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Walking out of stride

Photo of Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult in About a Boy from and Universal Pictures.
BADLY DRAWN BOY "Walking Out Of Stride"

You and me we could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride

You and me could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride
Take 1,2,3 then 4 or 5
People talking keeps us alive

You and me could never hide
Too busy walking out of stride
Take 1,2,3 then 4 or 5
People talking keeps us alive

What does it mean to you: walking out of stride?

Does it mean at cross-purposes with yourself, or is it more of a cross-purposes with the norm, with general expectations? Is it a light issue or a deep one? Do you embrace walking out of stride? Endeavor to stand out? Or are you more the type of person who does your best to keep pace, remain part of the anonymous crowd?

It's said that the desire to stand out from the crowd is innate. When I researched this, I found just as much written about the other side of the coin: the fear of standing out is innate.

I thought about this for a while and it really is two sides of the same coin in my non-PhD in any social science whatsoever mind.

Does standing out equal extraordinary? Or is it just a flash of attention?

Is that what we really desire: attention, or is it something more significant?

I think that we all really desire something more significant, but settle for attention. Like a snack cake, though, it provides a momentary delight but isn't fulfilling in the long-term. That's because I think many of us want to be extraordinary, because then we'll be valued---and at heart, I think that's what we really desire.

It seems like a lot of us feel out of stride with this sense of being valued, and I wondered why that is. Is it truly that culturally we are out of stride with valuing the ordinary?

The valued people, it seems, stand out from the crowd, and are extraordinary, so it's natural to think that's the path to follow.

I believe that we are conditioned to expect that we will each stand out from the crowd in some way. It's reinforced for us that we should---that each one of us personally has the potential to stand out.

Then some percentage of us seek that while the other percentage endeavors to hide from it---and yet, either way, it's all about thinking that we have the potential to stand out.

Yet, so few of us ever really do stand out, and those who do stand out, rarely do so for a prolonged period or in a extremely significant way.

Our attention, as always, is focused on the masses, on the big time---our name in lights somewhere.

It's possibly all a desire for meaning, for reason, for significance---why do we have life, if not to achieve something? Then, of course, our culture is so attached to the idea that only Grand is a true achievement. We watch, riveted, as people do things that seem extraordinary to us, even if only because it is outside our own experience or perceived capability.

Have we ever valued the ordinary or the middle?

I've been thinking about this a lot, as a person and a parent.

I spent my life up to this point thinking that each of us had a gift, something that made us extraordinary, and somehow, in my mind this translated to standing out, receiving acclaim. I believed the cliche that we all get fifteen minutes of fame. Fame is huge, and it often goes along with fortune.

With such an ingrained cultural notion forming my mind and principles, and a father who was typical of the time and who believed the best way to make me my personal best was to remind me how much more I could and should be, how much further I had to go, how where I was simply wasn't quite good enough...I've been struggling with the middle.

I've felt very out of stride recently.

What is it, exactly, that I'm supposed to be striving for here, and when do I know I've done as much as I can?

I've gotten a bit high and mighty and snappish about the issue.

My husband was assuring our oldest daughter the other day that she could be anything she wanted to be.

"Pssst, pssssst," I hissed at him, gesturing like a crazy woman, "Come here!"

"What?" he asked.

"You can't tell her that!"

"What? Why not?"

"Because it's not true!"


"It's. not. true. None of us can be anything we want to be. I can't, you can't, she can't. We have to wait to find our gifts, our thing. Even after we find it, we might still just be average. It's good to try---you know, to find your thing, and then to try your best at it---but we're not all made equal or extraordinary. We don't all have the same aptitude. I just don't...I don't want to set her up that way. Then one day she'll be nearly 40 and wondering how to adjust her expectations from success to just getting by, and how to keep from being broken-heartedly disappointed and geez louise just...I want to try to keep her therapy bills lower. I want her to be okay with just being herself. Even if that is just average."

My husband looked at me pityingly. He does that when he thinks I've lost my mind. So...once or so a day?

It's true, though, isn't it? Not that I've lost my mind but that perhaps I've found it. The odds of any of us shooting to the top are pretty slim.

