Cousin S and I often exchange notes on new books, upcoming writers or style of writing. We both read different kinds of books but some of the choices do overlap. She is an avid reader. I used to be one but now end up reading books recommended by her or by one of the trusted Internet sources. Our recent discussion was on Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words. She was ruing not learning to read or write in her mother tongue and focused more on English. We were in awe at this Pulitzer winning author's dedication of learning a new language and mastering it enough to be able to write a book.
Later that night, analyzing some sales projections in a spreadsheet, I pondered upon my abilities. I realized though I have certain skills, they are all generic. I do not have a core competency. I do not have unique aptitude. I am not exceptional. Honestly, most people in their right minds would wish to be good at something, to excel and be recognized (except may be Elena Ferrante).
This thought lingered on for few days. I could cook, clean, read, write, walk, run, juggle home and business, work in different capacities handling marketing or procurement or even man a forklift if the need arose but I am not a Pulitzer winner or fastest women on earth or an Emmy winner. I am just a face in the crowd. I many times asked myself times if I should feel depressed that I am not exceptional. I have nothing great to offer to the world. It was not a great feeling rather a confusing one.
Around the same time my friend JJ informed that she has been detected with cancer. It was quite a serious jolt. Our brain is not wired to accept such news however common it might be. It is fairly acceptable to us if someone old contracts some serious illness because we can attribute it to age. How do you reconcile when it is your family and someone who is relatively young? Medical science has made great strides but the C word is still scary and treatment is prolonged and painful.
I was amazed at her frame of mind and attitude towards tackling this life changing matter. She says that she is going ahead with an aggressive treatment plan and has absolute faith in her amazing medical team. I reflected back to my cerebration on "being exceptional." My friend was not bothered about being exceptional. She was looking forward to a healthier life. Being exceptional is a gift which we all can aspire for but may not be blessed with. I gained some serious perspective that day.
Many of us do extremely repetitive tasks for our entire life. From a shallow perspective that work might seem monotonous and uninspiring. What is so great about drawing blood from patients for running lab tests? Being a stay-at-home mom; who cooks, cleans and irons might seem dull. A teacher might be teaching the same course of Geometry for years. It is not that the triangles and rectangles will grow an extra side.
A crane operator in a dockyard is loading and unloading the same containers from ships. The database manager sitting in a chilled air-conditioned room in some remote server farm in Nebraska might be the reason why some of us are able to do really cool data analytic work. The courier person who delivers the packages in offices is often invisible. The nurse who sponges terminal ill patients and changes their sheets is not doing something extraordinary. The cashiers who ring in your purchases or the bookkeepers who maintain accounts; all do repetitive tasks.
photo credit: Basic education programs build skills for the future in Rwanda via photopin (license)
Imagine a life without all that? Suppose if the garbage truck driver is not doing his job or there are no firemen in the neighborhood.
The Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi in one university convocation speech had a reflective piece of advice for the graduating students. He said that all the students who are graduating with flying colors that day owe it to hordes of people in their life and they are not just family members or friends. They are everyone around who has been providing some service or the other; paid or otherwise. All do repetitive work but that is what keeps the cogs of the wheel of life churning. All of us may not become exceptional like Jhumpa Lahiri, Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic or Stephen Hawking because that requires tremendous dedication, hard-work, opportunities and destiny. But the work that we do is also not trivial. Though we may be doing mundane stuff let us remember that our work is important, we are important.
Love yourself, love your work, love who you are. There is always the possibility of becoming exceptional if you continue to do your routine work with slight improvements daily and have the courage to step up knowing that you are enough, the way you are. Hang in there and enjoy freedom of life the way it is. Revel in life's blessings cause there are many and live an exceptional life.