The fear of being ordinary…

or·di·nar·y (adjective)

1. of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional.

au·thor talk (noun)

1. an event which promotes the fear of being ordinary, or boring an audience to tears.

Most of us don’t jump for joy at the thought of talking in public. Some of us would rather eat their own liver. Is it something to do with setting yourself up for comparison to others?

public speaking

When you don’t want the world to be a stage.
Photo credit:

Unless I’m compelled by a burning desire to comment or ask a question, I usually remain silent during events, or meetings at work. I want to feel safe, to be 100% sure of my facts before I open my mouth and embarrass myself. By the time I’ve done that, the agenda has moved on. There is no editing when you think on your feet.

Why are we so nervous about what other people think? We all have foibles, fears, odd opinions, guilt trips, repressed thoughts, halls of shame etc. We’re all searching, confused, want to belong, be liked and loved (unless we’re sociopaths).

Back in the day, when we lived in caves, or in witch-hungry, walled towns, our survival depended on staying with the herd. Being different was dangerous.

Vladimir: How do you know she’s a witch?

Peasant: She looks like one!

(Monty Python)

Not being part of the social pack can still feel edgy today. To admit an opinion, be somehow different or hold yourself up for judgement is still scary, and leaves us vulnerable.

white sheep

Photo credit:

Technology has now given us a window into the the far extremes of so many human endeavours. It’s not good enough just being ordinary any more. You Tube and other media show us a vast smorgasbord of the best, worst, the experts for everything, from amazing sports/cooking/dancing/singing, to the world’s most embarrassing bodies/fetishes/unusual behaviours. People on Facebook seem to have SO many close friends, fantastic lives, fun times……

To put your humble art, opinions, writing etc out there in this increasingly incredible world with no assurance of positive acknowledgement is scary.  But if I don’t do it, I’ll miss a chance to connect meaningfully with people in a way that matters to me. So there I stood in front of 20 or so friendly Darwinians who bothered to come and listen to me on a very humid Thursday evening. It was my author talk.  There was wine, cheese and biscuits. The librarians had been very welcoming and friendly, and I was most grateful that Darwin library had given me the opportunity to speak.

I was nervous. Readers have said positive things about my book, but perhaps in Darwin, where the book is set, I will offend the locals, somehow. I am worried I will not please, no one will laugh at my lame jokes. Trying to be perfect and making everybody happy takes you to a place far away from being yourself, a bland place. I’d uninvited my poor, understanding husband, so I could be open and talk about my sexy male lead as if he is chocolate deluxe , not lite vanilla.

So, I will be me, I think. I’ll default to being honest, even a little goofy which hopefully comes across as affable. It worked as a teacher. Hopefully it will work now. As I wait for people to settle in their seats, I wonder how many of us are ambiverts, then try to shrug off the natural inclination we have to label ourselves and others. Us and them. Labels build walls, ordinary walls.

am·bi·vert (noun)

1. one whose personality type is intermediate between extrovert and introvert.

So I spoke of Arafura, of how sharing my writing is like walking through the mall naked, with the high chance of no one noticing. That I love writing more than I’m scared about that. It’s a challenging and rewarding journey, where I’ve ended up asking more questions about humanity than finding answers, but still learnt more about people than in all of my psych subjects at uni.

I got a laugh or two when speaking of my girlfriend’s ‘ovary-acting’ to my main male character, and how I believe we can all change, if we’re open to it. That love is uncertain, and accepting that can lead to deeper connections. In Arafura, a leopard can change his or her spots, if he or she is motivated.

I discussed the sequel, where Kat’s (main female lead) resilience is put to the test, the baddies play a much larger role, and ‘loose ends’ from Arafura are resolved. I even accidentally gave away a major part of the story (yep, goofy). Also, that I’d like to write a third book, where I explore Indigenous issues with more courage, where I don’t have the answers, but want to ask the questions.

In the end, it was worth the angst. I do enjoy connecting with people and this lovely audience would have handed me some clothes in the mall. A couple of generous souls even offered their help with certain aspects of the sequel.

Being ordinary is fine. Despite all the funny things, the glorious achievements we see, and people’s wonderful lives on Facebook etc, is it healthier, emotionally, to let go of comparisons, of what people we don’t really know, think?

Most of us are ordinary at most things, but I’d like to offer a proviso. We are not born into equal circumstances with equal DNA mapping. Even through effort alone, we are all still better at some things than others.

everyone is gifted

I was always amazed how much my students took that to heart, even the eight year olds. Don’t be daunted by comparisons (I’m telling myself this too). It’s satisfying to have a passion, a dream; they can give our lives extra-ordinary meaning.