I'm not even sure that all this Olympic parenting does us any favors, either.

It's possible we are preparing our children for average and ordinary, but I can't see that we're stunting them. Patience is 6; if she had some savant ability it seems like it would have reared its head by now. She's been exposed to music and pianos, in a family of musicians. She's had art classes, nature classes, regular school, soccer, and more. So far...she pretty much prefers to create recycled art, write stories in little flip books, and play Barbies.

I'm satisfied with that, too.

She's not the top cat in any category society values, that we know of.

To us, though, she is amazing. I imagine that's the most any of us can ever hope for: that we find people we love, who love us, and we all find that and recognize and value what makes each of us special, if not extraordinary. Somehow, we have to help our children find a measured stride for that idea, though, that they are amazing to us, but perhaps not all people will find them so, and that doesn't diminish her importance, where it matters. Somehow we have to make this about being special, not better than. And possibly there are those who will shake their heads at this, secure in the belief that providing a sense of entitlement will enable their children to crush their way to the top. Maybe they are right, but to be honest, I'm not sure the top is really a goal for me. Any longer.

I'm more concerned that my children find their stride and walk comfortably within it.

It takes time to find your stride, with yourself and with others, and it's rarely a life with an even pace. It takes time to figure out what is special about a person, in general.

I'm reminded of the time in 8th grade when a popular girl, who sat next to me in language arts, stared at me for a while, and I simply ignored that, and her. Finally she said, "Huh. You know, if I look at you for a while, I see you're actually kind of pretty. I always thought you were sort of plain. But you've got some nice features---heart shaped mouth, good cheekbones. Huh. Who knew."

Two other girls nearby gasped, "Oh my gosh, that's a horrible thing to say!" one said.

I didn't worry about it, though, because I knew already: we rarely take the time to look at someone close enough to know their beauty, what makes them special.

Few of us possess attention-catching personalities, eye-catching beauty, ear-catching musical ability, or one of the other showy and obvious talents that we don't have to stop and think about to understand and admire.

The rest of us, though, still have that innate desire to be seen. Yes, I think so, even the ones who fear it.

I do think we all want to be appreciated, and that, at heart, is what it is.

So, as a parent, I endeavor to make my children feel valued, admired and appreciated. That's what moms do. I want them to feel seen in their family, understood. Okay.

As a person, I want to do that with the other people around me, too.

In Nick Hornby's novel, About a Boy, the main character, Will Lightman, is an ordinary man trying to be both important and invisible, a little choked under the yoke of his father's reputation as a wonder, even if only a one-hit wonder.

Isn't that the case for us all, a little bit? Even if it's not our direct parent, but simply an overhanging idea or ideal?

Like Will, maybe we learn that it's a balance, and that appreciation is like happiness---more of a way point and highlight, rather than a state of being. Contentment---walking in stride with contentment. Maybe that's the best gift we can pass along to our children.

So...what's your stride, and your take on this?

Think about it, and then write it up for next week's Hump Day Hmmm. Link to here, and come add your link in Mr. Linky. I'll be back in stride with the Hump Days next week. I promise. Ordinarily.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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Liv said…
I love Badly Drawn Boy!

I can't figure out my twisted gait, girl.

Gwen said…
That's a great song. And you know where I stand on this, because I have written about it plenty. The real trick of life, as I see it, is to be "ordinary" and yet still happy and content. I know so few people like that, those who have made a kind of peace with being less than a stah, that I believe that's the truly extraordinary achievement.

Not to steal from my own somewhere in the future blog post, but my hub and I were talking about this recently, about this idea that at some point in your adult life you should figure out that you have to CHOOSE happiness.

Oh, and for the record, I like very much to have almost no attention paid to me. :)
Kyla said…
People who stand out want to fit in and those that fit in really want to stand out. Strange.

I've always been happy enough to blend into the background. I think the important thing is to be the best version of ourselves we can manage, because while there is always another actor or singer or scientist or novelist waiting in the wings for their turn in the spotlight, there's no one else who can replace us as individuals.
Anonymous said…
I never really want to stand out but at the same time I always wait to join the crowd.

