Five Habits of Highly Ordinary People

Of the many things to love about my son, two are his passion and curiosity. His mind has eaten its way through lucid dreaming, medieval warfare, and Basques, among other subjects. Salmon and game theory came to mind this morning as I started to write this piece. The summer he went to Alaska to study salmon spawning behavior, he explained the phenomenon in simple terms, so I could understand.

While we may admire the big salmon that make their way fastest and farthest upstream to spawn, there is a lot of useful information to be gleaned about the universe from studying the salmon that spawn downstream. The fish that don’t expend all their efforts to make it far up the river have more energy to reproduce. Males with smaller humps on their backs are less visible to bears. The longer salmon spend in fresh water, the more likely they are to die. There is some logic to being an “under-achiever”, the thriving lower 80 percent.

Which brings me to these observations about ordinary people.

1. They Give a Fuck — Perhaps you saw the piece making the rounds about How Not to Give a Fuck. Other people will tell you not to give a fuck. No, no, no, I say. If you are an ordinary person, you do give a fuck, you are allowed to give a fuck about what other people think. This is how you keep yourself from becoming an jerk. Modulating your tone, your words, and actions so as not give offense is what many, many people do every day. You can too. On the day when you need a hand or a hug, you’ll be glad people give a fuck about you.

2. They Fall Down (And stay down for a while). While getting up immediately after a setback is an indication of resilience, you may not be fully digesting the Lesson Learned. I think of my beloved dogs’ experience with Invisible Fence training. The golden retriever went right back to what he was doing after each buzz from his collar. The corgi, on the other hand, responded deeply and permanently to her first buzz from the collar. Ordinary folk want to understand what just happened, their role in the problem, and external factors to be avoided in the future.

3. They are Inconsistent. You can read up on the steadfast routines of great writers and CEOs anywhere, but if you want to be ordinary, you must occasionally be erratic. Being seduced by errant thoughts, engaging in a brief romance with an activity that has nothing to do with your higher purpose, and wasting a precious weekend doing nothing are normal activities for regular Joes. It will take you longer to get where you’re going, but you will arrive richer in the things that money cannot buy.

4. They Compare Themselves to Others. As in Item Number One, if you’re unaware of, or don’t care about other people, you may not be ordinary. Understanding your position in a group allows you to adjust your social strategies to achieve your goals and meet your needs. For instance, if you’re a low-ranker seeking recognition, you may decide to build alliances with other low-rankers to get the feedback you seek. Who knows, you may decide that being a bigger fish in the Lower 80 pond makes you happier than the angst of striving to be included in the Upper 20’s club activities.

5. They Lack Persistence. While it may take an ordinary person a long time, and a great deal of maturity and acceptance to step back from situations and people that don’t require her presence, she does. Ordinary people can walk away. An ordinary person understands that she does not live alone in her world, and that she does not control all outcomes, that there are times to let go, so she moves on. Not persisting can sometimes be a healthy choice.

Being ordinary is a valid life strategy. If you are ordinary, you’ve got company, and you get to relax once in a while. If that sounds good to you, you may enjoy being ordinary