Relax, it’s ok to be ordinary

Two really great recent Op-Ed pieces in the Times this last week have led me to the conclusion that most of us are in need of a major attitude adjustment when it comes to relaxing and being ordinary.  We need to accept that being ordinary does not mean being sub-par, and that relaxing is not the same as being lazy.

The first Times piece, titled The ‘Busy’ Trap, talks about how being ‘busy’ is sort of a sign of status; if you’re productive and successful you are ‘busy’.  Says the author:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

The second article, titled, “Redefining Success & Celebrating the Ordinary” talks about the perceived perils of an ‘ordinary life’ when we have all come to believe that we must be extraordinary to be successful.

Ordinary and normal smack too much of average. It seems that we all want to live in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average.  [Psychologist] Madeline Levine said she was once scheduled to give a talk on parenting the average child at a school in Marin County, Calif. Although she usually packs in the audiences, not one person showed up.

“Apparently no one in the county has an average child,” said Ms. Levine, the author of the forthcoming book, “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success” (HarperCollins).

While there are some extraordinary children out there, the myth is that all children in high school will be like that, she said. And that, Ms. Levine said, is putting enormous stress on students. Most people, she said, have talent in some areas, are average performers in many areas and are subpar in some areas.  The problem is that we have such a limited view of what we consider an accomplished life that we devalue many qualities that are critically important.

Qualities like compassion and integrity, just to name two that are mentioned in the article.

All parents say they want their kids to be happy, but they also all want their kids to be the best at everything.   They not only want it, they demand it.   The Tiger Mom’s of the world berate their children if they bring home anything less than an “A”.   Parents put bumper stickers on their cars that say “My child is an Honor Student at [enter name of school here]”.   Nobody says, “My kid is only average at academics but he is kind to everyone.”   Imagine the eye rolls any parent brave enough to make such a statement would receive.

‘Cause you can’t live off kindness, now can you?

The relaxing thing is another big issue.  We’re heading to Indiana tomorrow to spend ten days with my family.   Our big agenda?  Spend as much time as possible at the local public pool.   That’s it.   I plan to relax in the sun and get in the water when it gets too hot.  My kids will swim and check out the new water slide.   At my parents’ house there will be a lot of playing with the dog and sitting on the porch.

We plan to do nothing productive whatsoever.   At least, not in the way most people define it.

I will not “make” the kids read or learn stuff.  I imagine they’ll learn all kinds of useful things at the pool without any input from me.    We won’t make a point of doing educational outings revolving around agriculture or farm life.   We won’t go on day trips – except our usual pilgrimage to Nashville, IN to visit the “Life is Good” store.

And you know what?  When we get back to New York, we won’t tell everyone how busy we are making up for all those “days off”.

It’s kind of an act of rebellion these days to say you are ordinary.   It’s radical to say that yes, you work but you also have time to read or play “Bubble Witch Saga” every day.   I’ve actually had friends ask me how I manage to read so many books, or watch movies, or whatever.  They tell me they are so busy they never have time for such things.  The honest answer is that I just do it.  I guess I put my own enjoyment above being productive.  (Was that a gasp I just heard?)

I hope I’m setting the example for my kids that whatever they decide to do or be in their life is fine, even if its’ something completely ordinary.   Happiness has nothing to do with the amount of extraordinary achievements in life.   And relaxing? Essential to above-mentioned happiness.

As Will Rogers once said, “We can’t all be heroes, because somebody has to sit on the curb and applaud as they go by.”

3 comments on “Relax, it’s ok to be ordinary

  1. Miriam says:

    I love this post!!! Since I have (finally) retired, people ask, “what do you DO?” Mostly I tell them ,” I like to piddle”. They look confused or laugh. I am serious. Of course that does NOT mean I don’t fix food, do laundry, brush my teeth, sweep, etc. But the freedom to do whatever comes up is a real gift I have rediscovered.

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  3. OrdinaryGirl says:

    Much of the problem is the parents who expect their kids to be perfect so they live vicariously through them. Frustrated athletes/actresses that sort of thing but even the ‘ordinary’ parents who expect their kids to be ordinary and not “embarrass” them. You are NOT your job title. One year my school held a science fair. We got to pick from a hat what role we would be. Of course everyone wanted to be the showy and “important” roles. My draw? doorman. I remember being so embarrassed and humiliated to be ‘just a doorman (doorgirl?). Fortunately, I had a teacher who was a firm believer that there is honor and dignity in ALL sorts of work, so she showed me a way my mother couldn’t because she was too wrapped up on status and how she would look in front of the other parents. It’s interesting because she had an average pinkcollar job (bookkeeper) yet she expected me to make it big and “be somebody.” Yet nothing I did ever seemed to be right and I merely “embarrassed” her. For years I busted my hump trying to please her but to no avail. I went into the Marines. Her response? Sow what? I earned two BA degrees. She shrugs and says it’s nothing. I took ‘glamorous’ jobs that made me miserable but she still would never acknowledge me or my accomplishments. The jobs that made me happiest were jobs my mother considered “beneath” me. It took me a long time to cut those tapes. I’ve been at my job steadily (and happily) for 12 years while I’ve seen more allegedly extraordinary, talented, and “brilliant” people get laid off left and right. Some of them had told me they envy me because I’m not stressed out out all the time and seem at peace with myself and the world. What is my job? I’m a receptionist (doorman of sorts) lol To this day when people ask me about career advice I give them a passage from the Desiderata “Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”

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