I'm like the person in the background who watches and sizes up everyone and then when everything is to my liking, I swoop in.
Anonymous said…
We should all get comfortable w/ our stride and appreciate those moments when we aspire to be more than average...they are only moments. We can't live in a constant state of fame and fortune and retain our balance.

Sometimes when we allow contentment to come we find beauty in what we label average.
Robert said…
I must say I disagree with the idea of teaching a child that he or she CAN'T be anything, because at the age you're talking about there is far too much potential to already be putting a ceiling on achievement. Sure, tell people in their forties, thirties, even twenties or maybe teens about the harsh reality of mediocrity. I live in a town full of "satisfied citizens" and I suppose I could be called a snob for my perspective, but it truly disturbs me how many people are happy to simply let their children look at the world as if it ends after they got a hundred miles from here.

Was I a star in certain areas in school? Well, yes, I was. Did that make me think I was better than those who weren't stars in the same things I was? No. I didn't even look down on those who were simply average in just about everything. I was far more bothered by the brightest stars leaving their potential untapped than I was by those who worked hard to achieve a B. It is not the job of the parents to help their children accept their limited abilities so much as it is their job to push their children to do their best. If their best is a B, so be it, but if their best is an A and they're failing then it's a parent's job to sort that out. Can we push too hard? Absolutely. I just don't accept that telling a three year old or even a seven year old "No, honey, you can't do that" is a great plan of action. So many great talents have only come after a lot of hard work. Savants are truly rare, but great things have still been achieved by those who came from the simplest of circumstances.

Sorry if this sounds like a rant. I'm still a bit jet-lagged, so I may not have my usual tact. ;)
Julie Pippert said…

Umm deciding to NOT promise a kid she can be anything isn't the same as telling her she can't be everything. Somehow, you have taken what I said I don't want to do, flipped it over, and made it something I am doing.

At no point did I say I was going to tell my kid, "No honey, you can't do that."

I did say I would not feel comfortable fostering lies and pushing.

I'm going to support and encourage and help her build wisdom about her own boundaries, which I will let her discover on her own, with the backing of a loving parent.

I found it harmful and hurtful to have a parent who kept trying to push me past my aptitude, at all ages and stages.

It's okay to agree to disagree on this one. But I can't let the incorrect assumption of what I do stand.
Robert said…
As I said, my perspective on this comes from seeing too many parents who don't push their children at all, and more often seem to hold them back with comments like "Oh, you don't want to go *that far* away?" when referring to a college within a day's drive. It just boggles my mind. And I sensed in your comments to your husband something akin to the diminutive. My apologies for my confusion, but I will probably be guilty of telling my son and daughter something extremely similar to what your husband did. They can be anything they want to be. And, if they truly want it, I believe very often they can. Many people fall short of lofty goals because they lack desire - real desire, not whimsical dreams - to strive for what they want. I am not a published author because I lack the resolve to revisit my work repeatedly until it is marketable. I am not a partner in an accounting firm because I cannot stand the thought of working eighty-plus hours a week to achieve that. I am what I am at least in part because of my own acceptance of my achievements and abilities. If I wanted to be more, I believe I could, but I obviously don't want to be a lot more than I am or I would be doing something about it. I hope that explanation makes more sense. Children need a lot of encouragement sometimes, and I've grown disgusted with the parents in this town being so very discouraging.

Yes, I know, I should move. But I guess I don't want to do that enough to do it.
Anonymous said…
As Han Solo once said, "Fly casually."

And people accuse me of making their heads hurt from thinking.
Melissa said…
I was reading all of this and thinking that I can't possibly make a comment on it that would be less than a thousand words and then you say that it's going to be a HDH!


Good thought provoking post. Which is good, because if I don't get blog fodder soon, I may be doing "cheesewatch" and we don't want to go there. :)
jeanie said…
Great fodder to think of in the next week.

And remember, in the words of a great cowboy - "its not flying, its falling with style".
flutter said…
I trip a lot. Just sayin'
SciFi Dad said…
Like Robert, I disagree with you on this one, Julie.

While I agree that knowledge of boundaries and limitations is important, I don't think it needs to be taught in advance. We define our limitations, not the world.

