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The fear of being ordinary

Last week, I wrote about whether being in a happy marriage was killing my ambition. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then, about what exactly is holding me back from doing more “extraordinary” things in life, as well as why I can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing “more” even though I’m already happy and successful.

Then, I watched a video by Ramit Sethi, a blogger/entrepreneur who is probably most well-known for his best-selling personal finance book I Will Teach You to Be Rich, but now focuses more on behavioral change: specifically, helping people overcome their psychological barriers in order to unlock their potential for success. I’m fascinated by Ramit because he’s exactly my age (31), shares many of the same beliefs as I do, and has cultivated those beliefs into a best-selling book and popular blog. Basically, I kind of want to be him.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi

Anyway, the video. I would share it, but I accessed it from a paid-for subscription, so pretty sure that’s frowned upon. The video is about fear, and Ramit gives advice for using fear strategically to help accomplish your goals, instead of being paralyzed by it. He shared that his biggest fear is being ordinary, how he actually turned down a job when the CEO of the company told him they’d treat him “like everyone else” – because he didn’t want to be like everyone else. That’s when the light bulb went off in my head: I, too, am driven by a fear of being ordinary.

I’ve actually always known this about myself, in fact, I’ve been afraid of being ordinary for as long as I could remember. When I was a little girl, I declared my favorite color was orange, because I didn’t want to be like everyone else who liked pink. I also insisted on buying boys’ sneakers until I was in high school because I didn’t want to risk having the same shoes as the other girls. It’s probably also why my favorite sports team was the Utah Jazz even though I grew up in New Jersey (but Karl Malone and John Stockton were legitimately awesome, and Jerry Sloan is a legend). As an adult, if I’m honest, my fear of being ordinary is why I’m afraid of the suburbs and having kids. I actually wrote this on my blog two years ago: “I always feel like I should achieve more…and be anything but ordinary.”

But to hear Ramit say it, someone who I respect and admire, made me think about this fear in a new light. I think the fear of being ordinary has been holding me back because I’ve been ashamed of it. Sure, it’s normal to be ashamed of your fears, but saying you’re afraid of being ordinary is kind of a slap in the face to ordinary people. What’s wrong with being ordinary? What’s wrong with living in the suburbs? Why can’t you just be happy with what you have? Why do you think you’re so special? Oh this must be an only child thing.

standing-out-in-a-crowdMy intention is not to offend anyone, but I’m starting to realize that I have to stop caring about what I think other people might think. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ordinary, it’s just not the path that comes naturally to me. In fact, I envy people who are happy with “ordinary” lives, because they’ve seemingly found more fulfillment in life than I have, and that alone makes their lives extraordinary. I am not saying this to be patronizing. I know plenty of people who have taken “ordinary” paths in life, and I’ve wondered how much happier I could be if I could have their work-life balance. And I know those people have zero desire to have my lifestyle, even if it may seem glamorous at times. I’ve even wondered if there was something wrong with me, if my parents messed me up somehow, for feeling like I’ve never done enough. (Sven says I have a hole inside.) So this isn’t about needing to feel superior to anyone, or thinking I’m special, it’s just about facing the fact (or the fear) that my path probably won’t look like most other people’s. And even though I just said I have to stop caring what people think, I wrote this paragraph because I care what you think. (Never said it would be easy.)

It doesn’t matter why I fear being ordinary. All that matters now is what I do about it. And thanks to Ramit, I’m going to use the fear strategically by framing my goals around it. What exactly does it mean to me to be extraordinary? How exactly do I want to differentiate myself in my lifetime? What do I want to leave behind in this world when I’m gone?

I sense some New Years’ Resolutions forming here…

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Leigh - 12/09/2014 - 2:54 pm

But what do you define as “ordinary”? It has a negative connotation. I personally don’t view having financial success or a fancy title as the only things that makes someone “extraordinary”. I think ordinary is subjective, and to view people with traditional lifestyles as just ordinary is a cop-out. They probably think there are things about themselves or their lives are extraordinary compared to yours.

Melanie - 12/09/2014 - 10:56 pm

I actually completely agree with you, Leigh, and I considered expanding upon your point – what others define as extraordinary – but I decided that the point of my post and my blog is to share my point of view and not necessarily prove that I’ve considered everyone else’s. (Also I only have so many words I can write before I just bore everyone!) I think the point of my post, which may not have been totally clear in my ramblingness, was that I have a fear of being ordinary, but I’ve let that fear define me instead of defining that fear. Now, my goal is to define what it means to me to be extraordinary, then work towards accomplishing those goals. I also think these definitions can change over time. For example, I always thought of having kids as something “ordinary” – because “everyone” has them. However, a mentor of mine just the other day told me that kids are “the ultimate differentiator” and “your unique way of leaving your imprint on this earth long after you’re gone.” That’s a pretty amazing mental shift! So, instead of letting this “fear of being ordinary” nag at me, I’m going to “use the fear strategically” to frame some goals in life…that’s all I meant! 🙂

Kathy - 06/26/2015 - 10:26 am

I think one of my biggest fears is that, at my funeral, no one will have anything to say about me other than the fact that I was a nice, quiet lady who had a good husband and cute kids. I never wanted to get married growing up. I was afraid of complacency. I feel that I was born to contribute something to the world, and have spent my 32 years trying to figure out what the hell that thing is.

It’s not about ordinary vs. extraordinary. We each have different desires, different things that fulfill us and bring us joy. I have always been a goal-driven, mission-oriented person. Part of it may be that the universe is so expansive, and I constantly wonder what my part in it is. I’m always searching for meaning.

Anyway, before I stop making any sense–all of that is to say that this post resonates deeply with me. In other words–I feel you, girl. 🙂

Kathy - 06/26/2015 - 10:29 am

BTW – my journey has led me here, where I am now a happily married SAHM of 4 kids. NEVER thought I would be here, but instead of searching for my “mission,” I am now finding meaning in what I am currently doing, taking it day by day. This is my mission field. One day it will be something else.

Melanie - 06/29/2015 - 9:16 pm

Kathy – Thank you for “getting me” – it’s a hard feeling to articulate, especially since we are definitely all different! Four kids is amazing…you are truly blessed!

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