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.”