Nothing Worse than Being Ordinary?

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By Shelbi Anderson Gesch

Do you think I’m ordinary?  

When she asks this question, Angela, the superficial, too-beautiful-to-be-real girl in the movie American Beauty embodies the darkest, deepest pain inside me.

I hated her—until that scene at the end of the movie, where she nearly gets what she wants, and then comes to the realization that her desires terrify her. It’s her foundational fear. It’s the measure of her worthiness to be loved.

She believes ordinary is invisible, unlovable, unworthy. What she wants is to be anything but ordinary. I know that longing.

As much as I love the idea of living for an “Audience of One,” I struggle with the practice. I know I have everything I need. I know I have more than I deserve. I believe in providence, but I continually battle to let that providence and the love of God meet to flood the canyons of my desire. Focus on the truth and not distraction, look into what I have and not be thrown off by the things I lack. To let this chorus ring in my mind: All I have needed Thy hand has provided, so I can throw off the silence of my emptiness.

It still aches. And I think: There’s nothing worse than being ordinary.

But what if the thing that quiets that ache is simply paying attention and becoming fearless.

Fearless women are hard to find. Truly fearless women, women who aren’t operating behind a curtain of insecurity and overcompensation, but genuine, fearless women who are fully, confidently, unapologetically themselves. Maybe fearless women don’t look like I expect. Maybe they’re not the ones with the power of celebrity, not “wonder women,” but the ones who are okay with the messy living room, the ones who let their faults air, the ones who are willing to take the first step into vulnerability, so their sisters will see the water is fine, and they, too, can jump in?

Still, I feel my annoying competitiveness, the drive to be not just as good as I can be, but at least better enough to be remembered. I want to be better enough to leave a legacy. I want my words to echo and my ideas to linger in someone else’s mind. So many days I catch myself chasing just one positive comment, just a mention, just a piece of encouragement, instead of doing the real work, filling the mission of who I’m meant to be.

I’ve staved off the ache of ordinariness before by being the encourager I’ve needed. I’ve tried to counter the need by giving of myself. It’s worked, for a time. Perhaps gratitude is the answer. Taking more account of the things I’m blessed with.

So, just for today, I’ll use that desire, that ache inside me that–if I change perspective—can feel like the opposite of death. A current of energy. Like any tension, it moves me. It reminds me that to ache, to want, to need is to be alive. Just for today, I’ll lean into that power, strain against the pulling, step into the negative space, and I’ll send a different radio signal out—one that seeks to find and meet that empty place in another’s life.

Maybe, together, we can find a common place and feel a little less alone.

____________________

About Shelbi:

I live in rural southwest Minnesota with my husband and three teenagers. I recently graduated with my B.A. in English from Dordt College at the wise old age of 44, and I’m currently an MFA student in creative nonfiction writing at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. I’m a firm believer in the healing power of journaling, walking, and conversational prayer, and I blog randomly as the spirit moves at shelbigesch.com.

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Comments

  1. Madeline Twooney says:

    Shelbi, such a thought-provoking piece. Thank you so much for your honesty and insight.

  2. I feel like you’ve been reading my journal! Truly, though, fearlessness to me has always been for other women and other people–never for me. I’ve never felt worthy of self-possession and confidence and certainty until I started trying them on, one by one, like shoes in a department store. It’s amazing what has happened once I started telling myself I deserved to try.

  3. I identify with this so deeply that I can’t help but wonder if you are an Enneagram 3 like me!

  4. I feel this SO DEEPLY! I even wrote a children’s book about it! Thanks for naming it and describing the struggle so well. (I linked to the book below– hope that’s ok! It just goes along so perfectly with what you’re talking about.) And I think you’re right about the fearless, vulnerable woman.

    https://www.amazon.com/Not-Especially-Special-Katie-Savage/dp/0692943625/ref=redir_mobile_desktop?_encoding=UTF8&dpID=61I5G17Or2L&dpPl=1&keywords=not%20especially%20special&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&qid=1517880562&ref=plSrch&ref_=mp_s_a_1_1&sr=8-1

  5. I love this! I’ve been feeling the same thing especially strongly lately, that tug between being yourself and doing what’s expected. Thanks.

  6. Yes, “the opposite of death!”
    I love that perspective shift, because I can remember days of wanting nothing in particular, and as hard as it is to lean into a hope deferred, ti’s better than the emptiness of complacency.
    And then, there’s the transition into the “hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God is being poured out in our hearts.”

  7. Now I want to see the movie! Thank you so much for your honesty and transparency in this. I feel your struggle and to be honest, this wrestling with ordinariness. Thank you for naming it.

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