If your daughter decides to become a musician at 15, she can still try, regardless of what you or she conclude to be her limitations. If she succeeds, great. If not, that's OK too.

One of the greatest gifts a child can have is the ignorance of their limits, because if they don't know about them, they won't know to stop when they reach them.
Robert said…
SciFi Dad pretty much nailed my point. I also think, though, that if you never encourage a child to aspire to greater heights, then it can be a lot like teaching them not to. As SciFi Dad says, we define our limitations. Hard work, passion, and desire can trump pure talent time and time again, and add those to just a small measure of talent and it can be a recipe for amazing success. That was the main thing I was driving at with my comments. Read my post today on the subject of mediocrity.
Anonymous said…
See, I don't agree that "savant abilities" manifest themselves by six. Plenty of brilliant published authors didn't even learn to read until they were six. Lots of people discover their callings and a talent to excel in college or university, or even afterwards.

To me the difference is that your dad was saying "You can be what *I* want you to be, and I will make you be that person." But that's not the same as saying "You can be anything you want."

There's a difference between being able to BE anything you want, and being able to EXCEL at anything you want, to achieve fame and recognition in whatever field you choose. Fame and recognition are arbitrary and often elude hard work; skills and mastery are not.

Hell, Dr. Seuss was told by art teachers he couldn't draw over and over and over again.
Julie Pippert said…
Unfortunately both you and Robert misunderstood me. My point was nothing about defining limitations for my kids. My point was not pushing kids where *I* want them to go.

Not only will I not tell them they *can* be anything, I will also not tell them they *can't* be anything. Do you see? I'm not going to tell them who they are. I'm going to provide opportunities. I'm going to encourage them to try things. Then I'm going to support and guide and encourage.

I don't live their lives for them.

I parent them.

It's a difference.

That was my point.

It's interesting to me that both you and Robert flipped my point about not wanting to tell my daughter who she is and inferred that meant I would tell her who she isn't. Both of those are actually doing the same thing: me defining to my daughter who she is and what she can do (or not). That's really contrary to my style of parenting.
Julie Pippert said…
Actually, to be clear, my point isn't at all about telling my kids one thing or another. I don't do that either way. I'd feel like a stage mom.

My point is that we should try things, and do our best. If our best happens to be extraordinary, then bravo...we should be amazed and appreciative. If our best happens to fall short of that, then again, we should be appreciative and proud that we did our best.

My point is to never expect extraordinary or think that we are entitled to this, or that it is the only thing that is a true achievement.

Winning isn't everything, in the end.

It amazes me to hear so many people tell kids at sports that it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game, and then go on to push them to Be The Very Best---that's the "better than" I mentioned.

I really believe it is about how you play the game, and I really believe it's more important to make kids feel special, no matter what.
Anonymous said…
I sort of suspect that extraordinary people long to fit in, and the rest of us long to stand out. I want my kids to try hard, to exceed their grasp. i assume, however, that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and they will not always triumph.
Robert said…
I did not necessarily mistake your point, so much as I took from what you were saying something that bothers me. I can see now that you're not focused on limiting your child, which I think is great. I think, though, that a lack of encouragement can be just as damaging. You may be encouraging your girls to try everything, or try whatever they want, and that's basically what I'm saying makes the most sense to me. I grew up with a mother who rarely complimented me but regularly criticized me. My father was much more encouraging, but he still mostly paid compliments by telling someone else in my presence how proud he was of me. The main difference in what I want to do with my kids is to encourage them when no one else is around to hear it but us, and by encourage I mean to tell them that they can do whatever they want - but they may have to work really hard to become some things and not as hard to become others, given their abilities. If that's what you're hoping to do, then great, we agree. If not, that's fine, too.
Anonymous said…
But I don't see "you can be anything you want" as "you must be what I want." In fact, it's the opposite. I don't think there's anything in "you can be anything you want" that says "you must excel, you must strive, you must lead the pack." I just don't see it. Basically, I don't see what your husband says as what your father did. (Which, I agree, would be awful.)

