What if an ordinary life is enough?

What if an ordinary life is enough. No, not just enough, more than enough?

The other night our family watched Full Circle, Trevor Kennison’s remarkable story about being a (paraplegic) world class freestyle (sit-)skier. It’s a film very much akin to the films that are usually part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival – an international film competition and annual presentation of films and documentaries about mountain culture, sports, environment and adventure & exploration. 

My husband and I are both avid outdoors people (we met ice-climbing for goodness sakes!) and we enjoy these movies tremendously. And yet…

They are all about more.

Our short-hand for them is "higher, faster, steeper, deeper."

And that right there is the problem. 

Full Circle is a stunning movie. As are all the Banff Mountain Film Festival winners. They leave you in awe of the capabilities of humans. 

And they can also leave you feeling flat. Ordinary. Uninteresting. Boring. Not amounting to much. If a paraplegic sit-skier can do all of this, then I’m just a slouch in comparison. 

Which got me thinking. 

What if an ordinary life is enough?

No, not just enough, more than enough?

I had the privilege, as a teacher’s daughter, of attending an amazing private school in South Africa. We were told that we were “Daughters of the King” (we were an Anglican/Episcopalian school, it’s a reference to Psalm 45:9) and that great things were expected of us. We were told that we were special; that there was nothing that we couldn’t do if we set our minds to it. 

Believing that, however, set me on a collision course with tragedy decades later. 

I started my work career as a diplomat for South Africa’s first democratic government. I was literally there at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration

Where do you go from there?

I’m in the process of finalizing the book I’ve been writing. Writing it has taken me back to some of the darkest moments of life – when I felt utterly defeated, broken and a failure. Yes, I’ve gone on to not just recover, but thrive; to experience an even greater well-being and happiness than I ever had before (a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth), but that doesn’t mean writing certain sections wasn’t extremely hard. Indeed it was hard enough for a while that I took myself back to my therapist.

My therapist made short shrift of my self-pity. “So you’ve been fired twice – both times by white men? I say congratulations. I say, wow, woman, can you just take a moment to realize how terrified they are of you?” 

When I continued to bewail how, compared to my MBA classmates – some of who have made their millions and have already retired – I’m a washed out loser, again she made short shrift of my pity party. 

“What you do now, as a coach, are you exploiting anyone? Does your work rely on others’ low waged income, or the exploitation of the marginalized here or anywhere in the world?” 

“No,” I mumbled. 

“Is your work causing harm to the planet?” 

“No,” I said a little more clearly. 

“Can you look in the mirror and say you are helping more than hurting, that you are doing your best to tread with care?” 

“Yes,” I said. 

“Are you able to be with your family, work decent hours, take care of yourself, and have the time to engage in hobbies and in your community?” 

“Yes,” I said with deep gratitude. 

“Then it sounds to me like your ‘failed’ life is a life of decency, humanity and honest work, and one you can take great pride in.” 

It is only with hindsight that it seems clear how the subtle pressure to achieve, to be “extraordinary”, pushed me in a direction that damn nearly broke me beyond recovery. 

I think, now, that it is precisely what is “ordinary” that has become “extraordinary”. Time to just be. The abundance and space and freedom and serenity that comes from simply “enough”. 

When I coached my first group on burnout I asked them, “What would happen if eight  billion people on planet earth all knew they were enough just as they are?” 

First I saw only puzzled expressions, and then to a person, heads came up, faces and bodies relaxed, and profound epiphanies lighted eyes and smiles. 

“The economy as we know it would grind to a halt,” someone said. 

“No-one could be exploited,” said another. 

“No more power games,” chipped in a third. 

“It changes everything,” said another in a reverential whisper. “It would be awesome.” 

And we all basked in silence contemplating just how profoundly awesome it would be. 

We know this. We know this in our bones. Believing we are enough is a radical act of social justice – it changes everything. 

You, dear reader: take unapologetic pride, in being “enough” just as you are, in the freedom of being “ordinary”. In living a human, decent life. Being enough is an extraordinary act of courage and defiance in a world that depends on us believing that we’re not. 

An “ordinary life” is enough. 

It is more than enough. 

It is extraordinary. 

In kindness, 

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