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Why Being “Extra” Isn’t A Bad Thing

Jessalyn Jackson
May 17, 2018 · 4 min read

I recently went down to Portland to visit my mom. While I spent most of the week catching up with my hometown friends, I did spend a good amount of time chatting with my mother. She made a comment at the end of my visit that I grappled with for the better half of my trip back to Seattle.

She said, “You say the word extra a lot. What’s that mean anyhow?” *I find it interesting when people notice the little nuances about myself that I seem to miss.

So, what is extra? What does it mean when referring to someone as being extra? Is it a negative or positive thing?

Upon further research in various psychiatric journals, I landed on the Urban Dictionary definition.

Extra: Over the top, excessive, dramatic behavior.

I can imagine that in some contexts this might not play well. However, for the most part, I can only glean the positives.

Extra example one: Tony Robbins

Photograph by Benjamin Lowy for MONEY

This guy has to be one of the most passionate humans out there. He is not a cog in the machine, he is the machine. A self made billionaire that they say is so consumed with energy that he is impossible to interrupt. His poignant story about his upbringing will motivate you to make the best of any circumstance you may be facing today.

Tony is known for his extravagant seminars, yelling, cursing, light shows, dancing, bizarre breathing exercises, literally anything you can think of. He is over the top, excessive, dramatic, and I can say with out a doubt that he wouldn’t, no, he couldn’t transform as many lives as he has with out his ‘extraness’.

Extra example two: RuPaul

Photograph by Michael Anderson of Google Images

The fierce and unabated rhetoric of RuPaul will leave you captivated. In an age when sexuality was rigid and gay rights were still out of reach, she was unapologetically herself; on some intrinsic level, her impact forces you to take a look at who you are. Who are you hiding? Why? She is emancipatory, letting others know that it is okay to step out of the ever flowing stream of increasingly dull societal trends.

Extra example three: Ram Dass

Ram Dass was born Richard Alpert. He was a successful clinical psychiatrist and professor at Harvard University. He described the world he knew as “gray” and yearned for deeper meaning in life. He traveled to India where he would eventually become one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time.

The fear to leave the security and acclaim of a position at Harvard was sharply overshadowed by his courage to go beyond surface level. He found enlightenment and deeper meaning in life all in the face of great criticism. He is the grandfather of being extra.

So what do these three people have in common?

  1. Authenticity — Being extra, in most cases, means being yourself. I think we call it extra because it is so out of the norm to do so. Being your authentic self is not going to look like anyone else; because of this, others will think of your deviating behavior as extra. Do it anyways.
  2. Courage — To step out and own it. People find it bewildering to go against norms. There is evolutionary research on the dangers of sticking out, so it is understandable. However, we are not facing sabertooth tigers or woolly mammoths anymore, and should feel empowered to stick out. Courage happens instinctually when your purpose is greater than your fear.
  3. Inspiration to find meaning — The examples above represent people who are just like you and I. They were all met with wry criticism and ego deflating comments. But what sustained them? A deeper call to meaning. At some point in their journey they shut out the noise of the world and listened to the murmurs of their heart, their gut, wherever you feel that inkling that directs your path.

This is not an exhaustive list of the people or attributes that encapsulate the word ‘extra’. It is more of a brief overview on why being extra is really just about being yourself. It occurred to me that many people who are mired in fear of living their most authentic self are chronic comparers. Check out my piece on the toxic effects of comparison.

People who are extra play by their own rules and superimpose their own truth. This reminds me of a thought provoking quote from the character Littlefinger, on the television show, Game of Thrones. Littlefinger says early in the series,

“Chaos isn’t a pit, it’s a ladder”

In this view, you can imagine the success of the one person, who amongst the busyness and distraction filled world, looks at the bigger picture and decides to go a different route.

Jessalyn Jackson

Written by

Jessalyn is a psychotherapist who works primarily with adolescents in the greater Seattle area on anxiety, trauma, and depression.

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