People who live stand-out lives can be vilified or deified.
Vilified because their example makes us feel uncomfortable – “putting us to shame.”
Deified because they have to be amazing people to do what they’ve done – and we couldn’t possibly do the same.
Both attitudes make the same error: neither observe the details. So neither can be impacted in the greatest way by the lives of others who are going farther with their lives.
There’s a third kind of response: we can be inspired and encouraged by what others have done – especially by observing more closely how they do they come to do the things they do.
Oh, I also need to say: be prepared to get up out of the “chair” your sitting in. We will do new things because we are prepared to move from where we are.
‘Many people who stand out as being extraordinary do so because of choices they have made to stand radically apart from cultural norms; they may allocate time and resources in a very different way from their friends and neighbours.’*
We vilify such people because they make us feel bad; we feel shame and become defensive. Brené Brown offers some helpful insight into the language we use: shame is not the same as guilt or humiliation or embarrassment, though we can mix all these up.
What we want to tackle is shame, because we’re not bad people.
We may make bad choices and are feeling guilty, but this is hopeful – towards making good choices.
We may feel humiliated, because we know who we are and this is not as bad as someone has made us out to be – so we’re beginning to separate ourselves from the accusation.
We feel embarrassed – the mildest feeling to recover from.
We deify people who do amazing things and we don’t know how. Once we begin to observe them, we’ll see how they get things wrong, fail, struggle, sweat, advance accidentally, and more: the stuff their superpowers come from.
We have to see how they do what they do; we can only move and develop when we can empathise deeply with those who inspire and wow us.
By the way, the extraordinary life of the title – this is yours.
It’s all in your responses and choices.
(*David Shenk in The Genius in All of Us.)
(Observation Exercise: I’ve just tried this one out from Twyla Tharp – go to a public place where you can observe people interacting. Pick, perhaps a couple, and list twenty things they do: gestures, speaking, looking away (this will accrue quickly); then select another interaction, but this time only list the things you like or which resonate with you: a smile, how they focus, leaning in (this one will take longer because you’re filtering lots of things out). Tharp says you’re not observing the world; you’re observing you, the things which matter to you. Why do these things matter to you? The second couple I was watching – two men in suits – moved off before I could get to four things, but one thing I noticed is they never smiled, not once!)