Becoming Extraordinary!

What makes a life extraordinary? Do you have to find a cure for cancer? End social conflict? Start a new company that will benefit millions? I suppose it depends upon who you are and what you wish to accomplish with your life. People like Richard Branson, Oprah Winnfrey or Elon Musk have made incredible changes in the world around us. Their net worth is certainly much higher than mine yet, they had the same or even less advantages in life than I have had. How are they different from me? Why am I not being driven in a Lincoln Towncar or jetting to meet friends at my private island in the Caribbean?

There’s a common thread in people who are leading extraordinary lives. They have, from an early age, declared that they ‘want something different’. They were not going to be satisfied with the status quo: theirs was going to be a different type of life than the examples around them. None of them knew where they were going to be twenty, ten or even one year down the road, but they were willing to try options that those around them didn’t or wouldn’t even consider trying.

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From an early age extraordinary people, seek something different and are usually encouraged and supported in their efforts by someone significant in their lives, and a poor role model can motivate as much as a positive one. Most don’t possess a superior intellect, or go to the best schools. Most of them have what we would call an average life in average home with nothing to really differentiate them from their peers except for one thing: a rebel spirit.

Most of these people possess a nature that encourages them to go beyond what is expected of them. It may be a desire for more, a personal vision that goes beyond the usual opportunities that surround them. Extraordinary people are risk takers. Their rebellious souls aren’t content to follow in the shadow of parents or other role models. They want something different. They are the ones who strike out on their own and dance their own dance in life. What others think doesn’t bother them. They see many of the ‘rules of life’ as bullshit rules and refuse to follow them, and they don’t really care what others think about what they are doing. They follow the beat of their own drum and accept the inherent risks involved in this journey.

Dwyer Manufacturing

I don’t have to look far afield to see this in action, and to be honest it wasn’t until I started writing this article that I came to realize that my brother is just such a person. While I grew up being the ‘best little boy possible’, he began life a rebel. Pushing boundaries was part of his character as was pushing our parents patience to limit. They were just happy that he stayed in high school for four years even though he didn’t earn enough credits to graduate. He took to the skills that he enjoyed and continued to learn from his work experience until he had enough of working for others and struck out on his own. Today he runs a successful manufacturing business that employs eight to ten people, depending on the workload. In addition, he has a wonderful family and is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to spoil his first grandchild. He broke out of the mold of those around him and followed his own path.

Becoming extraordinary doesn’t mean that one gains fame. It is setting one’s own boundaries and rules. It is saying I want something different in life. Most of us follow the well worn paths in life and don’t venture too far from the norms of conventionality. For others though, this is not enough. They say to themselves things like: I will do things in my own way; I will try new things and keep on moving myself forward; if I screw up, then I learn from it and try something else. And there is no guarantee that being extraordinary will ensure success as defined by most: monetary wealth. However, their wealth comes in a plethora of incredible life experiences, great relationships and an enjoyment of life. They don’t ‘retire’ but continually move forward to savour whatever life puts before them right until the end.

The Matrix

Extraordinary people don’t opt for the blue pill and go along following the rules. No, they take the red pill and open themselves up to possibilities. This doesn’t mean that only the rebel can be extraordinary. We all have that within us, but I think it takes more of an effort to learn to live a life with more risk, trials and change. For some of us it takes becoming so miserably uncomfortable in our ‘comfort zone’ that we have to make changes. I think for the rebel, it the excitement of the risk and the challenge; the carrot, if you will. For the rest of us it is often the stick: being so beaten up by the present situation that a move to unfamiliar situations becomes a better option. In the end, the choice to be extraordinary is up to me.

A New Pathway

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind . To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. ~Henry David Thoreau

Mental and spiritual changes that are real, that are deep and that are lasting cannot be accomplished by a single action. The ruts of my past pathways are carved deeply in my soul. How I felt about myself while growing up, how I relate to the people around me and how I connect with higher consciousness have all created hardened ways of approaching life. And just like it takes an effort to get the wheel of a cart out of the rut caused by years and years of running along the same path, making a change in how I think and act as a result of consistent ways of thinking for many years, requires great effort. Even after years of trying to remove my father’s too often repeated admonition directed at me that I was ‘as useless as tits on a boar’, I still feel its sting.

