Summer vacation is the perfect time for ignoring most of my responsibilities including eating, sleeping and homework among other things. So naturally, I was recently surfing the internet after waking up at 1:00 p.m. when I stumbled across an article meant to be something inspirational on the Odyssey.
It said: "In order to be great, we have to give up the idea that we will ever be, or ever have been, normal. These two concepts cannot happily coexist because in order to achieve greatness you have to outgrow the idea of normalcy."
However, the whole time I was reading the article, I wondered, "why?" I was so confused about a number of things. What did the author mean when she used the word great? What did she mean when she said normal? Why was being normal and great a choice that had to end up as one or the other?
So I decided to do some research. Apparently in the dictionary, the word great means, "of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average." So I guess in a sense, the author had some merit. However, something still didn't feel right. Words have no meaning other than the ones we attribute to it. If that was the official definition of great, then I figured there was something seriously wrong with what we have been taught.
I always thought great was a more enthusiastic version of good. I thought it meant possessing beneficial or helpful qualities. But I never knew great was supposed to be compared to a step above the average. In my eyes, everyone is great in some way; they have some attribute that makes them valuable. Even the ones we find the most despicable, as hard as it is to accept. Serial killers are great at killing people, and even the most ordinary person is great at being normal. In this sense, isn't everyone normal because they're great?
Okay, that was probably really confusing. But the thing is, normal and great are both relative terms. Something normal is defined by what most people do, and what's great is defined by the step above the norm. These words both depend on what is considered normal; a meaning that is constantly changing in itself.
However, the author of the article seemed to disagree. She said, "We all have the desire to be great, and I truly believe that we all have the capacity to be great. But not everyone is ready to do what it takes to be great, to give up the routine that they've been in for years, to step out of their beloved comfort zone. Greatness means giving up your 'normal'..."
Basically, she believed that greatness seemed to a fixed definition. That there was a specific quality or meaning in being great. She believed there were people who fit in this category and people that didn't thus, separating them into "the greats" and "the normals." She seemed to think great and normal were binary terms that were black and white; one or the other. That there was no opportunity for overlap or to be be great while being normal.
I found that quite concerning before I came to a realization: most of the world thinks that way too. The dictionary has been teaching people that great is above normal, and most motivational speakers these days preach about standing out to be great.
However, I think the closest word I can find to describe the specific quality that all these people have in mind when describing the word great is "exceptional." Over time, greatness has not come to mean good, but to mean different, outstanding or the best.
And there's a problem with this.
Everyone does want to be great, indeed. It makes for a good inspirational talk that we've gotten ever since we were young grasshoppers. We've always been encouraged to be something. The author herself says greatness is about, "not letting the negative people and mindsets in your life drag you down with them into that place of apathetic complacency."
Unfortunately, some of that negative stuff the world feeds us is true. We can not always be who we aspire to be. There are always factors beyond our control that we must face such as luck, chance and reality. Success does not always come to those who wish for it. And as unfair as it is, no matter how hard some people try, the world offers them no opportunities.
Most of us will probably end up in a normal job. We find ourselves in "that place of apathetic complacency." And when we do, we feel as if we have failed. We feel as if we suddenly have no purpose but to aimlessly waste away our life there. We make it sound like to be great, we must rise out of the ranks of normal and be different in some way. We make it sound like to be great, you have to be the best at what you do.
All of this couldn't be farther from the truth. The word great has no meaning other than the one we give it. You can be great at what you do by being normal. You can be great- not by being the best at what you do but by being good enough for yourself. And though it's hard to accept this, there is a greatness in normalcy. If we appreciate what we are given, what we have and what we've earned, we can great while being normal. We can be satisfied.
So among the many definitions of the word great, I've found two so far that we can live our lives by. We can be great by giving our own meaning to the word. We can set our own parameters and achieve our own goals in order to make ourselves great.
Or we can live our lives trying to be great as it is defined by the people. We can adopt the mentality that if everyone else thinks we're great, then we must be great. We can work to constantly please others and make them think we're exceptional, proving that we are great, not to ourselves but to others. Our validation doesn't come from personal growth this way but from our reputation. It is one that leads to mental instability, loss of motivation and loss of direction or purpose.
However, I don't want to enforce the idea that this choice is between one or the other. I think we can all certainly do both.
We need a healthy balance of definitions to keep ourselves ambitious and motivated yet satisfied. You may be thinking "these words are contradictory." And they are. We can never keep these mindsets perfectly balanced, but we must have both in order to function today.
We must accept being normal as part of our lives in a world where everyone wants to be extraordinary. We must sometimes realize that if we are not satisfied with ourselves, it may not be something wrong with us but what society has taught us. Though we would like to believe it, we are not a complete meritocracy, and everything that happens may not be our responsibility.
However, we shouldn't blame everything on others. We should also keep in mind that we must have goals and be productive to make a living in society. My motivation for writing this article is not for people to be complacent but to accept themselves. If we constantly work to improve and fulfill our definition of great, not the world's, if we're taught we don't always have to be the best, we can work towards a more realistic goal and be happy with that.
In a sense, even the most outstanding of us are normal because we're united by our desire to be different. So maybe the key to being different is to do something that many people haven't done: accept the ordinary and in the process, ourselves. And when we do that, we'll all create the new normal of positivity and be completely fine with it. Being ordinary and different both present their different hurdles and challenges, none which are more valid than the other. So therefore, let's start allowing ourselves to be normal and great.