In the Amazon Prime Original Series, The Last Tycoon an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel of the same name, after the screening of an unremarkable film, Producer Monroe Stahr makes this provocative observation.
“Ordinary is the enemy. You just watched two hours of ordinary, didn’t you feel cheated?” — Monroe Stahr
This remark is valuable not only as a commentary on the purpose of film, but also what it means for our daily lives.
The Last Tycoon revolves around the golden age of film in the depression era. The studio, Brady-American, is hoping for a success in their latest feature The Bells of Boston. The screening however, reveals the flaws all too well.
This elicits the remark from Monroe, reminding us of the purpose of films, the reason we enjoy stories and why we must fight everyday against the unremarkable elements of our own lives.
Being mundane is easy, it requires no effect to create. Stilted language and the monotone are the default for most of us. We exist within an ordinary world doing ordinary things by practice and routine. To become something more, to free ourselves of the bondage to the everyday requires a cost most are unwilling to pay.
The Ordinary World vs. The Extraordinary World
In The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman, the author draws a distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary worlds. Within the first we are our normal, everyday selves, bound to the limitations and expectations of a mortal fragile world. In the extraordinary, we become our heroic selves, free of the conceptions others hold over us, and the weight of expectations we take on ourselves.
“The Ordinary World can be summed up with two words: destructive and uninspired. It is destructive to our Core Self and uninspired through our results.” — Todd Herman (The Alter Ego Effect)
It echoes the theory of the Heroes Journey. Popularized by Joseph Campbell, it reflects the similar themes and elements which are universal to our great stories and myths. One of the most important points of the journey is the hero leaving the ordinary world for the extraordinary one.
We’ve seen it in countless films and stories before.
In the Hobbit, Bilbo must leave the shire to journey with the band of Dwarves for dragon gold.
In Moana, the titular character must leave the island home behind in pursuit of Maui to return the heart to Te Fiti.
Becoming heroic, becoming extraordinary, means abandoning the mundane. In stories we often see this as visually leaving behind the comfort and security of home for adventure and danger. In day to day life it exists on a smaller scale, it means having audacity to be extraordinary.
The Audacity of The Extraordinary
A recurring theme to The Incredibles films, is the repression of the extraordinary. Heroes are constrained by society to blend in and behave normally for the sake of social cohesion.
The general populace will always be reticent to the extraordinary, often because they themselves are unwilling to leave behind the comfort of the ordinary world and don’t want to see anyone else attempt it either.
Doing the extraordinary requires audacity. Being willing to be an outsider and derided by others because you are willing to be more than the average of everyone else. It takes courage to step outside of the comforts of everyday life and try something different, to take the first step into your extraordinary world.
The extraordinary world takes different forms for different people and doesn’t always require a literally leaving behind of home and family for an adventure. Instead, it often expresses itself in merely doing the difficult thing.
Introducing yourself to the attractive person at the other side of the room.
Applying for the better job.
Publishing your book.
Speaking truth when everyone wants to believe the lie.
It’s not an easy world to live in, rare are comforts if you want to live an extraordinary life. In exchange for ease you agree to be stressed. Instead of peace you invite greater struggle. In every way, choosing the extraordinary will force you to face challenges and obstacles, the rewards infrequent in their return.
It is what Theodore Roosevelt expressed as The Strenuous Life:
“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”
Ordinary is The Enemy
The danger of the ordinary will always lurk behind, waiting to lull us back into its soft embrace.
The pillow on our beds.
The warm blanket and cover.
The soft chair behind our desk.
The many temptations asking us to exchange a life of struggle and effort for velvet covered handcuffs.
In the story of the Exodus from Egypt we see this play out first hand. Originally astonished with the miracles they have witnessed, the very parting of the Red Sea before them, the Israelites marveled. Yet, as the days in the desert extended longer and longer, they began to complain, they longed for the “comforts” of Egypt.
“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” — Numbers 11:5 ESV
They remember comforts, but conveniently forget the chains and lash of slavery.
It is not dissimilar from what we do today, longing for the days of old when we felt security with the devil we knew. Even the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution felt the same way. During the Presidency of George Washington, there were still some who pondered reuniting with England as a colony, questioning if they had made the right decision to become a nation of their own.
The ordinary world attracts us as the sirens of myth, singing a sweet song asking for us to surrender our struggle and burden of the present moment for the apparent ease and deliverance they offer.
In Monroe’s declaration against the ordinary, he observes how it cheats us. Offering something of comfort and ease, it only holds empty promises. In films we see this far too often, the appearance of a fantastic adventure, only to be disappointed by a mundane story we ourselves must live out.
With everything begging our attention, fighting for a scrap of glance, this devil’s margin is even more insidious. Masking itself as something of worth it picks your pocket, then reveals itself as the ordinary again in a different costume
The Defining Difference
The defining difference between living in the ordinary or extraordinary is simple: it is a matter of mindset and attitude. To live in an extraordinary world doesn’t require running away from home, finding a magic ring, or fighting literal dragons, it does however, necessitate an attitude for action.
Most of us spend our days reactive. Our actions, thoughts and motivations relying on the situations and people around us to set the tone. We become hostage to the circumstances of life instead of in command of them.
This feeling of powerlessness, of living in a world where we have no control or agency is the ordinary world. The ordinary elements of life we cannot overcome, the mind gnawing nothing which reminds us we can only exist within our chains.
The extraordinary world we have the extraordinary mindset, and reject this thinking as erroneous. We are not the victim of our circumstances nor their slave. Obviously, we cannot surpass all the circumstances of life, they will still effect us, but it means not waiting on those circumstances to dictate our actions and behavior.
It means living with an intention of who you will be, regardless of what life throws at you.
When the adventures of life call, you need to decide if you’re going on the journey. Can you leave behind the ordinary world and it’s mundane existence to step into the extraordinary one? Make your decision and each day will be defined by it, the choice is yours.