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It comes at me during moments of my own weakness or when I feel like I am failing at something. It comes when I am in frustration because something is not going the way that I had intended it to go. My self esteem starts to waver, I remember that statement, and I fall further into my emotional state. I feel that I will never amount to much in life. I feel inferior to those around me. I doubt my abilities and my talents and my propensity for learning. I begin to believe that he was right, that I have no purpose in life. In my later teen years I rebelled against his frustrating cry by repelling anger with anger, telling him to fuck off and do it himself and leaving the scene. But the many repetitions of this statement by my father had already began to wear a deep rut indeed into my psyche. Alone and by myself I would use the same statement as self recrimination for an error or failure.

In the past years since I became aware of the impact of this statement on my life, now 25 years since my father’s death, I have battled with this statement. I have meditated on it. I’ve told myself that it isn’t true and listed my many accomplishments in life and challenges overcome. I have been in therapy, taken medication and symbolically thrown a rock with this statement written on it over the side of a cliff. And every once in a while, when I start to feel a bit down, it comes back to haunt me: ‘you’re as useless as tits on a boar’.

On an intellectual level I know that it isn’t true. I have disavowed the statement and I can enumerate many life accomplishments. And it is still there, lurking in a hidden nook of my brain waiting to jump out at an appropriate time to drag me back toward the abyss of depression and self loathing.

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Lately I have been examining it more closely. I have started to look at it from my father’s point of view. Now for the most part, we had a good relationship. But it wasn’t always easy. I was his first born son and like any father, he probably had his own hopes and dreams for me and my successes in life. He probably thought about me taking over the family farm. He may have wondered who I might marry and what his grandchildren might be like. However, I also think that by the time I reached my teens, we were both coming to realize that I might be gay.

I have looked at my father’s own readiness to be a parent and realized that he had his own challenges while growing up. His father was 55 years old when dad was born. As soon as he could lift a shovel, I am sure he was helping his older brothers and father in planting and harvesting of crops, tending to and milking the cows and butchering chickens that provided Sunday dinners. His father was more like an aging patriarchal figure, or a grandfather than he was a dad. And of the stories I’ve heard, he had infirmities that prevented him from being much of an active member of the farm work force as he aged. My father, fairly quick at school, passed his high school entrance exam just after he turned 14; he left school without finishing the year and pretty much took over the farming duties from his ailing father as his older brothers were now working at jobs away from home. Seven years later, his father died.

Dwyer Farm (circa 1944)

Looking at this past, I can understand how his youth did not prepare him to become the father he might have become. He had plenty of anger issues and seem to relish letting go a stream of words that would make Red-Beard blush and let every neighbour within earshot to know that I had screwed up royally again. Anger was the only strong emotion I saw him express growing up. Fortunately, I remember little physical punishment; the verbal chastisement was enough. And, as he aged, he mellowed. He became a more pleasant person to be around. We never developed a deep relationship. We never discussed feelings or our past mistakes. We never talked about my relationship with my partner or anything touching upon sexuality. In the only ‘talk’ we had had about sex, just before the subject was presented back when I was in grade eight. He told me that as humans we didn’t go around the neighbourhood like a dog looking for a bitch in heat. Sexuality was not talked about. Feelings were not talked about. Within the family, anything to do with an even slightly taboo subject was mentioned in whispers as if the soft speak wouldn’t attract a fouler curse. Nevertheless, I appreciated what my father had done for me, his personal sacrifices for the good of his family. And could appreciate that he too was growing in understanding of himself. We both did the best we could in our relationship, given its challenges.

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I understand this all. I get that it was a different time. And I understand that he was doing the best that he could under the circumstances of his own upbringing and beliefs. I see that much of his anger was really misdirected frustration at his situation in life and his inability to express himself. It doesn’t make it easier for me when I am reliving the past, but it does make it forgivable. I have a better understanding of how he got to that point in his life. And I would like to believe that if I had arrived at the point in my life before he died that I needed to talk with him about it, he would have reacted well and listened to what I had to say. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean that this work I am doing on myself is finished. I still have to go back and fill in this and the other ruts of pain and hurt that were created early in life. I have to work on forgiving my father regularly. And I can work at changing my focus. I can focus on the good times that I had with him. I cherish the long hours I spent with him at the hospital as he lay dying; few words needed to be said then. And I will be forever grateful that I was able to spend his last night on this Earth at his bedside. With him, as a human, I have made my peace. With his words, it is still a struggle to overcome their power. But slowly, with constant work and the passage of time, I am moving beyond that perspective of my past and I am creating a new narrative of who I have become and who I will be tomorrow. Grass is growing again over the old pathway. Like an old scar, I can still see where the wound was inflicted if I squint a bit, but it is losing its hold upon me. I am working on digging in new thoughts to dominate my life, creating my own pathway in how I think about myself.

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