It’s film and television award show season, and NFL playoff season, and soon to be the winter Olympic season. Those times when people with big lives make big news. Special people. Accomplished people.
As a child, I was told I could be anything. And I believed it. I’d watch television and see Olympians or ballerinas or senators (yes, senators) do big things. And I never thought for one second that living a big life was beyond my reach.
But as my backend drifts wide around the corner of middle age and begins to pick up speed and zoom downhill toward old age, I realize that most opportunities for a big life are behind me. If they ever really existed at all. And it’s not because I’m a failure at becoming anything special that I ponder the following question, “Why is a big life considered more special or more fulfilled than a small life?”
Frumpy-guts middle-aged moms, editorialists and street corner preachers all lament the impact of social media on our culture. How young people seek fame by broadcasting over-the-top details of their lives. But is it truly fame people seek? Or do some simply want a pat on the back? To feel a sense of accomplishment? Do we paint a picture of a big life because small lives are so often treated as less valuable?
I recall hearing author, Abraham Verghese once say that his parents believed he could only grow up to become one of four things; a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a failure. Is this what we teach our children? That a good life, a successful life, can only be made up of big accomplishments and lofty goals, and that anything less is failure? I may be guilty of this. And parents out there who push your kiddos too hard in sports, academics or performing arts may be guilty of this too.
I’m not suggesting we tell our kids, “don’t try” or “go ahead and settle for mediocrity.” I’m simply wondering if we should demonstrate more appreciation for smaller lives. Do we dare tell our children it’s okay to grow up to be “average?” Is that even allowed anymore?
In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, author Wendy Mogel notes how the culture seems to label children as either gifted or learning disabled. Any middle ground, any room for average, is disappearing and parents clamor to boost their kiddos onto the high achievement train before it leaves the station and their offspring are doomed to live small lives.
Well, guess what? A life filled with average activities like sewing a button on a shirt, preparing a home-cooked meal, walking the dog through the park, reading books, volunteering at homeless shelters or working at a job where you most likely won’t discover a cure for cancer, may be a small life–But it can still be a great life, a blessed life, an earnest life most worthy of living to its fullest.