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There’s nothing wrong with being


Well, nothing. And everything apparently. Look up ‘ordinary’ and a telling range of opinions creep out, from those who value it as a place where the extraordinary can emerge, to those who scowl at the dullness.

others feel do

Many of us would describe ourselves as “just ordinary”, but what do we mean by that? Clare O’Driscoll considers the labels and expectations that can make us feel we’re not quite good enough


ver 30 years on, I can still hear my teacher’s booming voice: “I’ve given you all C’s because you’re all average.” Something drained out of

me. My ego perhaps. A bit of identity. The bit that knew English was my best subject and put my 11-year-old all into every piece of prose. It seemed the worst thing in the world to be told I was average. “Nothing wrong with being average,”

he barked, as if reading my mind, “Just means you’re normal. Anyone have a problem with that?” Did I? It became an ongoing question mark which curled

through my life,

across the years. Are we average? Should we strive for more or just be grateful for normality? The Bible speaks of our uniqueness and originality, but in the

10 October 2015 womanalive

humdrum of life it doesn’t always feel true. Society is star-struck by success and, even in the church, there’s a pro- excellence ideal that can make you feel not-good-enough. Being “just ordinary” suddenly feels like failure. So many things can make us feel too

ordinary, from being overlooked at work or church to other people’s sweeping judgements. When my South African friend fell in love with an Englishman and moved here, her dad despaired. “You’re going to end up in a depressing semi- detached house in a road of identical houses.” “Maybe,” she replied, “but behind each house front are real people with unique stories.” In the same way, behind every person is a life of God-breathed uniqueness. What’s wrong with ordinary anyway?

Some people long to be extraordinary and are petrified of falling short; too average to The

anything worthwhile. over-expectation of excellence and

the under-expectation of mediocrity don’t blend into a happy medium. Both extremes cripple. But is longing for the extraordinary a malady of our society, or a yearning put in our hearts by God? Mostly, my own questioning has come from a genuine desire not to sleepwalk through life missing God’s purposes. Sometimes, however, it comes from a slightly embarrassing craving for recognition. Thomas Merton wrote about wrongly

clothing himself with experiences and qualifications, wrapping them around himself as if he would be invisible, non-existent, without them. Are we sometimes tempted to do the same? It’s not wrong to achieve, but if we make it our identity we hide who we really are. Ironically ‘clothing’ ourselves with accomplishments to be more visible simply means our true self is buried beneath layers of noisy bragging. Such noise can drown out the quieter ministries, like choosing an act of kindness over bombarding someone with ‘relevant’ advice. I had a friend at

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