Dare to dream, even if you don’t wish to go public about it!

Any thoughts? 🙂

An article of interest about happy being average, embracing the fact that not everyone can be a winner, nor wants to be, by Wendy Squires –

This entry was posted in achieving goals, Arafura, author talk, daring to dream, Darwin, dreams and passions, fear of being ordinary, fear of public speaking, visibility of others achievements on social media and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The fear of being ordinary…

  1. My son and I recently had a conversation about public speaking.

    He loves it. He thrives on it. He will jump at the chance to have his thoughts heard. And he is often asked to speak.

    I hate public speaking. I’m not convinced he is really my son…lol

  2. People probably would not know me …as to the change from such a shy person to one who loves giving programs…and feeling free in public…How did this happen??? Acceptance of self as to being as worthy as anyone else… and feeling MY opinion is as important as anyone’s…

    • See, leopards can change their spots!! So glad to hear. Your acceptance of self is obviously liberating and allows you to use your gifts, I’m sure. Thanks for your comment, Marilyn. 🙂

  3. HazMo's Mama says:

    I think there is something of the sublime, something peaceful and contented in the ‘ordinary’. It’s been made into a word that connotes blandness, but I think that some of the most beautiful, perfect things in life are possibly the most ordinary ones. I think it would be most excellent to have an extraordinary time being alive within the ordinary confines of life. No?


    • I am sorry, but following on from my attempts to be wholehearted, must tell you something – you aren’t ordinary. You are probably just sleep deprived as a young mother, and can think of nothing more ‘sublime’ than an ordinary night’s sleep. Keep up your extra-ordinary dreams, I know they are there, tucked in amongst the flowers, in the trenches.

  4. Lee-Anne says:

    So many threads in this post, Susan, which one/s to take up?
    I agree with HazMo’s Mum in that there are two ways of looking at ordinary: positive or negative – mediocre or average. Few are extra-ordinary all of the time, most have flashes and revert to a calm normality, happy in their own skin, happy in their ‘ordinariness’. (By the sound of it, the author talk brought you both).
    Looking forward to the sequel – when is it out? 🙂

    • Hi Lee-Anne, it was a bit of a rambling post.
      Being ordinary is fine, I think social media makes it uncool as we see the best of everybody on Facebook etc. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for a great recipe for life, having flashes of extra-ordinariness, but overall being happy in your own skin! Look how ill the rich and famous become, how their marriages dissolve, being so special and extra-ordinary all the time. Hard to believe, but it’s obviously not good for one’s psychological health.
      Sequel will be out ASAP, a month to tie up the loose ends, then a few darling volunteers will give it the once over with their varied, extra-ordinary editing skills.
      Thanks for asking! 🙂

  5. suzjones says:

    Good for you 🙂
    What a great thing to do.
    Personally I don’t mind public speaking (even when it scares the pants off me). One day, I might even do more of it lol

  6. Debbish says:

    Hi Susan! This is my first visit to your blog and I’m excited to be here (and adding you to my Reader). How exciting that you got to go and speak and I’m sure you were great. I think it depends a bit on the environment and topic for me. I was once a diplomat and had to often ‘open’ things (on a small scale) and felt quite confident speaking about Australia’s ‘Aid Program’ etc. But of course it’s different if it’s about something which I’m less confident of. (If that makes sense!)

    As for the ordinariness thing: on one hand I would like to stand out (be impressive etc), but on the other I like to be ‘like everyone else’. For me the need to fit in is centred around my weight. I hate being so big I look different. 😦

    • Thanks so much for visiting and adding me. 🙂 Wow, speaking about Australia’s Aid Program would be a fantastic, worthwhile topic. I can prattle on about literacy and numeracy in a classroom, but not so easy when it’s about a novel I’ve written i.e. showing the world my insides.
      I get it about the weight. For me it’s linked to my confidence, somehow similar to having coldsores! 🙂
      Anyway, back on WW and feeling contained.

  7. I am an ambivert as well. I do recall that I had fear of speaking and I do recall some of those times. Once I got the routine down, and I’m not that quick, I usually loved it.
    Thanks for sharing this. It brings back memories Sue.
    ~ Eric

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Eric. The subject matter, the point you’re making, and perceived audience expectations are all part of it too, I think.

  8. chirose says:

    Fantastic blog post.!! Thanks for the follow 😉

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