I finally ran a half-marathon in the spring.
I toyed with the idea of running one for a long time before I actually signed up. The thing that kept me from signing up wasn’t the fear that I wouldn’t finish; I knew that I could do it if I was disciplined about sticking to my training plan. The reason I didn’t want to sign up was that I knew my time wouldn’t be all that impressive. A part of me thought, if I’m not going to do that great, then what’s the point?
I knew I wouldn’t be exceptional.
I could be mediocre; maybe I could even be pretty good. But there was no way I would win, or place, or be impressive compared to the real runners who had trained much longer than I had, who were experienced, and had actual talent.
It also took me a very long time to start a blog, because there are so many great blogs out there already, and I knew mine would never become one of them. Maybe a few of my friends would enjoy reading it, but would that really matter?
For nearly a year I had a blank canvas in my closet, and I never painted anything on it because I couldn’t think of a really good idea. I could have thought of an okay idea, and made a mediocre painting, but if it wasn’t going to be amazing, I didn’t want to do it at all. And so, when I finally took the canvas out of the closet, it had grown mold on the back and I had to throw it away.
How many other things have I delayed doing, or not done at all, because I knew I wouldn’t be exceptional?
And I know I’m not the only one.
A few years ago, a college classmate told me of her dream to go to medical school. But she only wanted to go to one medical school: Harvard. She told me that if she didn’t get into Harvard Medical School, then she didn’t want to be a doctor at all.
Another friend confessed her fear of never doing anything that changed the world. She didn’t yet know what she wanted to do with her life, but in her mind, it had to be something really impactful, something that would make a difference in many people’s lives.
I think that for many people my age, the fear of not being exceptional bleeds through everything we do, preventing us from enjoying things we do, and doing things we enjoy.
Why do we feel like we must be so important and impressive? Why can’t we just do things for fun, choose our majors, colleges, and careers based on our skills and interests, without worrying about how great or not great we’ll seem to anyone who is watching?
Maybe we haven’t really learned how to live in the today’s world, where so many people are held up as “exceptional,” and we feel pressure to be among them.
In today’s world, there seems to be this idea that anyone can become famous. Anyone can be the next American Idol, the next Biggest Loser, get featured on the Instagram blog or become “Vine-famous.” It’s when people re-tweet, re-pin, like, comment, follow us, etc., but there’s still value in sharing things when we don’t receive recognition.
In today’s world, we can travel anywhere, see how people live who are worse off than we are, and try to “fix” it. It’s wonderful that we can see how others live and have compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves, but we should care for others out of love, not out of a compulsion to work to “change people’s lives.”
In today’s world, when people who influence the lives of many are held on a pedestal, it can make our own influence feel too small. I remember watching a documentary about Steve Jobs, and feeling that my life was somehow less important, because I’ll never make a product that “changes the world.”
But when did the idea that anyone can change the world become everyone should change the world?
I think in our self-presenting, personality-centered, image-is-everything culture, it’s easy to get a warped idea of what’s truly valuable.
I have seen myself believing that these things are extremely valuable and ought to be my aims:
- Be exceptional in everything you do.
- Impact as many people’s lives as possible.
- Be known and liked by as many people as possible.
None of those things are inherently bad, but these ideas were taught to me by the culture, and did not come from the mouth of Jesus.
When Jesus was asked what the most important principles to follow were, he answered with the following (in Matthew 22:37-38):
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
When we follow the words of Christ instead of the words of the culture, we can spend our time on things that are truly valuable.
We don’t need to worry about whether our accomplishments are exceptional or mediocre, so long as we are loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and minds. We also don’t need to worry about how many people we are impacting, so long as we are loving others with the same love and mercy that Jesus showed. It is, in fact, very good for us to spend our time impacting others, but we should not believe this to be more important than our love for God.
So let’s love the Lord, love those around us, and live lives that may end up looking mediocre to most people. But as we go out in love and share Christ’s love with others, we will make an impact that lasts into eternity, and that is truly exceptional.
Photo Credit: Viewminder