Ordinary

ordinary

or·di·nar·y
1.with no special or distinctive features; normal.  what is commonplace or standard.
“he sets out to depict ordinary people”
synonyms: usual, normal, standard, typical, common, customary, habitual, everyday, regular, routine, day-to-day

antonyms:  extraordinary, unusual, exceptional.

Have you ever thought about striving to be ordinary?  Being “commonplace” or “standard” or “routine”?  Probably not.  We all want to be extraordinary in some way.  We admire the truly extra-ordinary people – those that amaze us with their abilities, their fame, their looks or their riches.  That makes sense.  Being greater than ordinary should be our goal.  Being an “ordinary” parent?  Nah.  An ordinary golfer?  Nope.  An ordinary person at a party? Dull. Having dinner at an ordinary restaurant? Sounds like a waste of money.

But I want to challenge you to think about ordinary in a different way today.  Reflect on the person who is going through a health issue.  Do you believe they would prefer an “ordinary” day? How about the individual who has a family member overseas in a military capacity.  Think they might like a “normal” day? Someone who has lost their job would gladly take back the “ordinary days” of being at work. “Extraordinary” or “exceptional” sounds great most of the time.  But . . . isn’t ordinary really great also?

Can’t ordinary be great – some of the time – also?

Ordinary is easy – but it is also hard.  From a personal standpoint, it ought to be “ordinary” for me to kiss my spouse goodnight.  Or talking with your kids.  That ought to be “ordinary”, regular or standard.  How about for all of us? Holding the door for someone who has a bundle in their arms.  Waving at the neighbor as we drive away.  Thanking the waitress for delivering your food.  Those should all be normal, commonplace or standard activities.  Ordinary.  But the person who does them well is a person who has a great grasp of life.  And how few us of really practice those ordinary tasks each and every day, with a smile on our face?

“There’s a pleasure in being reminded of the value of an ordinary life” – Karen Thompson Walker

It is great to have aspirations for extraordinary things in our life.  The great vacation is what we rightly strive for. Some of us would say life is great owning the expensive, flashy (non-standard) car. Receiving a big dollar bonus for doing a great job at work.  Living in a great house with our own “man cave”.  Having people defer to us all of the time. But isn’t one of the flaws of having the best all the time?  At some point in time, consistently getting something great becomes ordinary.  I’ve read many stories of people who win the lottery and have momentary excitement, but eventually are less satisfied.  It’s a type of “hedonic adaption” wherein a person who makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.

Here is the challenge for all of us.   We get caught up in our own minds.  We want to do the extraordinary.  We want to stand out.  Getting accolades for doing something well feels great. How about trying to do something really revolutionary, really hard?  Doing the common actions, consistently, every day, is hard. Focusing on the ordinary, the simple, the commonplace takes a lot of attention, a lot of the time.  It is hard to REMEMBER to do the ordinary.  But the ordinary builds up goodwill over time.

Think about:

  • The consistently-friendly person who we love to run into because we know we will feel good after seeing them.
  • The couple who has been married a long time, yet still shows their love and care for each other, are a delight.
  • The individual at work who does their job, day in and day out, is someone we want on our team.
  • The mail carrier or the waitress or the hair stylist that goes about doing their job in a pleasant way.
  • Someone who makes our life easier or more pleasant, not by doing something extraordinary, but by doing some day-to-day routine task.

Those are all standard activities – they are ORDINARY – but done consistently and genuinely.  We smile when we think of people who fit one of those categories above.  Sometimes we wish we could be just like them.

The neat trick is, we can!

How might you be more ordinary?

 

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The Mundanity of Excellence

LeBron James, Stephen King, Beyonce, Tom Hanks, Steve Jobs.  When we think of excellence, we think of people like them.  And we also think, “I can never be like them.  They have a talent or excellence way beyond my capability.”

