September 5, 2009

A not-so-ordinary day: reframing life as we know it

Let’s face it. We all have days when life seems kind of…well, ordinary. Days when no one notices you and you don’t notice much either. You wake up, go to work, eat and sleep, but nothing amazing happens. No Pulitzers. No comments to your blog posts or Tweets. No praise. No blame. No reaction. You’re just here living your life, not hating it, but not loving it either. Not even close to suicidal or despondent, but wondering if anything you do really matters all that much.

One day last week, I was purging a file cabinet and ran across a notebook of messages I had saved from a job I left in 1999. I had stuffed the entire binder with hard copies of the e-mails people sent me while I worked there. Some were heartfelt expressions of sorrow upon hearing my plans to leave the company. Others complimented me on a contribution or the inspiration I offered during and after a rough reorganization. I read them one by one and realized that I do matter. All the ordinary things I had done day by day had really amounted to something, not just professionally, but personally. People had noticed. I must have known that the notebook would one day provide inspiration and remind me of my own significance, and most of all, of their significance in my life.

At that moment, I decided to pay more attention to people in my life, naming each day for meaningful things that happen (READ: extraordinary) on an otherwise ordinary day. It started with Cute-Little-Girl-Day on Wednesday, aptly named for three cute little girls under the age of seven who approached the library reference desk where I work.

The first was a bespectacled little girl in a floor-length dress, carrying a tote over one shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said in a disarmingly grown-up voice. “Could you tell me where the Molly books are?” The pattern continued with another little girl, also wearing glasses--same height, and probably the same age as the American Girl fan that preceded her. She was on a quest for “pig books”. The final lassie in the trio was a preschooler who wanted to know where the suckers were. Her grandmother shrugged, speculating that her darling companion apparently associates the library with candy because one of my colleagues gave her a sucker on her last visit.

These weren’t the only connections I made that day. Nevertheless, I found a bit of wonder in crossing paths with not just one, but three charming little girls in a single day. They’d each given me a reason to smile and even connect with my former self. Remember how you were as a kid?

Now, see what I mean? If each of us named our days by the extraordinary people and events in them, I’ll bet we’d find many extraordinary things to wonder about on an otherwise ordinary day. The act of noticing our blessings and small little wonders helps us understand how to lead a significant life, with or without fanfare. Now, I’d better sign off before this becomes “Spent-Too-Much-Time-Blogging-And-Got-Nothing-Else-Done-Day”.

Suggested Reading: The Little Book on Meaning: Why We Crave It, How We Create It, by Laura Berman Fortgang.

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