There comes a point in all of our lives when we get a glimpse into just how spectacular we can actually be. In this moment, we come face to face with our true potential. Literally FACE to FACE. I am not about talking the little moments when we realize that a little extra effort could go a long way. I am talking about the big moments, when we realize we have the potential for a lasting shift in our “being” of who we are for ourselves and who we are for other people. We have the potential for a lasting shift in what we stand for and we want out of life. Simultaneous to this moment, we may get a glimpse of the trials and tribulations and sacrifices it might take to get there.
For me, these moments come in different forms and originate from different sources. But they generally involve one of these four areas: creative endeavors and thinking, service to others, having peace of mind, and experiencing true empathy on a consistent basis. These are the areas of life where I know I have the potential to be extraordinary. These are the areas for me from which true fulfillment will come. They will certainly be different for each individual, but regardless of what they are, having one of these moments where we are faced with our true potential is extremely confronting and can be downright petrifying.
After we get over the initial shock of having one of theses moments (and whatever “hit” of inspiration that might come along with it), we have a few choices. 1. We can decide that whatever we saw as our potential is either not worth the effort or that we never actually wanted it in the first place. 2. We can decide to take it on by doing a few symbolic things. In other words, we commit, but not really. Or 3. We can fully, no-kidding, commit to it. For real. And we can powerfully take the concrete steps towards creating the life we aspire to have.
I must admit that I am master of choice 2. I am a man of aspiration and good intention and symbolic action. And I despise myself for being this way. I despise myself because mediocrity might just be the only thing worse than failure.
I have always lived inside my self-serving belief that “I am fine,” that “I am doing as well as I can do,” and that “sure, it would be nice to be extraordinary, but in the meantime, while I am not extraordinary, well, I am fine and I am doing my best, so it’s all good.” My biggest supporters in life help to perpetuate these feelings by giving me lots of metaphorical high fives and chest bumps, and saying things like “nice life you have”. These sentiments are wonderfully self-serving. They prevent me from feeling invariably bad about myself and from waking up with an existential crisis every morning. They allow me to lead a productive life without the prospect of paralysis in the mundane tasks of the everyday.
So I have clearly learned to survive not being extraordinary. But why? Why do I seem to be stuck on choice 2? Why haven’t I been the extraordinary being that is fully committed to the things that I know I am truly capable of?
I am a pretty rational guy, so the payoffs of me not being extraordinary must be pretty compelling. First of all, I avoid the responsibility of having others rely on me. Extraordinary beings can be depended on to show up for life all the time. Sometimes, I don’t want to show up. I would rather hide. I would rather sit in the back of the room. I would rather not raise my hand. I would rather sacrifice true engagement for short-term comfort. Second, I avoid the future responsibility of having to be extraordinary. If I am extraordinary once, the story in my head goes, then others will expect it from me in the future. And although I feel confident I can be extraordinary when I feel like it, do I really want that expectation hanging over me all the time? Next, I have this senseless story that the rest of the population would be uncomfortable in the presence of an extraordinary being. Maybe it would be some internally generated pressure or a latent inferiority complex coming to the surface, but regardless of what it is, I somehow feel that I would be making others uncomfortable by going beyond what I normally do. It is akin to how others sometimes get uncomfortable, and even make fun of me, when I choose to eat healthy, not drink alcohol, or decide to go to bed early. I know this sounds arrogant and like a lame excuse, but it is real to me and definitely prevents me from being my best self sometimes. Finally, I have a big fear of failure and fear of not being good enough. If I declare that I am going to be extraordinary, even if just to myself, then I am putting my whole “I can’t fail” need at risk. I am making myself vulnerable.
It is scary to say all this out loud. It is scary to reveal my fear, arrogance, and insecurity to the world. These are not exactly the parts of my personality of which I feel proudest. But at the same time, it is a big load off my chest. All of this stuff has felt like a big secret of mine for a long time, one that I have been hiding from the world by going about my life in a “good enough” way.
But now that I said it, it is a lot less scary. It is a lot less scary mainly because none of what I say is actually true. Statements like “if I am extraordinary once, then others will expect it from me in the future” and “the rest of the population would be uncomfortable in the presence of an extraordinary being” are a bunch of nonsense. They might feel “real” to me, but in reality, they are not true. They are just reasons my subconscious self has come up with to get the payoffs I describe above. It is also a lot less scary because I suspect that some of the other people in this world feel the same way. Maybe the details of their survival mechanisms are different, but it must also scare others to see glimpses of what they are capable of. And it must also be the case that others have made the case to themselves through delusional reasoning that they are perfectly happy peacefully existing within the comfort of their current mediocrity.
I must caveat all of this with, and what makes this all so confusing, is that all of my rhetoric above conflicts with my own commitment to myself to give myself a break. It conflicts with my pledge to be more compassionate to myself, to be my own friend, and to say to myself, “hey Michael, relax, you are doing pretty damn well in life doing your thing, so sure, do what you can to improve, but no need to be so hard on yourself.” So maybe, that’s the real end game: to give myself permission to be extraordinary sometimes, mediocre at others, and plain incompetent at others. Or maybe the real answer is that there is no end game. And we are all just distracting ourselves with lots of inconsequential nonsense until we end up in the ground. Poetically gruesome, I know, but maybe…just maybe…I am overthinking it.