“Nothing is so common-place as to wish to be remarkable.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
– And also a very dear friend of mine whom I treasure because she periodically wakes up my idea and I sorely need someone like that in my life.
It’s easy to feel lost in the ebb and flow of kaleidoscopic data bytes. We’re all permanently hooked onto the information motherboard now and it’s very much become an extension of our own bodies, i.e. behold, the phenomenon where we resolve to close Facebook only to mindlessly open it in another window. It’s like muscle memory now, like opening an empty fridge in the hopes that somehow chocolate you never noticed before would appear.
Every other post on the internet claims to house the secrets to an “amazing”, “you won’t believe it” life. We post the milestones in our lives up on Instagram and it gets buried somewhere in the mix. Every starry-eyed Thought Catalog entry is asking you to drop everything and travel. We’re all supposedly living wanderlust lives and we’re aspiring so-and-so’s and we’re all inspired to continue being awesome. We all want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, cos we buy that overnight wealth story and we hope our coding courses will pay off in school. And people generally like to feel different. We want to think ourselves special, we all think we’re smarter and more reasonable than the average person. We can’t all be right.
I think the most important lesson I learnt in the last few years is 1) that I’m not special, 2) and I have to accept that. I don’t mean this in a crusty “we all turn to dust one day” way but I mean this practically. I have to stop thinking that I’m so talented and fresh and witty that people are going to stop in their tracks and hand the world to me on a silver platter, and I have to stop anticipating that somehow I will end up famous anyway. You know what I mean right? It feels like we’re all in the phase of the story before we invent something really cool and useful. But odds are, probably not. (Yesterday I had the idea for biodegradable disposable drain covers but apparently someone has already thought of them so there goes another get-rich-quick scheme.) We have to be okay about being okay people.
I don’t mean to discourage people who have big dreams, only that we have to stop expecting that these things will always become a reality. We have to grind and churn to make these things happen, and even then sometimes they don’t, because sometimes, circumstances are not in our favour. And we have to be positively driven, such that we’re motivated by our insatiable desire to make the world a better place, or we’re really passionate about something we love. We can’t be pulled towards something negatively, where we feel we have to be special and the fear of being ordinary creeps up our neck. We don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company founder to be happy.
It’s especially tricky for me to talk about this because I do think I’m in a school environment which could come off as the Achievement Theme Park extravaganza. Everywhere people are doing seemingly amazing things and going off to *insert country on another continent here* to kickstart their respective whatevers. But when it boils down to it I don’t think we’re that special. I think we have brilliant resources and a smorgasbord of opportunities, but people in the office got us these opportunities. It’s not like we impressed these companies so much that they reached out from the blue to grasp at our youthful finesse. It’s that they were like “oh ok I guess we could partner with the school, they seem keen” and we competed with maybe 5 other students to get the internship/programme. For me specifically, I’m just a university student who’s somewhat under-performing. I like to paint and cook and write, like a gabazillion other people. And I photoshop the school logo on posters to get funding for stuff. I occasionally work my butt off for things I care about, but I’m sure other students pull their own weight too.
This reminds me of “How David Hume Helped Me Solve My Midlife Crisis”, which I read some time ago (thanks Michael).
“Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.”
I think David Hume also helped me with my quarter-life crisis, because, long story short, I realise that we experience life in two modes.
There’s the abstract mode where we have ideas, and projections and wishes and perceptions of ourselves and others, and our long-term commitments etc.
And then there’s the present, immediate way we experience life. It’s how funny the joke we just heard is, it’s how comfortable your t-shirt is. The creaminess of your froyo, the sickness of a bass drop in a song, how soft your dog’s fur is, how sharp your eyeliner looks etc.
The realisation that we’re not special will at first be a big blow to the abstract mode. But then it doesn’t really affect our present, immediate mode, does it? We won’t be the next Uber CEO but then, if you let go of the fear of being just okay, and you hold on to a financially secure and reasonable job, how different is your life really going to be? We’re still going to be surrounded by loved ones (except if you’re some creep but that’s your own fault), we’re still going to have our favourite songs and shows and books.
Maybe if we learn to let go of this debilitating fear of ordinariness, we will have the confidence to do the things we love, and move on if we don’t strike the jackpot.