I’ve been slowly reading a book called, “The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary.” It’s by psychologist Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, and, as the book’s subtitle notes, it’s all about “finding happiness right where you are.”
Easy enough, right?
Siegel introduces a concept that I think is as visually memorable as it is spiritually useful: the rock star’s dilemma. We all have images in our mind of a stereotypical rock star, right? All the proverbial sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But of course, no one starts out living like that. Rock stars, Siegel reminds us, often start out as regular folks living with modest means. But then – maybe overnight – they soar to a previously unimagined social status.
“Suddenly they become rich, everybody thinks they’re wonderful, and thousands of adoring fans will do anything just to get a little of their attention,” Siegel writes. It’s invigorating – at least, for a little while. Then, they begin to grow accustomed to their new life: “just another gourmet meal, private jet, fancy hotel, adoring crowd,” Siegel writes.
What’s worse, a new life – a new social status – brings with it a new realm of comparisons. “It’s not just that we become accustomed to our new level of success,” Siegel notes. “We develop new standards.”
The goal posts are always being moved just a little further downfield – and we’re the ones both doing the moving and trying to score. Whether you’re a pop icon or just a guy sending out weekly email reflections, there’s always the temptation to judge your success against the apparent success of someone else. And the problem is, there’s always going to be a gap. We can’t be the best at everything all the time forever. On a good day, we might see that as an invitation to grow; on a bad day, we’re tempted to think we’ll never be good enough.
In both scenarios, we refuse to let ourselves simply be, to rest in our present selves and rejoice in who we are in this moment.
Obviously, the “rock star’s dilemma” is not limited to rock stars. This is a phenomenon we all experience each and every day. And often, it stems from a place of goodness. For the rock star, it’s the cultivation of their talent for music – that’s a good thing! But we have to be careful, mindful. Are we in it only to get to the next level, whatever that might be? We work and strive and try and push ourselves only to find that, after clearing one hurdle, there are still a bazillion more.
Well, I better get going, we say to ourselves. Don’t want to fall behind.
I wonder if, as we continue our journey in Lent, part of our Lenten fast might be setting aside the desire to advance in and through our individual gifts. Instead, can we go to God in a prayer of gratitude? Can we be mindful of who God has created us to be in this moment, and consider how our unique giftedness – now, without comparison – is in itself a reflection of our God who delights in all that we are?
What strikes me as most dangerous in the rock star’s dilemma is the temptation to grow accustomed to the good things we enjoy in life. We get tired, bored; we begin looking elsewhere for something that might inspire or distract. We don’t have to be flying on a private jet to relate to this temptation.
The antidote, I think, is developing a disposition of curiosity in this very moment. How is God present here, now, in the seemingly mundane? How is God inviting me to something more here, now, even in the routine of my daily life?
Curiosity and gratitude. Let’s be curious about who we are becoming in this moment and what the present moment – ordinary as it might feel – might be inviting us into. Let’s give thanks for whatever that is, trusting in our generous God of surprises.
Because God doesn’t set new standards. God delights in who we are in this moment while also gently drawing us deeper into God’s dream for who we will become. No comparisons, just delight. And in that delight, we can find rest.
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Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian.