“The opportunity to find wonder in the midst of our everyday lives transforms the agony of the struggle into the adventure of becoming.” – Kim Thomas
Do you wish your life were more exciting? I’m guessing the answer is “yes.” It probably feels like you have so many mundane things to do. You have dishes to wash, reports to write, kids to pick up, laundry to do, social obligations to attend to… the list goes on.
“If only my life were more interesting!” you might be thinking.
A while back, I read about an incident involving a live grenade that continues to remind me that the mundane matters.
Second Lieutenant Kok Khew Fai was overseeing the safety of 50 army recruits during a live hand grenade throw in Singapore. Kok stood a short distance away from the recruits as, one by one, they took turns lobbing a live grenade toward the target.
As one of the recruits attempted to fling the grenade forward, it slipped out of his hand and landed 10 feet behind him. Dumbfounded by what had just happened, he stood motionless. Death was literally seconds away.
Without any hesitation, Kok sprinted over to the recruit, jumped on him, and forced him to lie prone behind a low wall at the back of the throwing bay. The grenade detonated moments later, and thankfully both of them escaped unharmed.
When I read this news report, I imagined what I would have done if I’d been in Kok’s position. Military service for male citizens is mandatory in Singapore and I, too, was once a second lieutenant, so I could have been faced with the same situation.
Your natural instinct would tell you to run, take cover and save yourself. But as an officer who has a responsibility to your men, you know what you ought to do. With so much on the line but with absolutely no time to think, would I have put the safety of my recruit above that of my own? I wish I could confidently say “yes,” but the more truthful answer is that I really don’t know.
I often wonder how people like Kok become so brave. Do they have some sort of natural gifting? Did their parents drill into them the importance of courage when they were growing up? Before the incident occurred, did they even know that they were so fearless?
I’ve concluded that it’s in the mundane tests of day-to-day living that we ready ourselves to face exceptional challenges. It’s in the ordinary that we prepare ourselves for the extraordinary.
It’s important to note that extraordinary people only do extraordinary things some of the time. Most of the time, they’re occupied with the routine, the monotonous, the boring. In other words, they’re just like us normal people. But it’s in the mundane that they develop the skills, attitude and character traits that enable them to excel when the opportunity arises.
Extraordinary people aren’t extraordinary because of good fortune. They’re extraordinary because they make extraordinarily good use of the ordinary circumstances in their lives.
They see every choice as one between character and compromise. They recognize that a decision is never trivial, because they’re really deciding between becoming a person of greater character and becoming a person who compromises on what’s of real significance.
Every one of us will experience a limited number of defining moments in our lives—moments that test us and reveal who we are, moments that determine our legacy.
We’ll never know exactly when we’ll be tested, so we always need to be alert. Character and integrity never take a day off. After all, a great life isn’t built in a day; it’s built day by day.
We often look at the Michael Jordan’s, Mark Zuckerberg’s and Oprah Winfrey’s of this world and tell ourselves that we’re not as talented or lucky as them, so we’ll never attain similar success. We tend to forget about the immense, and unglamorous, effort they exerted early on in their lives, which allowed them to eventually make it big.
They mastered the ordinary before they had any hope of becoming extraordinary.
When we begin to grasp just how much power and potential lie hidden within the ordinary—the things we typically don’t want to do, or even the things we hate to do—we’ll see it as a chance to become a bigger and better person.
We’ll learn to embrace life—not just the thrilling experiences, but the dull and even painful ones, too.
So let’s not despise the mundane. Instead, let’s make the most of it. Let’s create a mundane masterpiece.
About Daniel Wong: Daniel Wong is passionate about helping people to maximize their education, career and life. He spent two years in the military and currently holds the rank of First Lieutenant. He currently works as a project engineer, and is the author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success. You can read his blog at Living Large and find him on Twitter.