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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reverb10, Day 13: The extraordinariness of "ordinary"

Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step?

The author of this prompt is Scott Belsky:
Making Ideas Happen

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mommy, what will I be. Will I be happy? Will I be free? Here's what she said to me. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera. 

When I was a little girl, (in addition to singing Que sera, sera, at the top of my lungs), I wanted to be Nadia Comaneci. I wanted to win gold in the Olympics in gymnastics until I was fifteen years old. I trained all year long, and during my summers I attended gymnastic camp in the United States and Germany. When I was in junior-high, I was told that I had the potential, but that if I wanted to achieve my goal, I was going to have to move back to the United States, and attend a special boarding school so that I could train full time, and get my school work done on the side. At the time my parents were living in Cyprus, and all my friends were in Cyprus. I knew that I would never be good enough if I kept living my ordinary life and attending school in Cyprus. It was a very hard decision that I made as a thirteen year old, and I remember struggling with it, but ultimately I felt that I was not willing to give up my friends. My community and home were too important to me.

I have often thought of this decision. Less and less as I get older, but every now and then it comes back to me, and I reflect on the direction my life took as a result of this choice. I think it is important because it was the first major crossroad at which I was given the opportunity to choose which direction I would turn in for myself. My parents discussed my options with me, of course, but they told the that ultimately, the final choice was mine.

There are very few things that I feel as certain about today as I felt about my dream to go to the Olympics. There was something reassuring in the certainty I felt about accomplishing my dreams as a child. It had not yet occurred to me that I might fail, and so I did not have doubts standing, like hurdles, in my way.

I am standing at another such junction in my life right now. I am working at breaking into the food and beverage advertising and branding fields, as well as developing and strengthening my own creative writing. At the same time I am asking myself where I want to spend the rest of my life, and how much I am willing to sacrifice to further my career. Being a part of a community that I feel at home in has always been a priority in my life. I have always felt most at home in rural communities where having a successful career in the traditional sense is more challenging than it would be in a larger city. I find myself asking myself what my priorities are, struggling with the idea of choosing lifestyle over meaningful, fulfilling work, and wondering why, and if, it is necessary to choose one over the other.

An acquaintance asked me the other day how I would feel if I never do end up writing an award-winning novel. If I do not ever meet an amazing man and therefore if I never become a mother. If I never manage to buy my own farm. What he was getting at was this: how do I feel about living an ordinary life? I fidgeted in my chair, and protested. If I try my hardest, I reasoned, and pursue what I have a passion for, surely I will not live an ordinary life? Surely I will be successful at something. My friend pressed, asking me how I would feel if I were, actually, ordinary. I realized, after considerable reflection, that I am very uncomfortable with that idea. Something in me feels that ordinary is not good enough.

What struck me about this conversation, and the realizations that it led to, is that throughout my life I have always chosen to leave community and what I know and love to pursue what I always perceived as being extraordinary in life. And I have had amazing experiences. Experiences that are invaluable to my understanding of the world, and to my writing. I would like to say that all of my experiences have taught me something that I did not know when I was a child. But when I think back to my thirteen year old self, I recognize that the reason that I did not go train to be an Olympic caliber gymnast was that I valued community deeply. I valued relationships. I loved my family and friends, and the time that I got to spend in their company was of greater value to me than the possibility of a gold medal (silver or bronze, or, indeed, the idea that I might not have ever earned any medal at all had never occurred to me!)

I recognize that every person must earn their living in some way. I will continue to work away at my writing every day. But when I think of my next step --when I think of which direction I am going to turn in next--if I am completely honest with myself, I think I may finally be ready to realize that my most decisive action may simply be recognizing that I am happiest, and my life of greatest value, when I am living what I have always thought of as an "ordinary" life. Living in community. Living in relationship. Being surrounded by people whose company I love. I think my next decisive action might just be letting go of my perception that a well-lived life is one that is packed with personal accomplishments, and replacing that with what I think I have always known, at some level, to be true: that the most extraordinary people are those living so called "ordinary" lives. Those who serve their community. Those who love their children. Those who stay in one place long enough to know their environment intimately.

I read somewhere recently that we should not allow ourselves to get to the point where the most interesting things about us are the places we have lived and traveled. Don't get me wrong. I am not putting travel down. As anyone who has lived or traveled anywhere knows, every new place on the map means new relationships. New opportunities for service and connection. What I am saying is that  my next destination is going to be relationship-driven. I am thinking that by allowing myself to live in relationship, meaningful work will naturally and organically unfold out of my deep commitment to dwelling in community. I am not sure how, but I feel as though I have come full circle, back to the certainty of that thirteen year old, back in Cyprus. Only this time I know that I will not have to give up what I love in order to accomplish my dream. 

What is your next step in life?

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