The Challenge of a Normal-Better Life

A person’s life typically feels normal to them, right?

Sure, it may be more or less average, but you have to have something to compare your life with (and the time and a reason to stop and compare it) to notice how much it is or is not so ordinary.

Even then, as your everyday lived experience, it is your normal.

The problem – and the potential – with life nowadays is that we see many examples of the extraordinary, and we have ideas (notions, fancies?) of ourselves and our lives as we wish they (and we) were.

These glimmerings of a better life and a better self are tantalizing. There is a promise to them.

Bivy on the Sarstein
Bivy on the Sarstein

There is also a way they never seem anything more than the glimmering of a ray of sunlight through a roiling layer of storm clouds. A far-away light in a dark night…

Daily life just doesn’t seem to give much of a chance: there isn’t enough money, there isn’t enough time, and who would ever be strong and driven enough to train and learn and change things for the better when it’s hard enough just to organize one’s stuff and manage time and finances, let alone have a social life and fulfill family obligations and perhaps cook food and clean the kitchen – and all that besides the demands of a job?

There’s a reason Randi Zuckerberg, former director of market development for Facebook (and entrepreneur and, yes, sibling of Mark Zuckerberg) spoke of the trade-off in the entrepreneurial lifestyle:

Sure again, some people seem to manage, and we are fascinated by them.

We can learn about the importance of doing and the creation of luck from them, but we also have to see that it still takes a lot of lucky chance – and for only too many of them, all that based on an already-great background that you and I reading this are probably lacking (even if others have it even worse).

Right there, in the deluge of simple everyday demands, though, lies both the biggest challenge, the really hard thing to do – and the easily best way to a better self and a better life: in normal life.

With the question of what would actually make for a better life (and better you), and with the attitude to life that may help in getting there.


Dreams of a better life are often just that, dreams.

They are aspirational, looking for something better and seeing it in how great things would be “if only” something were the case: usually, if only one were rich (and perhaps famous).

Sure, yes, being rich would take away a few problems and be a burden one would gladly bear, but the challenge of what to do with one’s life would just be raised to another level, and a person him-/herself would basically remain the same.

There’s a reason why the newly rich are near-universally despised if they just flaunt their wealth, and the first, if they have any decent sense of life, to want to learn what makes for better manners and appearance – at least once the rush of luxury shopping is out of the way. (Exceptions notwithstanding.)

That alone won’t do the trick, and it’s not so easy to achieve, though.

More possibilities thanks to more money doesn’t usually mean an end to one’s problems, just that they’ll be lifted to a new level.

If you already had trouble deciding what to do with your life and how to come out from under a disorganized life – and house – then adding all-that-money-can-buy to that would not be a solution, but a recipe for disaster.

Many an average person can, thanks to the supposed democratization of luxury that we’ve seen with things having become cheap (and cheapened) already attest to that, and the main thing it’s doing is showing that luxury might not (just) be in having things.

… and the Good Life

Question begs, then, if it isn’t the organized and active, but still rather normal and ordinary, life that is the real object of aspiration, not the exuberant lifestyle that is so often presented as the thing to aspire to.

It certainly is a large part of the good life.

You don’t need to be utterly rich and live luxuriously to be happy; you need a grip on your life and good-enough circumstances, the will to decide and the act of doing what you decided.

The biggest challenge is not how far away the greatest of lives is, it is how close – but just not here yet, only right around the corner – the better normal is.

And probably, the better life – and better self – comes not with the energy and strength which we pour into bettering things, but with our being more human about it.

Being Human(e) with Ourselves

Whatever the circumstances, making things – and ourselves – a little better is what needs working on, given we can always do that and wouldn’t want to feel stuck and without hope. And, you can work on that no matter your circumstances.

It’s your – normal – life, after all.

But, we love to be hard on ourselves – and even as it may be quite “normal” for people to do so, it’s not a good thing:

“If you think that the key to greater willpower is being harder on yourself, you are not alone. But you are wrong. Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion—being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure—is associated with more motivation and better self-control. ” from The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Instead of falling for the life-hackers and self-developer’s creed of hardness and control (as much as it’s being sold as being smart and organized), we’d do better to make normal better, and better the normal, by changing things more softly.

Think of it this way:

Personal development á Tim Ferriss and such = “How to become superhuman”

Personal development, run-of-the-mill = “How to become a better human being”

Personal development we may really need = “How to be more human about becoming better”

So, go and make your normal better.

Or just don’t forget to live your life, actively and softly, but not just drawn in by comfort and passivity; that’s already a great step.

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