Extraordinary

Ex.traor.di.nar.y

Very unusual or remarkable, unusually great

Ex.tra

To a greater extent than usual.

Or.di.nar.y

What is commonplace or standard.

An evening stroll along Inner Harbor - Baltimore, MD
An evening stroll along Inner Harbor – Baltimore, MD

Life can be extra ordinary or life can be extraordinary. You choose.

Some folks desire an extra ordinary life; it is predictable, safe, known, routine. Others of us desire an extraordinary life; exciting, unpredictable, risky, varied. Personally, I cannot even begin to imagine wanting an ordinary life, let alone an extra ordinary life.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day when this thought occurred to me. Despite our differences, my mom and I get along quite well. We do have some very fundamental differences, our desire for an extraordinary life, and an extra ordinary life, being a prime example.

My mom has always ever wanted to have a “normal” life, ordinary, extra ordinary, even. To her, this meant two incomes, a tract home in a homogenous neighborhood, purchased brand new, of course. A pristine lawn in the front and back, traditional furnishings in all of the rooms, two very ordinary, though newer and exceedingly practical cars in the driveway, a cat, a dog, and the same, basic meal rotation week in and week out. If company comes, then, a standing rib roast, baked potatoes, green salad, green beans and the type of super delicious sourdough bread you can only buy in the San Francisco Bay Area. To me, the sourdough is the only extraordinary thing about her chosen life. My mom’s ordinary life also dictates that you work, for as long as possible with the same employer and you work full-time until you are eligible for social security. Then you retire and watch the news on television. And clean house.

I have rebelled against most of this for as long as I can remember. I have always lusted for an extraordinary life, and while I have my full-time job in a well-established career and my newish, practical car, the rest is definitely not very ordinary. I don’t watch the news. I keep a clean house, I don’t clean the house, and if I must, I hire a housekeeper. True, some of my extraordinary tendencies in life have wound me up in all kinds of predicaments, I have always learned so much, and have grown, extraordinarily, from those experiences. I have lived on the edge of a canyon overlooking a wild, river valley, at the end of a dirt road. I have lived in an urban center with populated sidewalks and a constant flow of cars speeding past day and night. I have visited small, mountain towns without electricity, having a population that could be counted on your fingers. I have visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City, where the mere thought of the magnitude of humanity and the amount of electricity required for even a minute is mind-boggling. I have spent nights in luxury, resort hotels with marble floors, exquisite linens and mahogany furniture. I have slept under the stars on a thin mat, on the dirt, in the middle of the wilderness, so remote that seeing another person in any number of days was almost shocking. I have been in cities where arming yourself with a weapon is illegal. I have been in rural areas where it is expected that you will arm yourself and know what to do if you need to protect yourself. I have visited the famed jewelry stores in New York City; Tiffany’s, Cartier, Harry Winston, full of gold and diamonds. I have owned old, abandoned gold mines with tunnels, great caverns and ore cart tracks. I have been to the Grand Canyon, hiked and down into it; it was seventy degrees at the top, a hundred and twenty degrees six miles down. I like to eat a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery in Central Park on a regular basis. None of these experiences, alone, are unique or extraordinary. The sum of them, though, has made my life unique and extraordinary.

My mom’s ideal life is like a La-Z-Boy recliner, mine is like a high-speed roller coaster. My mom’s ups and downs in life encompass about two feet of travel and a fairly consistent view, mine, a climb, free-fall, twists, turns, tunnels, inversion, spirals, loops. My mom has lived in the same house for forty-six years. I’ve moved five times in five years. She can’t understand what I’m after, I can’t understand what she’s after. But that’s okay, to each their own.

What am I after? Besides an extraordinary life. Experiences. I believe experiences will provide me with the wisdom, the knowledge, the perspective to have an extraordinary life.

I believe in building your life around your values, your goals and your desire to have an extraordinary life, or, if you choose, and extra ordinary life. I have spent the past few years carefully reflecting and identifying my values, my goals and my desires for life experiences. No doubt, I want the more extraordinary life than the extra ordinary life. I don’t mind change, I don’t mind upheaval, I don’t mind uncertainty, I don’t mine spontaneity, in fact, I crave it.

So, how does one build the life they desire? I think I know. Very carefully and very deliberately.

I have been accused by both my mother and my boyfriend of being “too driven”. I don’t sit still for long, and when I do, I put my time to good use, working towards my goals, in support of my values. Like, now, for example. I worked all day, went sightseeing, went out to dinner, took a walk along Inner Harbor in Baltimore and now, because I want to write, I am writing. There are two televisions in my hotel room and neither of them is on. When I am finished writing, I will read something fortifying and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, I will go explore Washington D.C. before catching my flight home. I could sleep in, as I am desperately short on sleep, but I have never seen Washington D.C, it is twenty five miles away, I have a “free” rental car with unlimited mileage and five hours to kill in the morning, if I leave here by 5:00 AM. So, maybe I am a little driven, but it ‘s just these types of experiences that help make my life more extraordinary. What’s extraordinary about sleeping in? I can do that next week, maybe, when I’m on vacation. Maybe. Probably not. I’ll be in Alaska.

