A therapist once told me that I have an extremely low tolerance for mediocrity and an aversion to people who are not very self-aware. I believe I said something to the effect of, “Doesn’t everybody?” He simply replied, “No.” My chosen vocation is to help people lead extraordinary lives and organizations accomplish extraordinary things, and this guy is telling me most people accept mediocrity and ignorance? I was dumbfounded then, and now after 10+ years of studying and practicing in the field of human and organizational behavior, I am still somewhat baffled by this phenomenon.
Extraordinary is defined as being exceptional or magnificent, but if you break down the word itself, it just means extra-ordinary, as in: beyond the usual and expected course, something additional to the basic necessities, or an experience that is a little better than the average or more significant than the normal. This could refer to an amazing adventure-filled vacation in Queensland, New Zealand where bungie jumping originated or it could be meeting a friend you haven’t seen in awhile for a long walk, high tea, or to attend a concert or sporting event; or it could be spending time with someone you see all the time but doing it in a different way. It is possible that you don’t have to do anything new, just expand your capacity to recognize and appreciate the extraordinary things that already exist within your everyday life.
Having lived under the smog covered skies of Los Angeles, CA for over 15 years, I get a little thrill driving through Hartford, CT on a sunny day. It’s as if I’m driving through a scene from The Simpsons as the sky is such a beautiful blue and the clouds look like they were drawn by a fourth grader. On a winter day I marvel at the snow covered river and the monumental task it must be to plow the streets. And if I hit traffic under the bridge I have another opportunity to reflect with wonder and gratitude as I’m generally through it in 4.5 minutes vs the 45 minute delay that was common in LA…these things are extraordinary to me.
When I’m frustrated because my 13 1/2 year old dog walks SO SLOW, I remind myself that at 9 years old he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given a prognosis of 6-24 months. The fact that he is still walking by my side (or a few feet behind me) is extraordinary. And because I’m so sensitive to notice when I receive mediocre customer service or am inconvenienced by the cluelessness of others, when I get a waitress who is both competent and personable or a telephone representative who is articulate, empathetic, and knowledgeable, I find that extraordinary and try to make sure to relay positive feedback to their supervisor which is generally received as something extraordinary.
Remember, experiencing the extraordinary does not require embarking on some new exciting outrageous adventure that takes you far from your “normal” life (although I’ve traveled to New Zealand and highly recommend it). It could be as simple as revisiting practices and attitudes that were previously commonplace, such as: family dinners, block parties, reading books, and sending handwritten letters. They might not appear to be extraordinary activities, but you’ll be surprised by how extra-ordinary they make you feel.