Once you define the language of live ordinary well, you must determine how you practice that idea. To live ordinary well in the tangible rhythms in family life looks different for each family depending on personality make-ups, context, driving principles and the overall mission and goals; however, it is a life that you can experience, and that begins with a perspective change.
Priorities, with a solid framework of what those actually are (and are not), become essential. Not everything in your life deserves the same attention, nor is it all equal in value or level of importance. Priorities help you define what is personally important and differentiate it from what culture or dominant society says is important. Your beliefs, interests, and values should define your practices and rhythms, rather than allow culture to do it. You need to be honest with yourself about your wants and needs, and the cultural norms that you accept as being necessary to live a valuable life, and then you need the guts to leave some of those things behind and live differently.
Here's an example. The other day, in a conversation with a friend, we were talking about reimagining life in a way that conflicts with cultural norms but falls closer to our personal values for life, how we are willing to do the hard work, to swim upstream if you will, so that ultimately, we live the life we want to live. After hearing all of our ideas, plans, and hopes, all our friend could say was, "I wish I could do that. One day maybe." The absolute irony behind her statement is that she has more saved than we do, and regularly earns more as well. So what gives? The reality is that at her deepest level, our friend allows what she truly wants from life to be overshadowed by what she subconsciously assumes to be essential for life. In other words, she chose a lifestyle that demands her attention (read: work) to maintain it. All the luxurious necessities of the American life determine her very existence. And while those choices are not inherently wrong, they are often, as in this case, ignored and even invisible because of how normal they appear. Furthermore, the energy required to imagine a new life destiny often seems beyond the resources many of us have at middle age, particularly because life already functions at a nice, steady rate, and that rate doesn’t leave time to change pace and reimagine a new kind of ordinary.
Let's be frank - a new ordinary begins with living smaller, an idea that goes against the prominent cultural message of our day that everything we do contributes to a bigger life. But to what end? (That question alone has the potential to change the trajectory of your life, but that's for another day.) While we may want the nice house with two-car garage (and the cars to fill it), in the manicured suburban neighborhood that perpetuates illusions of safety and security, we don’t need these to live. Our thoughts on what is sufficient are long lost and have been overwhelmed by a theory of abundance that muddles our notions of need. The difference between needs and wants is vast, and while there is nothing essentially wrong with having what you want, it is necessary to admit that by having said items, they also have you. These things dictate the hours you need to work, the amount you need to earn, and the time they require for maintenance. All that is fine, however, time is a zero-sum reality, and these things are all part of that equation. In one of my favorite movies, Fight Club, the main character Tyler Durden says that “the things you own end up owning you.” While his statement is often taken more derogatorily than it is intended, the simple fact remains that the things we own or desire dictate what we have to do to own those things. It's simple math, and in it is a real question that we have to ask and answer - what are the things and goals in this world that are worthy of dictating how we spend our time and resources? If we don't think this through, then we will fall into the typical undercurrent of culture. Sometimes we move so fast that we forget to even ask these questions; we just assume them as a way of life. They are deeply ingrained into our national and cultural hard drive; we treat life like a pre-assigned assembly line, and we thoughtlessly assume our position on the line. And while that experience may very well be what you want, the truth is that most of us have never been creative or daring enough to actually challenge the cultural assumptions around us.
Over the course of the next year (or so), we will become more silent on our blog as we live into discovering, of a new kind of ordinary. Eventually we will share some of the hard and not-so-hard choices we’ve made up to that point, as well as the ones that we have yet to encounter (once we reemerge). Some of these choices will be quite challenging to uphold when life doesn't look exactly as we want it, and we're surrounded by others who wholeheartedly buy into the standard American dream. But in the end, so far, the tough choices have been worth the emotional cost. We do not share these choices because we think they should become your choices, but rather, want you to consider them if a new kind of ordinary is something you want. The choices we make are quite practical - from how we make purchases, to how we prepare and eat food, to how our kids are educated - and come from three distinct sources. They are:
The conviction that we needed to un-busy ourselves and slow down
The book of Ecclesiastes, which served as Pandora’s Box, because once we opened it, life has not been the same
The question "To what end?," when upon its utterance, we had to decide why and to what we were giving our lives
As always, we would love to know what you think, hear about the changes you make, and learn how you are breaking away from traditional living, and beginning to live ordinary well. For now, Matthew will be working on another online project with a friend, called, Second Half Stories. If you would like to follow those, please click HERE.