“Things don’t have to be extraordinary to be beautiful. Even the ordinary can be beautiful.”
― Wicker Park
I think it is safe to say that nobody in the western world wants to be ordinary. In the back of our minds, we all strive for the extraordinary, to be exceptional in some way. We live in a culture which doesn’t celebrate the ordinary, everyday victories. We are too focused on the unusual, the spectacular, and the exceptions to the rules.
The notion of chasing the exceptional also applies to the way we see ourselves. When you are too self-absorbed to see yourself as anything but your identity or external self-conceptions, you become stuck. Since no one ties their identity to being ordinary, your self-identity thus becomes wrapped up in the extraordinary.
Rasmus, the protagonist in Matias Dalsgaard’s Don’t Despair, is self-absorbed and wrapped up in his own self-conceptions to the point where he has become very unhappy. He adamantly resists the everyday, banal, and unpretentious aspects of life. He is caught up in dreams of raising himself out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary, to become something special. Rasmus chases this identity because the outside exterior view of himself is all that he is able to see. His self-identity is dependent upon seeing himself as something special.
Rasmus is not unique in his desire to see himself as unique, and to chase the extraordinary. We live in a culture which promotes the extraordinary, so it is natural that we would want to go after this. The Internet and all forms of social media extrapolate this need, as we are now more able to see forms of extraordinary actions and accomplishments. We all want to be “chosen” and discover our higher calling in life. We engage too much in comparison, and we desire to be considered special in comparison to others.
“Everything you do is borne up by a hope that it will contribute to your specialness. It’s borne on the hope that in success you’ll find proof that you really are something special.”
The message here is not that chasing exceptionality will get you nowhere. Quite the contrary, Rasmus had managed to create an enviable life with a prosperous career and a wonderful life with his wife, Agneta. His “exceptionality project”, as Dalsgaard describes it, worked out fantastically.
But it has, however, created a life in which Rasmus has become intolerant of the ordinary and banal. He tries to remove himself from the parts of his life which are actually quite ordinary (as everyone has some ordinary aspects of their lives). He pretends the ordinary parts don’t exist. In doing this, he detaches himself from the closest things in his life.
If Rasmus, or anyone else who is chasing exceptionality, were to stop defining themselves in terms of the extraordinary, they would start to understand how limited their self-conceptions are. They would be able to start to take pleasure in the ordinariness of life, the ones which they were ignoring before. They would realise that ordinary and banal things are all apart of our lives.
That is not to say that Rasmus, and the rest of us, should aim to be ordinary and give up on trying to be extraordinary. The problem does not lie in trying to break the mold and better one’s self. The problem arises when the extraordinary is ALL you see. The only thing which drives you, the only thing you base your self-conception in. Life is not about chasing the extraordinary moments – they are right in front of you if you are able to recognise them.
Image from here.