who’s now my girlfriend. Ordinary day. Nothing special. Good-looking young lady. Obviously smart. Bit of a drama queen. Friendly. Easy to tease, especially with evil laughter. Snap, snap, snap. I don’t think I got her phone number until about 3-4 months later, after a somewhat embarrassing outcome to repeated teasing (no, I am not telling what happened that day, only that I let things get a little out of, or rather, into, hand). I actually gave her an impossible condition on what would make me go out with her (it was a joke on something). Over a year later, she’s a great source of joy and support to me. But it didn’t look like it when we first met.

Our first meeting was ordinary. Our getting close was ordinary. I don’t think I really noticed it until someone commented, “you tell her everything”. There were no flashing lights or alarms. It didn’t fit within the boundaries set by romance novels. The sight of her wasn’t making my heart race – I wasn’t even seeing her.

I said all that to say this: ordinary happens. To every one of us. And sometimes ordinary can give birth to the profound. But we need to allow it be ordinary. And not watch it too much, worry about it too much, or it might abort and not produce. Dream about the unusual, the far out, the spectacular. It’s absolutely necessary if you will ever produce anything great. So plug it daily. You may not notice your small improvements, but those are what will make you – and keep you – a rock star.

“The kingdom of God is like this,” He said. “A man scatters seed on the ground; he sleeps and rises — night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows — he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself — first the blade, then the head, and then the ripe grain on the head. But as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
– The Bible, Mark 4:26-29

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