Last night my husband and I were at dinner when the news of Steve Jobs death broke. Immediately the social media world was filled with condolences, quotes and feelings about his death. My husband and I were taken aback by the fact that so many people seemed so profoundly effected by a man that they did not personally know. Of course it makes total sense. As an innovator and a business man, Steve Jobs did change the world as we know it. Many people around the world use Apple products during the majority of their waking hours, so of course they feel a personal connection to Jobs and a gratitude for making their lives more efficient through the use of Apple technology.
This all got me to think about how so many cultures revere celebrity and greatness. When someone has achieved something great or is simply a celebrity in the sense that you may see them or their name in the media quite frequently, we tend to place a lot of value and worth on that. It may make more sense to place value and worth on significant accomplishments than on celebrity status alone, but there are many similarities between the two. When we begin to look at people as “great” regardless of what they are great for, sometimes we overlook their flaws. Yes, even the most accomplished people have flaws, and sometimes, many of them. We also begin to compare ourselves to these “great” and “accomplished” people and even feel bad for ourselves (“if only I was better looking, smarter, famous, really good at something, then that would mean I am important”). Clients often come to me with anxiety about meaning in their life. In fact, in a therapy group I co-lead, a discussion came up about how it is important to do a lot of things and be good at them, especially in a city like Washington DC where there are so many accomplished and multi-talented individuals. The American culture sends us the message that in order to have meaning we must somehow make a mark in the world or leave behind a legacy. We always have to achieve more, strive to be the best and reach the top. When we do, we are rewarded, we are asked to speak about how we achieved everything we ever dreamed of, and then people are in turn inspired by us and even begin to quote us. The appeal of that is strong. Who doesn’t want to be admired, inspiring and leave their mark on the world?
The problem with all of that is, most of us will never reach the “top” according to societal standards. The goodness in merely being human is scratched out. It’s not enough to just be who you are anymore and God forbid, “ordinary.” However, there is so much that is extraordinary in being ordinary. After September 11th, I was glad to see many articles highlighting the extraordinary acts of what we call “ordinary” heroes. One of the most heartfelt stories I read which brought me to tears and still effects me to this day was a story of a dishwasher at the Windows on the World restaurant who died in the twin towers on 9/11. He washed dishes during the day but in his free time he would volunteer pick up the trash off the streets of NYC because as an immigrant, he wanted to keep this beautiful city clean. New York was the city he loved so much and afforded him so much opportunity and he appreciated and honored that every day of his life. I was blessed to hear about his life and grateful to hear of that kindness that is so much more extraordinary than we give it credit for. Sadly, we will never see many Facebook status updates, tweets, or even much appreciation for that man’s life because he didn’t impact the world in the way we are taught to find it meaningful.
This isn’t to take away from all the wonderful things Steve Jobs did. I am grateful for the mark he had made on the world. However, maybe being extraordinary simply lies in the daily good deeds, in strong character, integrity, and the impact you make on the world simply by being a kind and loving person.