My point is, building an extraordinary life isn’t going to come from doing the same thing you’ve always done. You have to identify what it is you want to see, want to do, want to experience, then seize it. You have to find the stones and place them one after the other to build the life you desire, whether it be extra ordinary or extraordinary. I think of the stones I use to build my extraordinary life more like paving stones on a garden pathway; I place one in the soil, identify the next, and place it in the soil just after the first. And so on, soon my path leads me in the direction I have chosen. I have chosen a meandering path. And I like it.

The building blocks of an extra ordinary life require, I think, even more, concerted and difficult labor. Stability and consistency require an incredibly strong foundation. A stable foundation, a sturdy, consistent, dependable lifestyle is going to require some very solid planning and construction; education, dedication of purpose to career, to financial planning and management of risks. Building an extra ordinary life, I would say, is much more like building a structure, vertical and tall. Some very solid, very strong stones are placed at the corners; values, goals, purpose, intent. On those cornerstones, more stones are carefully stacked on top, with a strong mortar in between to prevent them from tumbling down if things get momentarily unsteady, or shift gradually with the passage of time. With great deliberation, careful attention to detail, a sound blueprint and hard labor, your structure reaches the heights you desire. A sturdy building, a monument, is always an architectural feat, requiring a great deal of technical skill and expertise, it is drawn, it is engineered, blueprinted, a materials list is made. The materials are selected carefully and stockpiled, and only then is ground broken for the laying of the foundation. Then, for however long it takes, methodically, one stone then another, then another.

I have been traveling to New York City a few times a year for the past several years. Every time I approach Manhattan from the airport, I notice the progress of the buildings in place of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Every few months, visible progress has been made. I have photographs spanning all the years I have visited the city, documenting, clearly, the rise of this monument. The progress seems painstakingly slow, and breathtakingly rapid all at the same time. This is how an extra ordinary life is built.

An extraordinary life requires as much purpose, as much work, but follows a different plan. One paving stone is laid, and then another. The ground slopes, there are roots and rocks, trees and flowers growing in the path that must be built around. The path takes shape, following a spontaneous, haphazard plan, one that is adjusted after the placement of each stone. The ultimate destination may be planned, but the course of the path leading there may vary tremendously as progress to the ultimate point is made. With each stone laid, a new, fantastic wonder may be discovered that is worth observing, worth savoring, and worth altering the path around, rather than paving over.

No matter which type of extra ordinary/extraordinary life you strive to build, there has to be the overall goal; how many stories tall, what style or architecture or the destination to which the meandering garden path will lead. This is the goal that is identified and worked towards over the long term. This is the sum of the efforts, the sum of the plan, the finished product. Once built, of course, an addition may be in order, a new structure, a new path. That is the way of a fulfilling life.

To make progress towards the ultimate goal, architectural feat of your desire, some kind of progress needs to be made daily. The World Trade Center building is worked on day and night, day after day, year after year, and still, it is not complete. How long did it take to construct the pyramids? The Taj Mahal? Any great, architectural wonder? They did not rise from the ground in a day, it took a continual, sustained effort. How long did it take early explorers to create a navigable trail from the east to the west, one that families could follow towards a life on the new frontier? How long did it take to build the Transcontinental Railroad? The modern interstate highway system? So, too, must your days be, no matter which you choose, the structure or the pathway, daily toil must be made, a daily effort, a daily investment, some measurable progress needs to happen or the goal fails to take shape, falters, crumbles and is lost in ruins.

I lived in a suburban area, once, where a home was being constructed on an empty lot. Great progress was made, to a point, then all progress ceased. For years, the shell of the house stood empty and forgotten on the lot. Nature began to reclaim the site and, years later, when work finally resumed, there was far more work in rehabilitating what had been abandoned than there would have been had the effort just been seen to completion. A continual, sustained effort is far more effortless than an effort that is halted and restarted, this we call inertia, momentum, simple movement itself carries us forward, momentum is the impetus gained by a moving object. Once inertia or momentum is halted, it takes a great deal of effort to resume movement again. This explains, quite simply, why you get better mileage on the highway than you do in the city where you are continually stopping at stop lights, losing momentum, completely, only to have to expend considerable energy to move forward again. And, so is anything we strive to accomplish in life.

So whether you choose to lay the foundation for your great structure, your extra ordinary life, or you choose to begin to cut the path to lay the first paver in your meandering, garden walkway, you must begin with your ultimate vision in mind. What will the structure look like, make the sketch, design the plan, secure the materials, lay the cornerstones, the foundation, and one solid brick after the next. Take your pick and ready the dirt for the first paver, but know where, ultimately the path will end up and let the journey take shape around the wonders you discover in the process. Identify your goals, know your values and begin gathering the experiences you’ll require for your desired life, be it extra ordinary or extraordinary. It is yours to build, one stone at a time.

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