Shoot for the Mundane: A Defense of a Normal Life

You can tell a lot by looking at senior quotes. I’ve got yearbooks from all four of my years in high school, and I noticed that there’s one that comes up over and over and over again.

Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– Anonymous

I find this proverb to be a little trite, to be honest. It’s been tremendously over-used, for starters, and I don’t really understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having goals, or even big goals, is a bad thing. In fact, I think having big goals is a wonderful, very useful thing. The problem comes from what our big goals are.

moon-landing-60582_1920Have a talk some time with your nearest college student. You’ll start to notice a problem. All of us want to be astronauts. Not literally, but all of us want to be in jobs that are as selective, as challenging, as far out in the outer reaches of space as astronauts. We want to be in the top of a field that doesn’t exist. We want to graduate with a degree in Creative Thought Studies and make six figures at a progressive online start-up. We want to shoot immediately to the top of the pay scale, retire at 40, and go backpacking through Europe every summer. It’s ridiculous.

I’m guilty of this. This past year, I started looking into an accelerated Master’s program within my college’s History Department. My plan was to finish my Bachelor’s and Master’s in four years, get my Ph.D., and be working as a college professor by the time I was 30. I’ve got good grades, I’m a hard studier, I love history — I can do it. Except I can’t.

I started really thinking about it, and when I was painfully honest with myself, I realized that I just couldn’t. I was already so stressed as an undergraduate that I was losing sleep and feeling constantly anxious. It finally dawned on me that if I was struggling to control my stress as a college student, it would be completely out of control if I ended up pushing myself to be a college professor. I was heartbroken. My dream died when I told myself that.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to let a dream go. That’s part of growing up. That’s part of realizing what we are and aren’t capable of doing. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another about what is actually feasible. Not only that, but we also need to re-evaluate what is truly helpful and necessary to society.

My grandmother is in a nursing home. When you visit a nursing home, you’ll probably see a dozen or so men and women in scrubs running around and taking care of our elderly friends, neighbors, and relatives. These people are Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs. They befriend, feed, change, bathe, and generally care for people like my grandmother. They work long hours and they do a hard and often un-glamorous job. But it is also one of the most helpful jobs out there in society. I owe the young women who help my grandmother get in and out of bed every day a debt that I’ll never be able to repay.

There are lots of jobs like that, in many different fields, for many different levels of education. You can make yourself a peanut butter sandwich in the comfort of your own home because someone made sure there was enough on the shelf last night while you were asleep. You can get your house checked for termites because someone picked up the phone at the bug-zapper place and told another someone to drive over to your house. You can read this blog because someone taught you about sight words and where commas go when you were in the second grade.

clouds-323426_1920These jobs aren’t found on the moon, or in the stars. They’re here on boring old earth. They’re normal. We’ve concocted this false dichotomy, though, where normal is bad and different is good. Normal can be good, too. In fact, normal is necessary for a society to function. These normal jobs might not make you the most interesting person at a dinner party, but they will give you financial security, time with your loved ones, and a sense of doing something good for society. And you never know, people who begin life with ordinary jobs sometimes end up doing extraordinary things.

So maybe, instead of shooting for the moon, shoot for what you can do. Shoot for what you can give to better society. Shoot for the mundane; even if you miss, you’ll land among people you can help.


6 thoughts on “Shoot for the Mundane: A Defense of a Normal Life

  1. Amazing post, and really thought-provoking.
    My question for you – does it really matter if you have a “normal” job or a “different” job if you’re doing what you love?
    How successful can anyone really be if they drag themselves to work everyday? If Mondays are the bane of their existence? How successful can someone really be if they are not happy?

