Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Promise Yourself You’ll Never Be Ordinary – Deborah Tan

summer sistersThis morning, at breakfast, Vanessa and I got to talking about this book we both read a number of years back. It was Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters. Admittedly, I didn’t have much of an impression of it except how it was such an accurate depiction of the way friendship blossoms, grows, and then eventually fritters away into a filament of memory.

“When the two girls in the book made a promise to never be ordinary,” Vanessa said, “I made that promise along with them too.”

“Wow!” I nodded in absolute agreement. “Yes, I think it is a promise everyone should make to themselves.”

If you were growing up in the 80s, you will remember this local TV series about the people working in a kopitiam. The theme song went something like how it’s great to be a “xiao ren wu” (a nobody) because being ordinary is a kind of blessing (yin wei ping fan ye shi yi zhong xing fu).

It was a very popular song and one that we were taught to sing in school. I remember my Chinese teacher telling us how this song presented such an important lesson in life because not all of us can be VIPs, and when we find ourselves envying the lives of the rich and famous, we just need to bear in mind that they have their own problems and being “ordinary people” meant we were “free” of these worries.

I hated the song and, I hated how I was being told to settle for ordinary. I remember singing it and feeling bile flooding my mouth. Every time we were asked to sing this song, something inside me would go, “WHY DO I HAVE TO BE A ‘XIAO REN WU’, A NOBODY?” I promised myself that I would grow up to be different, to be spectacular, and to make a difference. I promised myself I would not just be another face in the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I want to be Paris Hilton or a movie star. What I want to be is to be someone known for being good at what she does, publicly acknowledged for her good work and for being someone who inspires others. I don’t want fame just for the sake of it. I don’t want to grace gala events wearing designer gowns, I don’t want to have the paparazzi shove their cameras in my face when I head to 7-Eleven for a carton of juice.

What I want is to not die without having lived at all.

Have you lived at all?

I believe so many of us are wasting our lives away by just going about each day as if it’s not something to treasure. We behave as if we’ve got LOADS of time on Earth and we never think about how every day lived unspectacularly is a day wasted, 24 hours you can never get back.

While it’s true the more “important” you become, the more problems you have, but I rather my life be filled with lots of problems and worries than to have it just go by, where the only highlight of my day is being able to nab a seat on the MRT. I rather suffer, worry, feel pain, than to be numbed by the mundane. Because then when real happiness happens, I can feel it all the more strongly.

If Life is just about existing in a middle-ground, in a dimension that neither troubles you nor challenges you, what is the point of us being the “creature” made in “God’s image”, the mammal capable of thought and higher thinking? What is the point of Life if we are just content with being so-so?

Same as Paul, I don't do ordinary.

Same as Paul, I don’t do ordinary.

How, you ask, can we embark on a life less ordinary?

I do not have a good answer that applies to all. But here is a set of rules that I go by myself:

1. Am I living a life worthy of being written into a bestselling book or made into a good movie?We are each defined by the comings and goings of our lives. True, not every day is a movie-moment, but try your best to make many moments in time. Do something kind to a random stranger, be generous to the charity, stop letting the mundane bother you and invest your energies into growing a passion or a hobby that has nothing to do with work.

2. Am i concerned with people liking me? 
Every worthy protagonist has his/her fair share of antagonists. Every hero has his Kryptonite. I don’t like playing nice because I feel it “buries” my true character. If I feel strongly about something, I make my point. If I feel someone does not deserve my love/friendship/sympathy, I have no qualms about being politically incorrect in how I feel about him/her. Your enemies can cry when they see what a colourful life you have.

3. Am I getting my fingers in too many things?
Yeah … so what if everyone calls you a kay-poh (busybody)? So what if everyone says you are spreading yourself too thin? The more things you do, the more varied your experiences, the more interesting the story of your life. If I’m not uncomfortable, I know I’m having the worst time of my life. The best stories are always about proving people wrong and I live for the moment when I see my detractors’ faces go, “Oh.”

Promise me now. Promise me you will never be ordinary.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits and would choose Lucy Liu to play her in the movie of her life. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.