It’s the little things: redefining the meaning of an extraordinary life


Throughout my whole life, I wanted to be extraordinary. I wanted to be successful and unique and seen that as that. Who doesn’t dream of bylines in national publications, their face on television, Forbes 30 under 30, or an offer from a renowned company?

We’d all be lying if we said we didn’t have some small desire to have that glory inside us somewhere.

Now that I’m graduating in May, I spend a lot of time thinking about what type of “legacy” I’ll be leaving behind.

Will it be for writing inspirational columns in the paper? Advocating for diversity and inclusion in journalism? Will it for be winning a startup contest? For running a successful blog with the right branding?

Sometimes on my darkest nights, I tell myself it’s nothing.

But, are we not more than titles and who we know and what we did over the summer?

For years, we stack our schedules with activities we know we don’t have time for. But we don’t quit these things because being overwhelmed is better than underachieving. We never stop talking about how tired or stressed we are. We skip class to work on homework for another class, go out when we don’t feel like it because we don’t want to feel left out. Then, we accidentally oversleep or forget important commitments, and then self-loathe for letting everybody down. And repeat.

Of course we are more than such superficial things. But, society simultaneously tells us to be ourselves and to enjoy these four years while stacking the pressure that somehow whatever we’re doing is not enough.

I knew something was wrong when I found myself feeling jealous of someone with an internship at a place I never even wanted to work at, but thought I did because everyone in my major wanted to work there.

If there’s anything that I’ve learned through my time in college, it is that chasing fleeting success is like drinking from a cup that will never quench my thirst.

Nothing will ever be never enough if I can’t appreciate life for what it is. If I get an accomplishment, it won’t feel like enough compared to someone else’s. There’s never time to revel in success because … that person already accomplished that two summers ago. There will always be more. And I will never feel like enough.

My heart breaks when I listen to people talk about how much they love life, how much beauty they see in people and the world around them. People who not only appreciate every little thing, but also have the hunger and immense joy and enthusiasm to serve this world and its people.

My heart breaks because I can’t see the world the same way these people do. At times, my happiness feels conditional. I only feel happy if I get that job, or that relationship, or that validation. How can we all be living in the same place, under the same God, and feel absolutely opposite feelings?

A quote from American author William Martin says that we should not ask our children to strive for extraordinary lives. He says while it may seem admirable, it is the way of foolishness.

Martin says, we should instead “find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.

Show them how to cry when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. I know in time, the extraordinary will take care of itself.”

I used to tell my mom that the worst thing in the world to be is just like everybody else. To work a 9-5 and follow all the rules of society and then just die without leaving something epic and grand behind.

But now, I think the worst thing in the world is to not find beauty in simple things.

I don’t want to look back and think that I did not have time to enjoy anything because I was too busy feeling like I wasn’t doing the “right career moves” or talking to the “right people.” That would be such a life wasted.

Going against the current, I’m going to try worrying less every day about what my post-grad job is going to be or feeling jealous of those who appear happier or more successful.

I just want to focus on making the ordinary things feel special. I want to find joy in breathing in the beautiful southern California weather. In walking on our beautiful campus. On buying the same salad every Tuesday from Seeds. On taking the Metro line to Santa Monica.

If there’s any underclassmen or stressed senior reading this — ask yourself — how much of your schedule is filled with things that you actually want to do? How much of it is just things you’re doing to please someone or to impress people you don’t even like?

Success is different to everybody; what you want in life doesn’t have to be what everyone else wants. I’m not condoning a lack of ambition, but emphasizing the fact that it doesn’t have to be the be-all end-all.

Notice that the things that fill your heart with warmth are things that you did not have to look far to find: phone calls with your mom, surrounding yourself with people that make you feel seen, your favorite lavenders in a jar, midnight talks heart to hearts, singing in the car.

What if the only thing you left behind in your legacy was not a long list of accomplishments, but actual joy and love for life?

That sounds pretty extraordinary to me.

  • Rene Shimada Siegel

    I love your writing and your authentic voice, Erika. You’ve created and share something you should be very, very proud of. Many people take a lifetime to learn how to express how they truly feel. Those epic communication skills will take you anywhere you want to go!

  • Senica Camello

    great read, cheers!