When we are growing up, our parents and our teachers tell us that we’re special people. We can be whatever we want to be, and we have praise heaped on us for indecipherable drawings, a tune on the recorder that sounded more like a strangled cat, or a half-hearted soccer game. While their efforts are quite obviously mediocre, the intentions behind the praise are no doubt innocent; it’s all in the name of encouragement. It may be fine to do this for a 5 year old child or a young teenager, however when do we need to tell our children, our friends, our nephews and nieces, or our brothers and sisters that, actually, they’re not so talented and they should just give it up?
Nowhere is this any starker than on those reality television talent shows such as X Factor or Australia/Britain/America’s Got Talent. In the initial auditions, there is no shortage of aspiring pop stars looking to make the big time. Most of them believe that they absolutely have what it takes to be the next Kylie, Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber – they’re just waiting for their big break.
A lot of the good singers get through to the next round of auditions, but there are plenty of tears and bewilderment from those that fail. It is not uncommon for them to cite their family or friends’ encouragement to audition, which has undoubtedly created a false belief in their actual level of talent. Even for those singers that do get through, they can no doubt hold a tune but they are probably no more talented than your run-of-the-mill karaoke singer or pub covers band. They are not extraordinary singers, just merely ordinary singers.
The reality is that almost all of us are destined to be ordinary people with ordinary lives. We will be born with with ordinary talents to ordinary parents, we will go to school, make friends, find an ordinary job, work hard, maybe get married and raise ordinary children in an ordinary house, and we will eventually die in an ordinary manner.
Only one in a million people will have the extraordinary speed of Usain Bolt, or the extraordinary genius of Stephen Hawking, or the extraordinary business mind of Warren Buffett, or the extraordinary musical talent of Mozart. Even then, their natural talent or abilities only got them so far; the rest came through extraordinary persistence and hard work, more than anything we ordinary people would be willing to dedicate to an endeavour, and probably a dash of good luck.
The vast majority of us are very ordinary, with no remarkable talents or abilities, and we will not leave any notable impact on the society in which we lived. We won’t be saving the world or bringing world peace. We won’t be finding that cure for cancer, and we won’t be in a rock band that writes a generation-defining song. We won’t be the Prime Minister of Australia or the President of the United States of America, and we (hopefully) won’t be responsible for the mass murder of hundreds of people. There is no “meaning” in life.
That may sound depressing, but really, the upside of all this is that we shouldn’t put so much pressure on ourselves, our children, or our loved ones to be extraordinary either. We shouldn’t think that success is absolutely everything, and push ourselves (or others) to the brink on the statistically minuscule off-chance that we could be extraordinary.
What should be important is leading a fulfilling life, whatever that may mean to you. That could be bringing up your children to be kind and thoughtful adults, or creating a business that makes peoples’ lives easier, or eating an ice-cream in every country you visit (that may or may not be me!). It could mean cherishing every moment with your partner or your parents, or perfecting your skiing technique, or volunteering your time to your favourite charity.
Even though we may not be extraordinary, we can still make a difference in the lives in the people around us, and live a fun and satisfying life while we’re doing it!