The Fear of Being Ordinary

October 09, 2015

I remember it clear as day, the words on my second grade report from my teacher, Mrs. Ellingson.  My parents had come home from parent-teacher conferences and had told me how much my teacher loved having me in class, even if I did talk a little too much.  They laid down the class materials and art pieces I had made and in the midst of it were her notes.  On the three-inch-wide piece of lined stationary were these words "Ali's writing is very original."  With that I went into my room, into my closet and cried for almost an hour. (I was 7, for all I know it was like 10 minutes)

Let me explain.

In my seven year old mind 'original' was synonymous with "plain" or "basic."  Anything that was in its regular flavor or size or simply not different from the rest was called "original."  I had truly hoped that with my above-grade level reading skills and excellent spelling I would be at least something other than basic.  But there, in my infancy I was terrified, tormented and tearful over the idea of being ordinary.

This is something I have struggled with my whole life.  I realized something about 7 years ago, when I moved with my new husband to a giant city and got connected to an amazing community of people: I am generally afraid that people don't really like me once they find out I'm just me.  It's a struggle that affects my marriage, my business and my identity as a mom, friend, writer, daughter, sister, pastor's wife and so on and so forth.

I would like to take this moment to note, this blog post is not a passive aggressive Facebook post about how nobody likes me and you all feel obligated to say nice things, this is a chance to call out the real struggle of identity that comes with being vulnerable enough to make friends and take chances and trust yourself and say you're not alone in it.

Every day I open my Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest and I am bombarded with images from extraordinarily talented people I follow and a few of them are even my friends and not just double-tap your Insta-feed friends but make meals together, drink coffee and talk about real life kinds of friends.  I see their work and the company they keep and I am continuously intimidated by the fact they're my friends and I find myself doubting that it will last because I am only ordinary.

I have reached out to make friends and totally dropped the ball on them because I have talked myself out of their worthiness well before we've ever said hello.  In fact in less than two weeks I'm heading to a photo conference in Arizona and as excited as I am to have a few days to myself for the first time in three years I'm truly having a hard time getting psyched for it for two reasons:  The first is that I'm afraid they'll just keep trying to sell me stuff and I have enough stuff thank you.  But the second is the real and ever-present fear that I will be found out as a fraud, not a creative, not an entrepreneur, certainly not an artist, but instead just ordinary.

But even as I am typing those words, my son Soren, who will be 3 in just a few days, is sitting next to me painting me a picture of dinosaurs and saying "for heaven's sake" and "goodness gracious" and "don't worry mom, they're scary but I'll save you."  He is extraordinary.  He is not plain or basic or ordinary.  But most of all, he doesn't know that and he doesn't worry about it.  He isn't nationally published and he isn't in an advanced class and he isn't concerned that most of his stories are a mash up of Winnie the Pooh and Planes Fire & Rescue audio books.  He tells stories and paints pictures and laughs exquisitely because he loves it.

I am hoping beyond hopes that being his mom, his courage to be himself, unquestioningly and unapologetically, rubs off on me.  And maybe in that I can believe I am original.  And maybe in that I can help you believe you are more than ordinary and at the same time that simple is good.  Maybe we can get coffee and make a meal and share more than Lightroom presets but instead pieces of our journeys here.  Maybe you can come over to my house and my son will paint you dinosaurs and we can laugh at ourselves a little easier.

Maybe together we can be brave enough to be ourselves, in all our original form.  Maybe, even then, we can find beauty in ordinary things.

I have to believe I am not alone in these things, and neither are you.

Post Script: After writing this, I talked it out with my husband, who is remarkable in every way but especially in encouraging me to find my identity in what is true and not what I do or achieve.  So if you need to talk about finding and owning your identity, come by, I know a guy...

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