Embrace Your Ordinary
I can't remember where I first read the expression "embrace your ordinary" so apologies to all the people who think they came up with it. I salute you, whoever you are. Embracing the unexceptional is something we must do more often.
Tell me this: how much of your time do you spend stressing about the fact that you're not making the grade? Striving to be "the best you" that you can be? Trying to get that "exceptional" rating on your year-end appraisal?
And is it worth it?
What would happen if – say, just for today, or just for this week – you stopped?
What would happen if you stopped driving yourself mental and scared and harassed and fragmented trying to be 'your best' or 'exceptional' or 'fabulous'?
What if, just for today or just for this week, you decided to just be your ordinary, everyday self?
What would it look like? What would it feel like? What would you do?
I switched careers in my forties in a way that meant suddenly having to study for a professional qualification. As it happens I love to study, so although it was hard (15 exams over 3 years – it wasn't a picnic), it probably wasn't quite the struggle for me that it might be for someone else. Contrary to popular belief I don't love exams. If I never had to sit another one…the tears I'd shed would be few. I do, however, like the learning bit that comes before them – and I do love the 'kick' of having passed that (mostly) comes afterwards. So whenever I get into exam-type situations I am likely to over-stress about them, and I will work damn hard to do my best. My manager tells me that this is because I'm never happy to just pass, I have to excel. My response to this is always "But of course. I want to be brilliant. Come on! Who wants to be average?"
In this context it was something of a shock to some people when, only a few years later, fully qualified, muchly promoted, being fairly successful at what we'd set out to achieve, I decided that I wanted to step back, leave team leadership behind and cut my working hours down to three days a week. The question that was asked repeatedly was: "but what will you do with the extra time?"
The question is still asked: "How are you finding the shorter hours?" usually in a tone that expects me to complain about it.
My answer to the first question was: "I don't think it's going to be a problem." And my answer to the second is: "I love it."
What is interesting, though, is that all of the plans that I had for the time I was freeing up, very quickly fell away. I found myself doing other things instead. As it turned out, this wasn't just about stepping away from the career pressure and the work-travel. It was about a fundamental shift.
It was about giving me time to be ordinary.
When people ask what I do with my time off, my long 4-day weekends, it seems they expect something stunning and exciting, when actually it's mostly ordinary stuff. Stuff I didn't have time for before.
Being at home. Reading. Writing. I took up journalling and have gone back to fiction and poetry as well as my first love creative non-fiction. I walk quite a bit, even though I don't "do much walking" as some would phrase it: my local marsh, rivers and heath or out along the beach rather than heading to the real wilds of whinny. Taking my camera out to play. Just doing the things that give me pleasure. Watching TV. Having conversations. Things far more fascinating in the doing of them than they are in the telling of them afterwards.
A colleague spoke the other day about needing her "hermit time". She said that there are days when she longs for her husband to go out on his bike, so that she can have the house to herself for a while. I've no idea what she does with that time, I didn't ask – not least because I simply knew exactly what she meant.
I remember when I was first old enough to be left alone for an evening while my parents were out visiting and my older brother was who knows where. Having the house to myself felt amazing. I wouldn't actually do anything that I wouldn't have done had they all been home, but I now had all of this space to do it in…all of these quiet empty rooms in which to play.
Now I have my own house. All of these rooms. All of this peace.
I suspect most of my colleagues don't understand when I talk about "just being at home" and what a pleasure that is.
I look at Dad's bookcase, now in the corner of my living room. It's a cheap piece of furniture but it's full of books and I adore it. It's a tangible link to him, but it's also an invitation to possibility – because I've yet to read most of those books.
Cut flowers in my mother's favourite vase – though she'd probably think the fireplace is an odd place to put them. It's a dark corner and they add light.
Snippetting: collecting images and words to feed my imagination.
Cooking: a way of nurturing myself, a way of loving someone else.
Simple ordinary things. Having the time to enjoy them means I'm happier now than I have ever been. The house is a bit ramshackle, but I love being here. There's a tiny field out the back that's supposed to be a garden. It rewards me for its neglect by bursting into colour now and then.
This is my ordinariness. What would yours be?
You might have less time than I do, but you can take time to look at the flowers in the hedgerows. I'm not talking about country lanes, but city parks and suburban streets or to notice the history all around you. Walk around the market and soak up the colours and the characters.
Relish the life more ordinary.
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