Do you desire fulfillment? Achieve the ordinary, says the author

By Elissa Strauss, CNN

The pressure to stand out hurts us all.

Even though we don’t really want to this job, this body that car, this trip or this cooking, we know the attention paid to those who have it – on Instagram, TikTok and even in real life. And we might feel bad that we don’t have them ourselves. Even during a global pandemic.

No matter what structural inequalities make such acquisitions impossible for so many people or how questionable the value system behind such desires may be, we always yearn for more.

So often we want what we thought we should want, and this prevents us from understanding what we are in fact want when free from outside influences.

While this pressure does not discriminate on the basis of age, it is particularly onerous for adolescents and young adults. When you’re supposed to figure it all out and have the best years of your life, the internal voice that reminds you that you’re not enough tends to get very loud.

Rainesford Stauffer encourages young adults to rethink their definitions of “enough” in his new book, “An Ordinary Age: Finding Your Way in a World That Expects Exceptional.” CNN told Stauffer how to embrace the ordinary, why it’s so important, and the external factors that can get in the way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity:

CNN: In your book, you encourage young adults to embrace the ordinary. What do you mean by “ordinary?” “

Rainesford Stauffer: “Ordinary” and “extraordinary” will be different for everyone. It’s about how we feel. Ordinary is what makes you feel fulfilled and comforts you rather than what you think you are supposed to chase or push around for.

It’s about feeling good enough about yourself rather than living in that constant state of self-optimization or self-improvement.

CNN: What’s your regular?

Stauffer: It’s the actions that give substance to my life, like going for walks, long phone conversations with friends, and baking.

CNN: How do you find its ordinary?

Stauffer: You have to do the heavy lifting of sitting down with yourself and realizing that you are enough as you are, instead of looking outward and learning what you are supposed to hunt and understand.

CNN: How did the ordinary get out of fashion?

Stauffer: The ordinary and the downturn do not correspond to a society rooted in individualism and competition, which our society increasingly is. Everyone is under pressure to be better than anyone. This “better life” pressure impacts everyone, but the circumstances in which it impacts them may vary depending on their economic and social status.

I have spoken to dozens of people in the United States, and individualism has appeared in almost every conversation I have had with young adults. It wasn’t just their desire to stand out, but that feeling that they had to be alone. They felt guilty for feeling alone and believed that they should be able to do everything on their own, which is more difficult than ever.

I have spoken to so many young people who are struggling to have their basic needs met, which in no way applies to young people. They are faced with a lack of a living wage, a lack of physical and mental health care, the cost of higher education and multiple jobs while still in school and it is never enough.

CNN: What’s lost now that being ordinary is so difficult, whether for personal, structural, or both?

Stauffer: The idea of ​​just being is really important. We have so few opportunities to just be, and it starts when we are little children and continues throughout our lives. We’re always supposed to self-optimize, improve ourselves, always think about what we’ll do next.

Growth is an important part of life, but so is valuing the people we are right now. It came loud and clear with the young adults I spoke to. They want the space to make a mistake, and question themselves, and just breathe out.

CNN: And what do you say to those who say they want to dream big?

Stauffer: Banality doesn’t have to stand in the way of having big dreams and a vision for your life. Considering the value of yourself or yourself “good enough” can help us reorient ourselves towards the real needs and wants that we have. We just need the space and the resources to make it happen.

CNN: Is it a very US-centric issue or have you noticed it across cultures?

Stauffer: I interviewed people who had lived in other places or who didn’t speak from an Americanized point of view. What I’ve heard is that capitalism’s grip on the United States, in particular, and Western cultures’ obsession with personal and individual success, are important factors.

Sometimes it seems like it turns into a hyper-autonomy that tells us that we have to do it on our own and that achieving some form of greatness is the only way to make sense.

CNN: How do you avoid making “being sufficient” another search for something better? What is a simple practice to help us relax and be, rather than doing?

Stauffer: I think the tricky part is that there is no one answer.

First of all, when I brought the book back, I heard a lot of people say that they wanted us to talk about this more openly. If we can embrace our friends and communities enough, then maybe we can extend that same grace and patience to ourselves. But that cannot happen if we think that only we are feeling it.

Second, I found that delving into the big questions was clarifying: what makes me feel safe, happy, or fulfilled, rather than what is supposed to do? What is making sense to me right now? These questions seem superficial, but when you really dig into them they can be incredibly revealing. It is about extending compassion to yourself.

CNN: Is there any research to support that we can be more satisfied as people if we don’t pursue an impossible dream?

Stauffer: I want to highlight the work of Dr. Erin A. Cech on the “principle of passion”, which I quote in the book. The principle of passion is explained as self-expression being a guiding force in career decisions. That’s what we’re all supposed to aspire to, right?

But some research from Cech points out that the passion principle can neutralize criticisms of our work structure, meaning we might be less inclined to ask for more free time or shorter work hours because we view it as “Pursue our passion” even if the conditions are bad.

Another research that comes to mind is the one I cite in the book on young adults and recreation. Often times, we see “finding ourselves” or discovering our path as something related to work and big dreams, or goals that we want to accomplish.

But this research suggests that hobbies – defined here as free time and the activities you do for fun – can help us navigate the development of identity, new experiences and relationships, and commitments to things we find. fun or fulfilling. So, it’s not just those wildest dreams that help us grow taller. These are also the small experiences.

CNN: Could the pandemic help accelerate our embrace of the ordinary?

Stauffer: With the pandemic, it was interesting to see where we turned and where we turned when so many of the circumstances in our lives were turned upside down and structural inequalities exposed. In the midst of this struggle to meet basic needs, with so much chaos, heartache, loss and trauma, most of us have not achieved the shiny things called “ambitious”.

We have reached the ordinary. We reached out to families and communities. We took care of each other.

CNN: In your book, you encourage young adults to remember relationships in their process of self-discovery.

Stauffer: There is something so underestimated about growing up within ourselves in relation to the people and communities we care about. There is this idea that I have to understand everything about myself first, and I’m going to get to know myself deeply and lock it in, and only then can I really open up to others, that this either friendship, a larger community, a romantic relationship, or a combination of these things.

Personal agency is important for development, but somehow we’ve forgotten the other side of it. Needing people and needing support are not character flaws. These are deeply ordinary things that move us forward and, in many cases, reveal new parts of ourselves that help us become who we are.

CNN: How do you recommend parents of teens and teens to expose their children to the wealth of being ordinary?

Stauffer: Not all questions you ask a teenager or pre-teen have to be forward-looking. It’s fun to hear about their goals and dreams, but it can also make them feel like their worth is entirely in their future selves.

Don’t hesitate to ask them what excites them, curiosity and stress. We all want to be seen or celebrated for who we are right now.

About Karren Campbell

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