The Boston Celtics ultra-successful basketball team coach, Brad Stevens, had this to say to an interviewer: “I am a big believer in the mundanity of excellence”.  He followed that up with this quote:”I am a huge person on growth over prize”.  He feels excellence is within all of our reach, and it is not the result of talent alone.

Mundanity of Excellence?  What is that?

 “mundane”  means “doing the practical or ordinary” (in other words, not “extraordinary” or “special”).  

We don’t think of excellence and ordinary together do we?

Stevens firmly believes growth comes more from the daily habits in practice and preparation, mastering all of the small pieces that make up the whole body of work.  These pieces are less dramatic than a game-winning shot, but more valuable.  He knows that in basketball, the difference between a basket scored and one that is missed is very small. So he does not overly celebrate victory, or despair in defeat.  He knows that if you are prepared, you will increase your chances for success.  Sometimes luck will intervene to overcome your preparation.  But over time, your preparation (and the growth that comes with it) will win out.

The concept “mundanity of excellence” comes from research by Daniel Chambliss.  When Chambliss says excellence is mundane, he means this:  “Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon, which have been carefully drilled into habit and then are fitted together in a synthesized whole.  There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.”

There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.

He uses an example of the development of the swimmer Mary T. Meagher.  To get to her next level of excellence when she was a young teenager, she employed two immediate qualitative changes to her routine.  First, she vowed to get to swim practice on time, every time.  This habit drove the feeling that every minute was important.  The second thing she did was to execute every turn in every swim in a precise manner.  This habit  accustomed her to doing things better than those around her – always. Two very mundane actions executed consistently and correctly.  That is tackling the mundane on your way to excellence.

He cites everyday life examples, such as the person who takes ten minutes to write a short note to maintain a friendship, the CEO who takes time to walk around the plant to talk with all of the workers periodically improves morale, the secretary who does the mundane tasks well every time lifts the organization. The simple doing of small tasks can generate huge results.

What Chambliss and Stevens are getting at is we all have the capacity within ourselves to be great.  Chambliss’ research shows that it is not simply talent that gets us to the top, it takes many small steps executed properly. Stevens gets the most out of his team through an emphasis on repeating the small things that lead to big results. Lets be honest, the discipline to do many small things correctly every time is not easy.  But it is much more attainable than having a non-existent super power.

We all see someone who has succeeded and think “I wish that could be me”.  We only call someone “talented” if their achievements already make it obvious. This “cult of talent” is actually harmful because it obscures the true, achievable (but mundane) path to excellence.

Chambliss believes in a three-part formula to excellence

1) Excellence is a qualitative phenomenon.  Doing more does not mean doing better.  It is the quality of the work you do, not the quantity of the work you do, that makes the difference.

2) Talent is a useless concept.  Varying conceptions of  natural ability mystify excellence, treating it as the inherent possession of a few;  they mask the concrete actions that create outstanding performance.

3) Excellence is mundane.  Excellence is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.

The action in itself is nothing special, the care and consistency with which it is made is special.  He goes on to mention the job applicant who submits one more applicant, the businessman who makes the tough phone call, the actor who attends one more audition.  Every time a  decision comes up, the qualitatively “correct” choice will be made.

 

What I love about his research is that he makes excellence – superiority of performance – well within all of our grasp. Chambliss says excellence is not necessarily reserved for those most talented (those with a “gift”).  Nor is it the result of specific quantitative personal chances (“moving the arms faster” does not make an excellent swimmer).  It is within the grasp of all of us.  Brad Stevens shows this with his teams.

We all think we are incapable of some desired achievement – whether it be big or small.  It is human nature.  “I am not talented enough to do that”.  “I could never be as good as that person is”.  While there are probably some things that require some extraordinary skill – dunking a basketball, singing in the Opera – those are relatively few and far between.  Most things we might wish to excel at our within our grasp.  We just need to have the mundanity of excellence.  How about adopting that attitude and giving that goal a try?

