A Rant: In Praise of The Unremarkable

unremarkable

By Mark Schaefer

When I rant, it is not a knee-jerk reaction. It is more like a slow burn. Stuff accumulates in my brain until I can’t take it any more. And then it breaks loose.

Here’s the kindling that has started today’s fire: Endless “manifestos” about dreaming your way to success and adventure. Over and over we are pounded with rainbow bombs until you begin to believe that if you’re not dreaming your way to a better life then there must be something wrong with you. The conversation usually starts with something like this:

 “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

A mantra like this, and thousands like it, may be posted on a Facebook page or Twitter stream and then people chime in:

“Amen!”

“YESSSSS!”

“This is so true!  This is what I needed to hear!”

Sometimes I wonder if people even think about these things they are writing and responding to.

Let me tell you about my grandfather. For 50 years, he was a plumber mucking through the sewage pipes of Pittsburgh. As far as I know he never traveled more than 200 miles away from his home … which was about two miles from the place he was born. I do not believe he ever stepped on a boat or an airplane. He loved to read, tend the roses in his garden, and listen to sports on the radio. He was happy with a cup of black coffee and a bowl of his home-made bean soup.

If you asked my grandfather about his latest “daring adventure” I think you would get a blank stare.

And yet, his life was certainly worthwhile and admirable. He raised two great children and his family was always warm, safe and fed.  He worked tirelessly for his church. My grandfather was a great plumber who would do a job for a chicken or some scraps of wood if his customers couldn’t pay. He was a devoted husband, and he was hilarious. My grandfather was a great man, a joyful man, and I think there is something to be said for that.

Transcending self-interest

I understand that people love these little self-help validations in the social media stream, but you can be a great and worthy person without writing your manifesto, living out of your box, or daring to be a failure.  Sometimes life gets in the way and the best you can do is deal with it in an unremarkable yet heroic manner …

  • I have a friend who has a truly great idea for a new business. To make it work he would have to quit his well-paying job and take a tremendous financial risk for at least two years. He also has six children to feed and clothe. He is keeping his job. You know, I respect that.
  • I have a college friend who is a life-long soldier. He really needs to follow orders and stay “in the box.” He is not living a dream, he is not inventing, or creating art, or even building his Klout score, but I am really happy he is keeping us safe and free through his sacrifice.
  • One of my business colleagues has put his career on hold to raise two special needs kids. He and his wife are exhausted and stressed every day. They have no time to create, innovate, blog, or dream about rainbow lives. At the end of the day they simply collapse in exhaustion.

Centering your life only on a “Living Your Dream” manifesto seems to be a shallow, naive, elitist, and self-absorbed way to look at life.

And yet, the message in our culture is pervasive.

Rainbow Bombs

We are bombarded by marketing, advertising and social media rainbow bombs that imply that if we’re not exceptional, we’re nothing.

“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” – Seth Godin

Really?

I don’t see anything in this world that makes following a dream easy for anybody.  In fact, I would say it is remarkable to be remarkable.

I respect Seth Godin but his book The Icarus Deception is dripping with rainbow bombs — head-in-the-clouds advice about aiming for remarkable by striving to create art in your daily work. You know, sometimes, a person just has to work in their daily work. Yes, I just became the first blogger in history to criticize Seth Godin.  How’s that for poking the box?

The tagline for a new car commercial is “Normal can never be amazing.” The product? Mini Cooper. Not exactly on my list of amazing cars. We are living in an age where the expectation is unicorns and rainbow colored visions of the world even for a car that looks like a golf cart on Botox.

I’m not saying you should not follow your dreams. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be remarkable or fight every day to realize your promise and potential.  You should. I’m just looking for a little balance around this place and a celebration of the human qualities that really make the world work:

  • Putting your family first instead of your “art,” especially when there are children who depend on you.
  • Sacrificing for the less fortunate.
  • Not just “lending a hand,” but BEING the hand.
  • Dispensing hope in the midst of crisis.
  • Doing good without tweeting about it.
  • Being enthusiastic and happy even when you are working on a task you despise.
  • Being an authentic leader and mentor.
  • Surviving tragedy and having the courage to re-ignite your life.
  • Taking a stand in the face of hate and intolerance.

Now there’s a manifesto.

Here’s to the real people.

The Facebook World does not celebrate the people who make something on this list their life focus.  These people are not going viral … and they’re not worried about going viral.  And yet, that is almost all of us.

Friends, it is honorable to live a life that transcends self-interest.

Today, I celebrate the “most of us.”  Let’s have at least one blog post in this world for the humble, the brave, the suffering, the faithful, the exhausted, the unremarkable. Today I celebrate the plumbers of the world who work in the sewers to put bread on the table. That is something to be proud of … even if it’s not a work of art.

Right?

Illustration: Yes, that is my grandfather.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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