I do see what you're saying. But I don't think it fits with what you told your husband.
Robert said…
I concur with Andrea on this one: parents trying to make a child be a specific thing are pretty terrible, while parents who encourage their child to do their best at something they love are wonderful. Your husband was giving encouragement, but not demanding the best in everything or even the best of one thing. He was simply opening the door, opening the eyes, showing that the sky is the limit if you reach for it.
le35 said…
If you think that by telling your child that she can do anything she wants to do that you're telling her that she has to be the best at something, then you're right. You shouldn't tell her that she can do anything. Even if she's the very best now, and she does break an Olympic record, someone in the future will surpass her and break it again.

However, with God, all things truly are possible. With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can truly move mountains.

I'm going to tell my child that she can be anything she wants to be because I truly believe that if she wants to work for something that badly, and she has enough faith that God will help her, she can do it. I've never seen an intelligent person who put unlimited hours of work into something that they didn't see results from. I still want to go to law school. I can do it. I'm not going to right now because right now, I'd rather stay home with my children. In the future, I can still become a lawyer. Why? Because I CAN become anything I want to be.
Anonymous said…
I know I'm late to the party, but this is a great post, Julie. I don't know if this is in line with what you are thinking, but I'm coming to realize that sometimes, we get so caught up in what we "want" to be that we aren't willing to pay attention or take notice of our real gifts. In this way, our drive to be what we "want" prevents us from being what we were truly meant to be. Coming to know who we really are, valuing that and accepting that and making our mark on the world with our gifts is really important. I hope I can support my girls in their discovery of those things. But I do agree. We can't necessarily be "whatever we want." Hell. I wanted to be an Mary Lou Retton when I was Laura's age (forgive spelling if necessary). That? Wasn't happenin'.
Anonymous said…
I know I'm late to the party, but this is a great post, Julie. I don't know if this is in line with what you are thinking, but I'm coming to realize that sometimes, we get so caught up in what we "want" to be that we aren't willing to pay attention or take notice of our real gifts. In this way, our drive to be what we "want" prevents us from being what we were truly meant to be. Coming to know who we really are, valuing that and accepting that and making our mark on the world with our gifts is really important. I hope I can support my girls in their discovery of those things. But I do agree. We can't necessarily be "whatever we want." Hell. I wanted to be an Mary Lou Retton when I was Laura's age (forgive spelling if necessary). That? Wasn't happenin'.
Silverstar said…
Maybe it's because I am close to 60 that I think some of your commentors are wrong. Maybe it's because I worked in a field where educational achievement isn't valued. And I was over-educated in it. Maybe it's because I always ended up on one tail of the Bell curve or the other. But I think you have the right approach. You can strive, and you may still not succeed. It is an American exceptionalism that makes us all think we can succeed at whatever we try. It's not true.
I have a tin ear. I will never succeed at music. All the music lessons I took as a child didn't help. My mother was a musician, she wanted me to be one. My talent is in the visual arts. I am just now getting into my stride with photography. Thank goddess for digital photography, where I can "waste" pictures without a guilty conscience.
Although children need encouragement, I think they also need to be told that the world is cruel,and that their dreams might not come true, not because of any lacking on their part, but just because sh** happens sometimes. You move to a place where you can't get a job in your field because your spouse moved. Some new advanced technology wipes out your job. Kids need to know that, need to know they may need to tack with the wind. And your job may still get outsourced. You may become disabled, as I did. People need to be valued for being, not doing.

Some of your other commentors are talking about parents who are too enmeshed with their children, which they interpret as a lack of encouragement. It is not a lack of encouragement to try to keep a child close to home, it is a pathological enmeshement. Maybe it is because I was raised in a large family, the eldest, that I was encouraged to get away, and the sooner the better. Of course, in those days, young people could afford housing with a entry level job. Not true anymore. You may want to be a doctor or lawyer, but may not be able to because of finances. Or may not want to be burdened with the debt that it would take in this country at this time. I got much more educational help with low-cost student loans than is available today. Tuition costs were lower, too, and I paid for most of my education by working. I had very little debt. Not the case these days. I don't think being realistic with kids is a bad thing. It might make their lives easier later.

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