To read more on Chambliss’ work, go here  http://academics.hamilton.edu/documents/themundanityofexcellence.pdf

 

Stuck – A Reflection

I just finished reading a blog post by Michaela Alexis where she talks about how to move forward when you are stuck. It is really well written.  One thing that really called to me was this: “There is nothing more excruciatingly painful than feeling trapped in a life that you’ve drifted into.”

Perhaps you think that is an exaggeration, maybe there are more “excruciatingly painful” things in life.  Okay, perhaps so.  But we do only have a short time here on earth, why do we get so fearful of becoming unstuck from something?  I’ve met others who are so stuck and it breaks my heart.  It is painful.  But they need to want to change.

Michalea talks about “5 Reasons you are stuck”.  Her fourth reason is one that resonated with me: You feel like hating your job is better than being a “job hopper”.

This gets at the age-old argument about loyalty.  Who feels “loyalty” is supremely important?  Better to be loyal and miserable than disloyal and the one who is searching for the right opportunity!  Everyone wants “loyalty” as one of their signature values.  Have you ever met someone who has moved around a bunch of jobs and you think ill of them?  “Glad I am not like HIM!”  “I am loyal and don’t just move on at the first chance.” So, does that mean you are happy being a “job-hater” but not a “job-hopper”?

So who likes being a “job-hater”?

Alexis goes on to say: “The stigma surrounding “job hopping” is straight up silly. Yes, of course, there are extreme examples of people that just can’t seem to get it together, but for the most part, “job hopping” is just “career experimenting”.  So if the job is making you miserable, stop obsessing over how it may look to recruiters and/or hiring managers.

Here is a little secret – it is not “disloyal” to want a job that energizes you.  If you can’t find that positive energy where you are now, it is time to move on!

Take a moment and decide if perhaps staying in the job is just an excuse – or a loophole – you are making for yourself. Are you really willing to settle for something so bad that you hate it?  Is the pain you feel from work today really less than the potential pain you imagine it will take to find a new job? Think about investing an hour a week in reconsidering where you are and where you want to get to.  Shake off that excuse or that loophole.  You don’t have to “hop” today.  But you can start preparing today for a future that is unstuck.

If you would like to read Michaela’s full post, it is here – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/its-called-life-sentence-how-move-forward-when-you-feel-alexis

Work Life Blend

I was recently at a conference and one of the speakers talked about the change in Career-Life Balance (also called Work-Life Balance).  This “balance” is the concept of placing proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and friends).  It is a way of thinking about how it is best to spend your energy on those things that are important to you.  The “balance” is different depending on a lot of factors, including your life stage, your family circumstance (single, young parent ,empty-nester, etc.), your interests, etc.  Work-Life Balance does not mean an equal balance.  It simply means we want to achieve a desired state.

Now people are talking about a new perspective on this goal. It is now called “Work-Life Blending”.  It is a really interesting new viewpoint on an old concept.  The “Blend” simply acknowledges our new circumstances brought about by technology.

Let’s face it.   Technology brings home to work and work to home. This means our public and private identities are blurring.  As Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan wrote, “Think of it (life) as a cocktail rather than scales. Rather than attempting to balance the two sides of the scale, we should look to find a blend that we love the taste of.”

The Blend means that you might do some personal chores (going to the doctor, texting a friend, making a purchase, checking on social media) during the “traditional” work day.  It also means you might check e-mail, update a document or answer some work inquiries during your “personal” time (after the traditional work day ends).

We sometimes get infuriated at people who do this blending.  “Why are they checking their phone at work?” “Why must they constantly check e-mail at night?”  But if we can make this Blend a natural part of how we organize our lives instead of a special perk or exceptional situation, maybe it brings a richness, a “great taste” to life.

This is interesting because I strongly believe in drawing a line in my life. I encouraged people to manage the work-life balance more proactively by thinking through their priorities and consciously addressing how work intrudes on their personal lives. But in light of how many of us blend work time with personal time, perhaps this advice is overly simplistic — unrealistic even. Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.

