Congratulations, you’re very ordinary.
As I sit and write this, I overlook a tropical lagoon, mangroves and a few fishermen warming in the morning sun. A few energetic swifts wheel in a faint haze – evidence that despite the dry red earth and cloudless skies, the baked earth breathes life each day.
I am perched at a desk I made, 7m off the ground, sitting at this window in a house I built. It is an extra-ordinary setting, and yet for the last few days I’ve been feeling rather ordinary.
I’ve been re-watching the TV adaptation of Any Human Heart by William Boyd, one of my favourite novels. Boyd sums the book up with the line, ‘Every life is both ordinary and extraordinary’. The book, and the series, is a reminder that life is a patchwork of experiences, good and bad, high and low, at times introspective whereas at others uncontrolled reaction to external events.
Even a life, with its fair modicum of ‘ordinary’, seems all the more extraordinary when condensed into 4 hours, or a few hundred pages.
What about all the uncomfortable visits to the toilet? What about the nights that seem never to end, spent half-awake worrying about things that in the morning seem inconsequential? What about the banal, useless and dull days where nothing really happens? Boyd goes some way to capture that in his book, but cannot encapsulate the true nature of time passing in a few short pages.
I’m here, in Kenya, because there is life around each corner, from swims in the lagoon, to colourful daily interactions. Yet perspective can shift these from the glorious to simply frustrating or what I call trouble in paradise.
As E. B. White said, ‘Every morning I awake, torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savour it. This makes it hard to plan the day’.
At the moment, I’m stuck there – somewhere between. In the ordinary. I’ve a weight of ordinary work at a desk to do, each day, in an attempt to create something extraordinary for myself and for others. Yet I’m wondering if extraordinary things do evolve from the ordinary, or if in fact I’ve got it all wrong and that if being extraordinary is the only way to produce the extraordinary.
It’s great to see Tenner, which I helped start get new life and I was reading Richard Branson’s comments on the site (surely extraordinary that a project I helped start now has the most famous entrepreneur in the world commenting upon it – give yourself that one SimpleTom). His comment, that you should do what you love is oft-repeated, clichéd even.
However, many modern businesses start with a huge amount of work, at a desk. The results can be extraordinary. Airbnb enables exploration of people, cultures and human interaction in a way that wasn’t nearly as easy 10 years ago. But the business has been created by a lot of people spending considerable time sitting at a lot of computers in a few offices (not taking into account the years spent at computers learning how to use the computers). Although developers love to problem-solve and some of the results are incredible, the thousands of nights spent coding cannot be described as extraordinary.
I’m lucky enough to know a lot of extraordinary people. But most of them do very ordinary things, most of the time. Not that that is a bad thing. However, where I find myself stuck today is wanting to kitesurf more than answer an inbox of emails, build a canoe more than re-design a user experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m utterly convinced in our vision and that this project is extraordinary. I know that this feeling is a passing phase after a year and a half of fun, effort and dedication. But sometimes the threads that weave together to form an incredible tapestry, or the notes that create a haunting melody are as a result of time spent in stitches (of the wrong kind) or learning and repeating endless scales.
The irony is not lost. Here’s a blog on simplicity and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and here I am, writing a post on the desire for continual extraordinary-ness.
I recognize that every life – Darwin’s, Dahl’s, Newton’s etc have long stretches of ordinary. Today we’re fed with images from Facebook of people’s highlights (talking of Richard Branson, one recent facbook feed from a ‘friend’ was a picture of him playing chess with Branson on Necker). Those images don’t help me to remember the rewards, the extraordinariness, of ordinariness.
Perhaps it’s time to re-read Walden. Today I struggle with finding the beauty in the mundane. Moonlight can make the most colourful of landscapes appear colourless – some people might see it without the colour, others with accentuated beauty. They’re both there, in that moment.
I write this, not because I’m in a bad place, per se. A passing phase. But in recognition that simplicity is hard and because writing, exploring and sharing the feelings help.
I’ll leave you with a great post by Derek Sivers.