…It’s got to keep going up.” – Jay Gatsby The Great Gatsby, 2013
There’s not a whole lot that’s similar between myself and Jay Gatsby (played by my favorite imaginary boyfriend, Leonardo DiCaprio). The thought of hosting the incredibly large and lavish parties, questionably bending society’s business ethics norms, and obsessing about how society at large – and one very specific society belle – views me – it does not resonate with me. I’m an introvert who would rather be with her books, cats, knitting, historical dramas and computer.
But there is…. something that resonates. It’s a very real, very specific set of obsessions which drive my life’s decisions – from the macro “who you gonna marry?” to “how am I going to deal with XXXX today?” Gatsby would understand the life obsession idea.
So, what makes me think I have a set of obsessions? Is obsession a bad word? I’d say obsession isn’t automatically a bad word – it just means there is very little acknowledgeable counter-balance to one’s instinctual impulses. Acknowledgeable is important because an obsession isn’t so much defined in one’s instinctual impulses – it’s defined by the degree to which one diminishes the acknowledgeable counter to impulse.
My obsession is living an extraordinary life.
By extraordinary, I don’t mean awesome. I mean – literally – something that is not regular. Beyond ordinary. A life that most people don’t understand or comprehend. Let me explain…
I grew up in an above average part of the world, was provided an above average education and had above average support provided by my parents, friends and loved ones. By all accounts – it was a pretty bearable, desirable existence. And I had no plans to be doing… well, a honestly, anything. I didn’t have my heart set on anything when I went to college, and I didn’t have any idea where I’d end up.
I was always above average academically and in extracurricular pursuits. I was very rarely the best. Top 5, top 10, something like that. But not the best. I have not always been a winner, and certainly very rarely “the best”.
I have never been the “hot chick,” and I’ve not been the most popular. I’ve always had good friends and a good social safety net though.
When people ask how I’m doing in my MBA classes, I jokingly respond with “solid B’s.” When one of my class mates asked me what “solid B’s” meant, I reply with “acceptably strong performance” – not failing, not sitting at the head of the class. Just solid middle-of-the-line performance.
I’m a solidly (above) average person.
For someone with depression and anxiety, this has caused me problems in my life. I spent a lot of emotional energy on combatting “average” as a painful experience.
I had a hunch since I was little that perhaps the trick wasn’t to be the best, but was to be different. Which is probably a good thing because I certainly was a bit… different. But it was still difficult as a child and teen.
How was I different? Much the same way I’m different today. I dress a little differently. I’m a little overweight (more on that in another post). I’m prone to tell stories – often with no perceivable purpose. I am mostly quiet in large groups, preferring time to myself – except for the times I don’t. Naturally. I comically attempt to illustrate passionately advocated abstract concepts with wild and repetitive hand gestures. An physically incapable of visibly providing 100% to almost anything I do. I have 150 thoughts, observations, feelings and stories flow through my head in an 5 minute period. I cannot abide bullshit.
The first moment I felt the extraordinary life impulse was when I visited New York City with my parents in 2003. I didn’t just want to design buildings. No, I wanted to design those buildings. I wanted to be here. I wanted to live here. I wanted to do something that people would make documentaries about.
So, I did.
And it was tough as shit. From 2006-2009, I dealt with so much shit, it’s comical. I was in a terribly unhealthy relationship. I nearly had cancer (stage 4 cervical lesion). I was poor. I had no social support system. I was bitterly angry. My apartment was flooded. Our cat died. My thoughts drifted to dark places.
But I designed a high rise structure as part of the largest private developments in the US. I designed the 60+ story beauty on 32nd & 6th over three sets of railway tracks and with three lateral force transfer levels. I went on site at Roosevelt Island and project managed, from concept design through construction, two of the most profitable projects my group had delivered.
I joined a twelve step group. I got back on medication. I had the lesion removed. I kicked the bad relationship out of my apartment and out of my life. I made friends. I had riotous parties. I fell in love again. I got in shape and drank way too much. I repaired and reset the relationships with my mom, my family.
I asked to the other side of the world and started a new life. I was told no. I asked again. I was told maybe. I asked our CEO directly and presses the issue. He said yes.
What on earth would have sustained me through this time if not the unquestionable dedication to living an extraordinary life?
Things have gone well for me since this story, but I have lived according to the fiercely held belief that I must persevere, I must never be complacent, and I must live an extraordinary life.
It may not work for everybody, but this is unequivocally the fire that drives my actions, my desires and my accomplishments thus far and into the future. I couldn’t do it without the loving support of my husband, my parents, my family and my friends.
Find your fire, my friends, and let it propel you to great heights. Let nothing hold you back. Live your life, and hold nothing back. Let nothing hold you back.