What does it mean to be extraordinary? 

At this very moment, there are over 7.53 billion people on this earth. Is it just me, or is there something terrifying about that? Isn’t there something almost paralyzingly humbling to know that you are merely one in 7.53 billion? 

I often contemplate my seemingly insignificant role in the grand scheme of things. I weigh the likelihood that I will ever make much of an impact on this world and wonder if I will be remembered when I eventually pass. I don’t mean this in a particularly negative way, but see it as the most statistically probable outcome.

Despite the daunting scale of the universe, our society is extremely connected. We have tools such as social media that not only link us but provide a quantitative analysis of how connected we are.  A regular person can have millions of followers and it’s not unheard of for something to go viral in a single day. I also find that because of the interconnectedness we have grown up with, we are drawn to fame. In my humble opinion, my contemporaries seem to have an odd obsession with the large scale. Maybe it is due to our consumerist culture that makes us accustomed to abundance. Or maybe, it is due to our ability to access millions of people with only our thumbs. Regardless, this hugely affects our dreams, values, and perspectives. I have particularly noticed its impact on our measurement of success.  

The word “extraordinary” is one that has always confused and fascinated me. In the dictionary extraordinary is defined as unusual or remarkable. It is a label only designated to people who have achieved a certain degree of success. In my view, extraordinary is a very arbitrary concept. 

Extraordinary is a very arbitrary concept.  

For many of my peers, their success will be determined by milestones such as making six figures or reaching thousands of people through a project. The realization of these grand ambitions will provide personal fulfillment and act as obvious markers of success in whatever endeavours they choose. With these wide-reaching achievements, our society will reward these “extraordinary” people with endless respect.

I have always understood that the majority of people in this world will be labelled “ordinary” with only a small percentage earning the superior title of “extraordinary.” Part of my internal struggle with making a mark on the world has always been related to my constant quest to be extraordinary. After all, it’s the extraordinary people that are remembered, not the ordinary, right? 

In a few months, it will be the two-year anniversary of my beloved Grandmother’s passing and as I ponder success and think of her, a specific memory comes to mind. 

 After one particularly defeating Tuesday, I sat down in my Grandmother’s apartment and proclaimed “Grandma, I am never going to do anything extraordinary. I am doomed to live a painfully ordinary life.” This, of course, was extremely dramatic, but nevertheless, it was how I felt. 

Instead of consoling me, my Grandmother laughed. Not in a malicious way, but in a knowing way. Then she asked me: “What does extraordinary look like?” 

I was stunned, what did it look like? “Extraordinary is people like Barack Obama or Gandhi. Extraordinary is people that change the world, that defy the odds, that impact the lives of others. Extraordinary is for the people that do things that others cannot,” I replied.  

 My Grandmother mused over my definition of extraordinary. “Then, I am not extraordinary,” my Grandmother said with finality. “I think I am okay with being ordinary,” she giggled. 

After that, she made me a root beer float in my favourite crystal glass cup and we never discussed anything further. Today as a twenty-year-old who still has that same incapacitating fear of being ordinary I look back on that memory with a new perspective. 

I think it may all boil down to a simple question that many before me have struggled with: Is it better to be known by many or loved by few? Should we concentrate on the large scale or is our own small community just as important? 

My Grandmother, who considered herself ordinary, was nothing short of extraordinary. She volunteered her whole life, she cared for her family with a smile on her face, and she was a beloved teacher librarian in Vancouver. If anything, my Grandmother was Super Woman. And yet, she didn’t have a large-scale effect on our world. She didn’t do anything that would go down in history books.

My Grandmother has nonetheless impacted those closest to her as well as hundreds of lives in our community. She touched so many hearts and brightened so many days. She lived a life fraught with heartbreak, yet never failed to make others smile. She was strong for those around her during hard times and saved her tears for when they were needed most. My Grandmother changed my world, and countless others. She defied the odds and lived a life that may have left others broken. My Grandmother was extraordinary. 

 So, I guess the conclusion I’ve come to is that although contextualizing yourself in the grand scheme of the world is important, it is equally, if not more important, to focus on those in your own community. In this new technologically-advanced society, it is almost easier to focus on things you cannot touch with your own fingertips. Think about how much time and effort is wasted on something as trivial as one’s Instagram follower count when this time could be better spent one’s loved ones. How many famous people are notorious for having poor relationships with their own kids? Yet, fame on the big and small scale is still so admired. 

My point is, maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other. For those of us who aren’t inventing the next Facebook, there are other ways you can be extraordinary.

 It’s time we broaden the definition of  “extraordinary.” We need to start recognizing the teachers that coach high school teams for no pay; the single mothers and fathers that are doing the job of two; and the nurses working insane hours to take care of our sick loved ones. 

Extraordinary doesn’t have to be large scale. You don’t have to have 1000 followers or know hundreds of people to be remembered or to make an impact. There are multiple ways to be extraordinary, and one of them comes from doing ordinary things, extraordinarily. 

There are multiple ways to be extraordinary, and one of them comes from doing ordinary things, extraordinarily. 

 

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