    • George,
      Glad you liked the post, and great questions. Here’s my best attempt to answer:
      I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad about having either a “normal” or a “different” job, and people need to make those decisions based on a couple of factors. Are you good at the job? Can you find worth in it (i.e.: enjoy)? Will the job allow you the kind of life you want, give you time with family, etc.?
      I think the problem right now is that we’ve become practically brainwashed into thinking that the only good jobs are the cool ones, when really, a good job is one that you can do well, that won’t wreck you and your relationship with your loved ones, and that can provide a needed service to society. The overwhelming majority of jobs fit those criteria. So rather than shaming people who want to be accountants, stay-at-home parents, grocery store managers, or any other occupation that isn’t all glitz, glamour, and good fodder for cocktail parties, we ought to be letting people identify their strengths and tastes and going into whatever market fits them and their situation best, be it mesmerizing or mundane.
      Thanks for the feedback,

  2. Molly,

    The slight problem I feel with society, and growing up in it, is that from a very young age, we are constantly told that we are special. We are one of a kind and we can do anything we set our minds to. Which in many ways I agree with. However, this causes a problem. Since everyone on the planet believes they are special and deserve the best, when it comes to their dreams and finding their ideal career, they often get disappointed if they don’t get exactly what they want. While I agree we need those normal jobs, your note on going with what you do best rather than what you originally dreamed of doing results in an upset in many people’s hearts (not to sound cheesy but it’s kinda true). Maybe it’s my big-dreams American side of me saying this, but when people do try to reach for the stars but end up falling into a muddy puddle on earth, they get unhappy. Very quickly. And this never gets settled, often because people never go back to following their dreams for whatever reason.

    So while I strongly agree with not everyone going out and becoming astronauts because we need those normal jobs, it’s still those big dream ideals that have caused us as a society to advance so far, with the help of some insanely motivated people. Not all of us can or will achieve what we feel deep down we want to. But telling everyone to give up might not be the best thing to do. Some people can’t handle that unhappy feeling they get from failing the first time around. So they should continue to fight. It’s always hard, but it’s necessary in some instances.

    I believe we should do as much as we can to try to achieve our goals. And if it feels like too much, in your instance, then it can totally be okay. It’s of course okay to change your dreams too. I just personally feel we should never stop trying to make ourselves happy, whether that means killing ourselves trying or settling for a “normal” job. “Never give up.”

    But that’s just my cheesy two cents.

    • Cassie,
      I agree with you: I think the doctrines of everyone being special and everyone being a winner end up hurting the children who become adults in this atmosphere.
      As to your other point: My intention with this is not to dissuade everyone — or anyone, really — from pursuing their goals. Rather, I think that society has redefined a person’s purpose in life to be individual achievement in the context of their job. This is certainly not a bad thing, but there’s more to life than the title one puts on LinkedIn. It’s okay to have other goals or considerations held in tension with career goals. For me, that included the fact that I have a naturally anxious disposition and the goal of eventually having a family. I realized these factors precluded certain paths for me, but I don’t really feel as though I gave up anything. I guess all I’m trying to say is that my point was just to point out that there are good jobs everywhere, so if other factors keep a person from pursuing a career as an astronaut, there’s nothing wrong with that; both the rocket pilot and the mom who volunteers in the children’s library can help improve the lives of the people around them.
      Thanks for your feedback,

  3. Hi Molly!

    I’m not sure how much I can add to this (you did a great job explaining everything in your post!) but I can’t help but agree with you. Sometimes people get confused with their dreams and their calling. Their happiness and their purpose. I do it too—I get so caught up with my dreams (I have a lot!) and I can easily ignore my God-given calling. But I (and those like me) shouldn’t! If we aim for what God has called us to do, He will be our strength and we won’t fail! (“Nothing is impossible with God…” there’s a reference to that I can’t remember haha😂) And if we follow our purpose and not our hearts (which are fickle, misleading little things!) we will end up with satisfaction and joy, which is more and longer lasting than mere happiness. 🙂 So if your calling is to be an astronaut, a happy librarian, or a garbage man, it’s worth fighting for, and God will fulfill you in it. 🙂

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to rant, but just wanted to be an encouragement to you. 🙂

    Keep up the awesome posts!

  4. “Be anxious for nothing my dear Molly, everything with prayer and supplication and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” ….suspect you know the source:)

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