Being Spectacular

I’m Tired of Being Spectacular

“I’m tired of being spectacular,” my most Southern, Junior-league client said while we were preparing her garden for a spectacular party. “Oh lord, me too,” I said and we observed this shared truth in silence watching the catering trucks unload.

I should’ve said, “I’m tired of trying to be spectacular.”

When I was little, my parents said to me, as most parents say to most children, “You’re so smart. When you grow up, you can be anything you want.” I took that to mean anything spectacular. I figured the list of “anything I wanted” had a few stipulations.

You know, like what if I wanted to join the circus? Or work at McDonald’s? I understood those careers were not on the “anything I wanted to be” list. My ten-year-old brain knew anything meant anything with clout, status, and dollars. I also questioned the “so smart” of that equation, but I figured if they didn’t know, why tell them?

I appreciated my parents’ vote of confidence, but they left it there. There wasn’t a follow-up conversation about potential careers from that mysterious anything list. No team of experts surrounded me to help determine exactly where those smarts were best applied. I was on my own to figure that part out. If you’re wondering where my teachers were while my career hung in the balance, here’s a peek. The football coach/history teacher ran off with the English teacher’s wife right after the school fired the sociology teacher for bringing in a prostitute to discuss abortion with us. Clarify?

The word doctor was thrown around a lot. “Honey, you’re so smart, you could be a doctor.” When I got to college every student I met was pre-med. “Hi, I’m Cinthia, what’s your major?” “Pre-med.” So, lots of parents were telling lots of kids, honey you’re so smart you can be anything. Translated: Go be a doctor.

This go-be-spectacular idea hasn’t slowed down any. Just this week my boss filled me in on two neighbor children. One boy is so smart he’s likely headed to MIT, the girl is a shoo-in for Vandy, and on and on. Oh the smarts, oh the success, oh the money.

I’m certain I said the same spectacular thing to my kids.

But, my dad said something else, too. He said, “Your feet take you where you want to go.” That I got. And it has proven true. My feet have taken me exactly where I want to be even if the road to getting here looked like an exercise in distraction and bad choices.

It seems I like the ordinary. Or, at the very least, the diminishing middle class. Money, while necessary, didn’t intrigue me. I wanted it (who doesn’t?) but knew I wouldn’t sacrifice to get it, no matter how much I guilted mysellf. Certainly not enough for decades of medical school and weekends on call.

I asked a college date what he wanted to be, and his answer was spectacular. “I want to be wealthy,” he said. He skipped right past “you can be whatever you want to be” and went straight to where I always felt that sweet talk about being smart was trying to aim me–at the cash. But if I had no plans to be rich, how was I going to be spectacular?

“Don’t you want to do something you like?” I asked.

“Look, we all have to work,” he said. “We may as well make some money while we do. Liking my job would be a bonus. If I like it, great. If I don’t, I’m still rich.” I appreciated the straight talk.

Two days before the sociology teacher’s firing, she asked the class, “What do you want to be?” Doctors and nurses were top of the list, of course, so she then went student to student, leaning over them and whispering in their ears, what do you really want to be? I don’t know what my classmates said, but I whispered back, “A writer.”

“I think you’ll make a great writer,” she said.

Not spectacular, but great.

Great, I understood. Being great meant trying to do something of importance and value. Being spectacular is really a flash in the pan. I don’t remember a word that prostitute said, but I do remember the sociology teacher leaning down and asking me, what do you want to be?

The answer surprised me. I was still working on the doctor idea or at the very least marrying one. I was trying my best to come up with something spectacular that would impress everybody when I discovered–at 15–that I wanted to be a writer. Of course, I felt immediate pressure to be a spectacular writer, one with fortune and fame. Thankfully, the part of me that puts pressure on myself to be spectacular is pretty much ignored by the part of me that goes to Waffle House for breakfast.

To be clear, writing has never paid the bills or brought me fame, but I have met many ordinary people who do spectacular things because I am a writer. A nurse who gave her kidney to a stranger. Newlyweds who traveled to Uganda to build houses for three years. A cancer patient who opened a retreat for other cancer patients. A retired doctor who created a beautiful garden. A scientist who collects seeds of native plants. A mom with autistic children who opened a school for autistic children.

I did not turn out to be a great writer, instead, I’ve been privileged to write about great people.

Here’s what I’ve figured out about all this go-be-spectacularness business. We all have a purpose but we don’t all have the same scope. Some of us coach NFL football, some high school football. Same job, different scope. Some preach to worldwide audiences, some preach to the same fifty parishioners every Sunday. Same job, different scope. Some practice medicine at Johns Hopkins, some practice medicine in small towns. Same job, different scope.

You figure out your purpose, but you figure out your scope, too.

If you’re wondering how to do that, simple. Forget trying to be spectacular and watch where your feet are taking you.