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Choosing to be Ordinary

You’ve heard about the fear of failure. You may even have heard that some are afraid to succeed. In both cases, that fear causes people to stop what they’re doing and to revert to their old behaviors. Have you ever wondered why?

Jon Acuff, in his book Start! Punch Fear in the Face, points out that anytime we diverge from the path of average and try to become “awesome” that that is when fear raises its ugly head. And that explains why people fail to reach their goals. It’s not that they’re afraid of failure or success. It’s that it’s easier to stay where they are.

Choosing to be ordinary feels safer. And so while doing something else seems desirable or even romantic, it’s the path to get there that’s scary. Situation Ethics About 50 years ago, the book Situation Ethics was published.

The basic idea was that everything was relative. There was no such thing as truth. What was right or wrong was up to the individual. Of course, this idea was touted as something revolutionary. Human beings like to suggest that they’ve actually thought of something new. It makes them feel important. The truth is that it wasn’t new.

People had felt this way for thousands of years. In fact, it’s documented in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. The difference was that they felt comfortable saying so in public. Before that, such opinions were for private conversations. But people have always held themselves out as the sole arbiters of right and wrong.

If you don’t believe this, then ask yourself why wars occur. Fundamentally, isn’t it always because one power decides that it should have something that is in the possession of another? It could be to build an empire, to impose a particular political system, or religion on the conquered. But no king, emperor, or president ever went to war because he or she had finished all the chores around the house and got bored.

Vandals get bored and destroy things, but it’s not the boredom that drives them. Rather, it’s dissatisfaction with their own lives. Let’s call it what it is. There’s something to be said for the idea that people who are bored are boring. They need to stop focusing on themselves and their wants and set about helping others. Ordinariness: right or wrong?  If you think back to the brief introduction, you’ll recall that the path to awesome means choosing a different path.

What does that have to do with deciding what’s right or what’s wrong? That really depends on what you want. You see, if deep down you want to stay ordinary, then doing anything that will change that will feel wrong. And, if truth be told, even if you want to be extraordinary, the path you follow may feel wrong.

That will cause tension inside of you. That’s why you need to avail yourself of the wisdom of someone who is already doing what you aspire to do. It’s to help you discern what is the right path and to keep you from wasting time and resources on the wrong one. You’ve probably noticed that a distinction has been made between morality and practicality.

You must not assume that you can have one without the other. In fact, in order to be the most effective you have to have both. You’ll accomplish far more in less time if you keep your conscience clear than if you take a shortcut that makes you feel guilty. Where what you do is morally right, the wrong path will be the one that takes you away from your goals.

To put this another way, to reach your goals, you have to do the right things for the right reasons. Get off the fence. This creates a dilemma for many people. They want to have it both ways. I wrote about this in our book on management. Just as private and public sector organizations want the benefits of change, but want to keep on doing what they’ve always done, so do individuals. They want to get rich by being lazy, lose 50 lbs while pigging out on pizza and ice cream in front of the TV, or write a book by reading social media.

The truth is that if you want to be extraordinary – awesome – then you have to get off the fence. The fence is where the ordinary live. They’re the ones who are trying to have it both ways. Make a choice You have to make a choice. You have to choose to be successful. If you don’t do that, then by default you choose to fail. If you don’t choose to do what you think is right, then by definition, you’re choosing to do what you know is wrong. Sure. You can argue that there are shades of gray; but what is gray but some combination of what you know you should do, and what you know you need to avoid? Why do we argue for gray? Because we’re unwilling to go all the way. Instead, we’d rather do the ordinary and hope for awesome.


Bruce Hoag PhD

Bruce ghostwrites for entrepreneurs on topics such as work and the workplace, the psychology of entrepreneurs, and productivity.

He has a PhD in Organizational Psychology and is the first author of the book, Managing Value-Based Organizations: It's Not What You Think.

He served in the USAF for ten years as a weather observer / forecaster and, for now, lives in the UK.
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