Maybe, the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly

Gregory and Flanagan go on to write about ways to achieve your best blend.  Here are three:

  1. Work out your key ingredients
  2. Don’t buy other people’s rules
  3. Stop focusing on time and focus on achievement (in work and in life) instead

Researchers Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell believe: “Work and personal life should be allies and that participation in multiple roles, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being — especially when all of the roles are high quality and managed together.”

“Work and personal life should be allies”

Isn’t that an interesting thought?  So perhaps the next time you want to castigate someone who is doing personal stuff at work or is doing work at night, STOP.  Maybe they have achieved a blend that maximizes them and the people most important to them.  Isn’t that our goal?

Understanding

I recently read an article with a slightly different twist on New Year’s Resolutions.  These resolutions were one word or a short phrase, to sum up what we want to focus on for the new year. When we distill our aims into a single word or phrase, it’s easier to remember it — and to take action.

So why not try a one-word resolution as something different this year?  It is a reminder.  It might help set your priorities.  It doesn’t have to be some huge challenge looming over you. People generally come up with resolutions that revolve around personal change.  For instance: I resolve to lose weight;  I resolve to drink less.  Some positive aspiration like reading a book a month, taking on a new hobby or organizing their life space.  Why not make it different this year?

What I like about a one-word resolution is the opportunity to be something you define more broadly.  Losing weight generally requires a number at the end.  “Drinking less” means doing some counting (those numbers again) and a clear definition of what is not meeting your resolution.  So many people give up when the resolution gets broken or seems so unattainable.

Having written that last paragraph, I have to disclose that I am a very numbers-driven person.  I thrive on trying to attain a numerical goal.  So if that works for you, keep at it.  But I know for me, sometimes I need a different type of target.  And I know many people do not respond well to absolute numbers.  The one-word resolution gives you a new way of approaching self improvement.

I chose the word “Understanding” as my one-word resolution for 2017.

I think of “Understanding” in three very distinct ways.

One is to be more “understanding” of others.  It is understanding as an adjective – “sympathetically aware of other people’s feelings; tolerant and forgiving.”  Sympathy. Compassion.  Appreciate the feelings of others.  Tolerant.  I really want to get better at recognizing AND ACCEPTING the different approaches others take to life.  My way works for me, not necessarily for them.  If I can be more tolerant of differences, I will be better at interacting with others.

Second is the idea of “understanding” as comprehension.  I want to continue to learn new things over the year.  This is understanding as a noun – “the ability to comprehend, a mental grasp.”  I want to continue to learn about things I like – history, what makes people tick, careers.  A second, and probably more important part is “Understanding” myself better.  I want to become more aware of what I do and how I do it.  Being honest with myself, I am probably not going to change some weakness into a strength.  I am probably not interested in making large personal change – even if it is needed!   I want to focus on areas where I might be good, but not great. How might I gain more understanding and get a little better?  One area I want to get better at is my attentiveness to others speaking to me. For instance, my wife starts telling me some story about what she is going to do.  I’d love to consistently change my response from “I don’t understand what you are saying” (because I was only half listening) to something like, “I am a little foggy on what it is you were telling me” or “I have to be honest, I was not entirely listening, could you explain that again?”.  Perhaps in acknowledging my inattentiveness, I will become more attentive over time.

Third is “understanding” as a friendly or harmonious relationship.  Can I reach an understanding, an agreement with others – even if it is we agree to disagree?  I want to try to reach more people in work and in life.  Someone needs to take the first step, why not me?  I don’t need to be everyone’s friend.  But can’t I do a better job of reaching out to others to create some contact?

I love the fact that this resolution has numerous paths to it.  I can look at myself from different angles.  Perhaps I am really successful in one way, but not in another, of being “Understanding”.  Isn’t there learning in that?  And rather than giving up because I have not achieved my resolution, I can point to gains and areas for further emphasis.

Here are some words the author had for one-word resolutions: adventure, renew, travel, finish, home, energy, re-purpose

What do you think? (I will understand if you decide not to try)