Of the many societal expectations in America, one is you must be extremely above-average to have any true value. It hasn't gone away during a pandemic. It's only adjusted itself to: "you need to take this chance to improve yourself in a way you've always wanted to."
It's most often spouted by white people, especially men, but I'm sure that's a coincidence. Those same white men will tell you so and in a loud, angry voice.
If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either:— Jeremy Haynes (@TheJeremyHaynes) April 2, 2020
1.) a new skill
2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business
3.) more knowledge
You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline
But back in reality, this doesn't make much sense.
Extraordinary is Usually Illogical #
A book I recently read, "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck," debunked this 'you must be amazing' expectation. Extraordinary people are, by definition, at the very top of some category of people. Extraordinary people can only exist when most people are not extraordinary. So if everyone is extraordinary, this only moves the bar for "average" higher. At least until everyone is this new average, and no one is extraordinary anymore.
Some people really are extraordinary, and you may be one of those few people who could be due to talent or hard work. But statistically speaking, you likely aren't and never will be. I know I'm not. Unless I discover a long-hidden and miraculous talent, I never will be.
I thought this idea would depress me, but it liberates me. Without the pressure to be extraordinary, I'm free to be as good (and as bad) at things as I naturally am. I can enjoy how good I am at things instead of hating myself for how far I am below being super amazing awesome at them.
If this is tough to accept, I recommend measuring yourself more by virtues than comparable skills. You can "rank" people on their paycheck or number of side projects, but not on their honesty or integrity. They make us awesome without worrying about comparisons or elements we can't control.
No one other than the Dalai Lama is going to be famous or spectacular for only their virtue. But they'll still be a great, if not an extraordinary person. The other people around them will likely be happy they're around too.
Surviving a Pandemic is Amazing Enough #
Also, back in the pandemic, most people are stranded in the same place and under extra layers of fear and stress. These aren't the best conditions for even the best people to flourish and master new skills. For those who can, it's more a sign of privilege than discipline or badass-ary.
This adds up to the idea of "needing to be extraordinary" piling on unrealistic expectations to make us miserable. We already have enough things doing that right now. I don't need another if I can avoid it.
You know what's more amazing to pull off right now? Staying mentally and physically healthy at one of scariest points of history in our lifetimes. Keeping our economic livelihoods together during a recession (a second one for many of us). Pushing away the anxiety buzzing in all our heads to get one more night of good sleep.
None of these look as sexy to social media followers or venture capitalists. But they're a lot more likely to keep us alive and happy in the long-term.
Accepting my Lack of Extraordinary #
Time for a small confession. In 2019, I was on a hot streak of writing coding posts on Dev.To. I did so well I won money for Dev swag, gathered a small online following, and won a "Distinguished Author of 2019" award. That streak ended early this year, and whatever reputation I had has long faded with it.
I clung to the idea of becoming an "extraordinary blogger" for a long time. All it did was make me flail around, do little meaningful learning, and make myself miserable. Only recently have I started to let it go and rediscover some inner peace.
So I probably won't use this quarantine time to become a superhuman made of pure energy with fancy new kitchen appliances. Instead, I'll likely be buying some more Switch games than usual and find more time to unwind with them. But I'll be surviving the pandemic without worsening it, and doing what I can to help others through it too. That's already pretty extraordinary on its own.