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.

The Creative Journal

Writing is part of my daily ritual. I wake up at 6 am. It’s not that early here. In the tropics, the length of day doesn’t change much between the solstices, so there’s plenty of daylight year round at this hour. I set the water to boil, prepare the filter and grounds for coffee and sit out on the deck while I wait. Here I say an opening greeting to the day and enjoy the quiet for a few minutes until the water boils. I make my coffee and I sit down to my writing.

I took up writing first thing in the morning about five years ago. It began while reading a book on developing creativity: “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron. In this text, which is part course, part workbook and part inspiration, she suggests that everyone write their ‘morning papers’. Here one can jot down thoughts, ideas, plans, a description of last night’s dreams, or vent on an issue and get it all out. She suggests to the reader that writing three pages of handwritten script every day is one of the best practices to increase creativity levels.

I admit I haven’t always been faithful to the practice. Some days, there’s a change in how need to plan my morning. Other days I get immediately involved in something and I forget. Once in a while I don’t think I have time (because I turned off the alarm and suddenly it was 7:30!) And until a few months ago, I had dropped the practice completely for almost a year.

I am grateful that I was inspired to return to the daily writing. It does a number of things for me. First and foremost for me, writing sets a good tone for the day. Rather than pop into social media or the news, I pop into myself. I am present with the now. I write about what I am thinking. I write about my challenges. I write about what I love and what I hate. I write about what I would prefer for the future. Sometimes it is philosophical, sometimes spiritual and sometimes it’s a rant from a seven year old kid complaining that things aren’t going the way that he wants them to go. It’s all over the place. And that’s okay. I write what is and try to be non-judgmental about it all.

Second, journal writing helps me to bring things into perspective. Those unassailable problems of life suddenly deflate to their proper size when I write about them. What has been a tornado of thoughts in my head about what is happening around me suddenly calms down into a few sentences that I can review and realize, ‘This is all it really is?’ Suddenly the problem becomes manageable because I know what it actually is: I’ve given the problem definition and thereby a way to find a solution.

Third, morning papers allow me to explore. I’m able to explore new ideas and thoughts about how things work, about what happened yesterday and why I reacted as I did. Exploration may entice me look later for articles or videos on a subject. They give me permission to go deeper into a subject that, honestly, I know I won’t do if I don’t set aside the time.

Gratuitous doggie photo.

The 45 or 50 minutes that it takes usually flies by, but some mornings it is like pulling teeth to think about something and I end up by describing what the dogs are doing or what I need to buy at the grocery store. And that’s okay too. I have learned that I need to be faithful to the practice and that what I am writing doesn’t have to be perfect. I can be patient with myself as well. It very rare for me to even look back over old entries. I just need to get this stuff out and down on paper. And when I start writing the date at the top of the page, I never have any idea how it’s going to end when I finish that day’s entry.

As for the benefits of this morning writing? It allows me to start the day and choose the direction I want it to go in. If I start with some negative stuff, I can end it with some positive stuff. I always end with a statement about something for which I am grateful to have in my life. I have made some good insights into myself and life while writing. Not all earth shattering, but important to me and in the coming day.

Journal writing, creative or otherwise, may not be for everyone, but I still challenge you to take the time to do a bit more research on this subject before you discard it completely. There are many ways of working a journal and morning writing, everything from just jotting down points to full on grammar and punctuation perfect. Whatever works for you. After a short while, I know you will be glad you started.

Evolving Personality

You and I are shaped by our environment: the family we have, where we grew up, the people we hang around with, the job we chose or fell into. All of these things work, sometimes very subtly, to mold us into the persons we are today. The environment helped to shape our experiences and those experiences our helped to form our personality. And so here we are, very unique personalities. And there’s not much I can do to change that is there?

“If your environment is disorganized, so is your mind. Everything is energy. Your environment is constantly influencing you whether you’re aware of it or not.” Benjamin Hardy

In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy posits that if we change our environment, we can change our personality. While the current self-help trend focuses on changing our personalities to become more of who we want to be, Hardy tells us to focus on what in our immediate environment is preventing us from changing. If I want to become an organized person then I need organize my environment.  I want to become a student of life, then I have to organize my space so that it is conducive to that study. If I want to be a successful person then I need to hang out with successful people.

I’m don’t know who first said it, but the idea is that if you want to know who you really are, look carefully at the five people you are closest to. Change your friends and change your personality. It’s not a far stretch for me to see the results for this suggestion. When I first came into recovery I had few friends and the ones I did have were those who were as in need of recovery as I was. I had to get new friends. I needed to change my environment to find success in this new way of living.

men having their haircut

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If you don’t want a hair cut, stop hanging around the barbershop. Will power alone will eventually weaken. Strength will fade with time until it seems like a good idea to get into the chair and under the clippers. I had to change my environment: where I was hanging out, who I was hanging out with and what I was doing in order to have any success with sobriety. I am grateful that early on I learned that I didn’t have to be a martyr. I didn’t have to make it more difficult for myself. I didn’t have to test my new found way of life.

“Surround yourself with people who remind you more of your future than your past.” Dan Sullivan

When I first came into recovery I was told five things: Don’t consume. Go to meetings. Get a home group. Get a sponsor. Work the Twelve Steps of Recovery. All of these five things were instrumental in changing my environment. I was hanging around with people who were living what my future could be. The bar stool philosopher had to give way to the meeting room student if I was going to have any chance at this thing called sobriety.

I had some misgivings about leaving friends behind but I soon discovered that those who really were friends were glad that I was making this change. The backroom buddies only missed me when they saw me on the street and they suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen me for a while.

I am still working on changing my environment. For the most part right now it is the mental environment. I am changing how I think by focusing on what I am thinking about. I am reading and studying quality material rather than simply passing time with social media or the endless task of finding the perfect thing to watch on Netflix. With time the changes to the environment and therefore the changes to me are happening. I am a work in progress taking the next right step for the evolving me.