“The secret to finding meaning in life is to find tremendous joy in the ordinary.” ~ John Geers
I had a professor who regularly lamented the condition of the average American. “The American dream is dead,” he would say. “You can only succeed if you are born into privilege.”
It was not long before his rants rubbed me the wrong way. What he was saying made some sense, but my heart kept telling me some part of the story was being neglected.
And then the missing piece revealed itself.
His vision of extraordinary was Bill Gates and Michael Jordan. His vision was wrong. I knew extraordinary people. Hell, my parents were a prime example.
My mom was raised on a farm. She was one of nine kids. They were dirt poor. If they had something, it was because they made it, grew it, or killed it. I remember her stories of going into town once a year for ice cream if things were going well.
My dad was raised in inner-city Milwaukee, just as poor as my mom, maybe more so. He was one of five kids. His father died in a factory accident when my dad was two years old. They were dirt poor. He was shuffled from orphanage to orphanage, often separated from his siblings.
Once my parents married, both had respectable careers. My dad was an electrical engineer and my mom an insurance adjuster. They adopted me. They raised two kids in a nice home on a lake.
Theirs is an extraordinary story, in my opinion. The problem is that it is also ordinary. We live in an era where the extraordinary is not only common, but expected, demanded, and sometimes even lamented.
We have choices. These choices are what build joy or rip holes in our happiness.
I have completed a lot of triathlons. During my first several years of racing, I was completely fixated on my race results. I was only happy if I was “fast enough.” I wondered why I hated the sport I proclaimed to love.
The problem could be found in my definition of extraordinary. I only found value in a race if it was completed in a certain time. I realized that I was miserable during all of my training and most of my races.
I needed to change my focus.
I began to appreciate the world I trained in. I made a conscious decision to feel the wind, the bumps in the road, the sun on my skin, to look up and see the trees.
Instantly, my rides and runs became extraordinary. Every single time I went, something met me. The call of a blackbird, the smile of a child in a passing car, a butterfly flitting over brilliant purple thistle, a rambling raccoon, a pretty mailbox, a turtle shuffling across the road, even how different trees sounded when whipped by wind.
Soon, I began to stop. I stopped to put my feet in a cool stream, to help someone put their bike chain back on, to collapse in grass so tall that I vanished, to watch clouds above twist and turn into new shapes.
Then one day, I realized that I loved my training more than my racing. I was disappointed if I skipped a workout, not because I would become slower, but because there was certainly some magic out there I missed out on.
A simple bike ride or run had become an extraordinary event.
Today, I went for a walk. It was 20 degrees and windy. The sky was gray and the world shale.
I saw a chubby squirrel eating an acorn. I watched a crow splash about in the shallows of a rocky stream. Two cranes stalked frozen shallows, squawking as they went. Along the shore, there was the most elaborate weave of ice crystals I have ever seen. Some ducks bobbed. My feet produced a distinct crunch, a sound never heard before, something new.
It was an extraordinary walk.
The power to live extraordinarily is mine and yours and ours.
Sometimes, I want to contact that professor and tell him how exceptional this world is. I want to share these stories. I want to tell him about the magic surrounding each of us every day.
Then I remember we live in the same world.
He can see it if he chooses. He can redefine extraordinary if he wants to.
We all can.
Author: John Geers
Editor: Emily Bartran