You can have anything you want
This is the land of the free
I got everything I asked for
On the day I turned sixteen
I got my old man’s heart
And a broke down Chevrolet
– Ryan Cutwell the Last American
“Dad, can you fix the air conditioner in my car?”
Normally such an appeal from one of my grown kids would readily summon my latent aptitude in auto mechanics, but climate control systems represent an arcane, bewildering world to me. So, to keep my dignity intact (and with Saturday nearlng a close), I quietly called a car repair shop down the street, hoping they would still be open. This place is a relic of the ‘60s — not so much a converted gas station as an abandoned one; the waiting room is littered with old car magazines, and the shop itself looks like it never recovered from a tornado.
“I’m just closing,” answered Dale, in a voice that was somewhere between a groaning wheel bearing and an engine backfire. “but what zit doin?”
I explained that the blower fan was working intermittently (a mechanic’s worst nightmare).
“Reach under the passenger side dash and whack the black plastic cover with the heel of your hand,” he offered. “That’ll take care of it until she has time to replace the blower.”
Sure enough, one determined whack later, the blower was making wind again.
The world is full of people like Dale. They work in factories, in stockrooms, they swing hammers and wrench pipes, they re-wire houses, drain drains, rivet rivets, muck horse stalls, raise cattle, harvest crops, cook food, and pour asphalt. They also, though, write code and organize files, erase chalk from blackboards in schools, lace up combat boots, and do CPR in the back of screaming ambulances.
I have no idea if they are living their dreams. But they are doing life, and moreover, they give many others the freedom to live theirs.
Ordinary, average people.
Some scorn that notion, instead imploring people to boldly chase their dreams, become something bigger, make life this glorious adventure, trample over real or imagined barriers in your life and finally rid yourself of your pedestrian, constrained existence.
But for many, it is simply not true. And the fantasy that it should be is eating up a lot of good, average people. There are boundless reasons why people do the work they do. Maybe they started in a hole not of their own digging, maybe they just did not have the jack to purchase a chance on the next rung on the ladder, Maybe they tried and just got blocked, maybe they simply could not shoulder the risk because they had mouths to feed.
Or maybe, just maybe, they simply love what they do, or love that they can take care of the people who count on them. And the work they do — work itself, in its essence — is noble. We celebrate the extraordinary people in life, but often they are able to be that because some very ordinary people are doing other things for them. This fallacy (actually something of a cruelty) that we are less of a person because we don’t strive to be something extraordinary, beyond what we do or are today just might be diminishing people as much as it inspires others.
Most people are average. After all, that’s what average means.
Being average need not be associated with laxity or complacency; there is plenty of growth to be had in character, depth, wisdom, but it can be done wherever you are or choose to be rooted. Life, for some, can present an abundance of challenge and difficulty right at their feet.
I was in a business roundtable a few years ago where one of the members remarked that he was perfectly comfortable with the size of his financial services practice. Others in the group simply could not accept that — you need a growth strategy, how can you be content with what you have? Well, because he was, and he was quite good at what he did.
One thing about being ordinary, being average, doing the same work over and over again, time after time, year after year…
You can get really good at it. Mastery is the progeny of repetition. And time. And patience.
And when we talk about growth, maybe simply gaining mastery over — and pride in — the work you do ought to be a pretty good way to live. And serve others. And matter.