I Fear I'm Ordinary, Just Like Everyone ...
By Andrew Schwab
Friday, August 21, 2009
Why do we all want to be such a big deal?
I am wrapping up a long day at the office, commuting home after a satisfying shift of hard, yet rewarding labor.
By “office,” I mean endless highway road, of course.
By “commuting,” I mean driving 28 hours from Minneapolis to Irvine, California.
By “shift” I mean a grueling seven-week tour of the U.S. and Canada which included more than 40 shows.
Exhausted, homesick, yet contemplative, we sit inside our chariot, reflecting on the highlights of yet another string of memories. The high points are not what you might think—it’s not merch sales, moving units, or packed shows. It’s not the buzz of kids that know the words to songs or the night we sounded our very best. It’s not even when we played in cool towns like Montreal or NYC. Don’t get me wrong—All of these things are icing, and definite morale boosters. But when I think back on a trip today it’s not the numbers that stick out in my brain. No, it’s the meaningful, soul-searching, real conversations that are had with people along the way that is the true currency of doing what we do.
The candid confessions and fellowship shared with another band member in the bus.
The prayer given to a hurting soul who was touched by a song you happened to write.
The person who comes to a new place of faith after post-show banter with you.
These are the moments that keep you knowing you are doing something that matters, something that is eternal, and most of all, real.
It’s funny how the most important, life-giving moments are the ones not spent under fluorescent skies. They are the ones that involve very little self-glory.
I didn’t used to feel this way. To be honest, for the longest time no matter how many meaningful things were going on around me, I found no satisfaction in any of it. Because when your treasure is success for success’ sake—or when recognition is your currency—you will never find peace in the things that truly matter. And I was so busy comparing the opportunities of my own career to those around me, always sacrificing the joy of the moment because my eyes were so fixed on climbing to the next level of status.
I missed out on countless tastes of true peace because I was always bent on becoming more...important.
But what makes a person “important” in the eternal sense? Is it simply the recognition of his/her peers, or is it something much greater, yet much more humbling at the same time?
I thought about this throughout our most recent journey. And what brought it to the forefront of my mind even more was when I had the opportunity to speak to others, every night, who were on their own journeys toward meaning. The conversations would go something like this:
“Hey Andrew, I am (insert name here) from (insert band name, Facebook link, clothing company, Christian gameshow here). I was just talking to (insert name drop of relevant Christian celebrity here to make a point of connection) recently, asking them how I can ‘make it,’ and I thought I would talk to you about it as well. Do you think you can give me some advice on how to become successful? Do you think you can (listen, read, peruse, examine, critique, review, etc.) my (CD, 8-track, book, t-shirt, zine, short discertation, etc.) and tell me how I can be successful in (music, writing, youth pastorship, Christian racecar driving, etc.)? Thanks, man. Here’s my email address.”
Many of the conversations I had with people at our shows this summer consisted of someone networking me to promote themselves or their band or their ... you get the idea.
Asking me to give them advice on becoming a celebrity of some sort.
The questions I wanted to ask in return are these: What is wrong with just being you? Do you think being recognized or perceived as important will bring more peace and happiness to your existence?
The honest answer is “yes.” We do think being recognized will bring us more happiness, because we have become a culture obsessed. Obsessed with what? Obsessed with becoming somebodies. We are consumed with self-promotion, the elevation of our own perceptions. The hottest commodity and the ultimate currency in our world today is ...
Everyone is in a band. Everyone is fighting to be on TV or reality TV or bizarro TV (also called YouTube). Everyone is pushing a new “ministry” or “revolution” or “brand” or “consciousness.” And everyone wants to be the man. Or woman. Or Christian gameshow host.
We are a culture of indians who are obsessed with becoming chiefs.
Because we think that will bring us happiness.
Now, I know the chief/indian complex about as well as anyone because, well, I have lived it for quite a while now. And I can tell you a few things about what it truly means to become a “somebody.” Here it is, plain and simple:
We are taught by the world around us, beginning in Kindergarten, that recognition from your fellow human being is the ultimate prize in this life. This is reinforced by everyone from our friends to our parents to our teachers to our role models when they tell us, "You are a winner if you are popular. You are great if you stand out above the crowd. You are memorable if, and only if, you do something awe-inspiring."
In other words, you are special only if others talk about you, if you have some sort of fame.
The only problem is that 1% of 1% of us will ever become known, noteworthy, a celebrity of some sorts. So where does that leave the rest of us? Fighting desperately with one another to get the coveted prize, which will always seem to elude us. It means that, at least in the eyes of the world (including the Christian world, it seems), 99.9% will be...meaningless?
Because there is nothing worse than being ordinary.
You had better believe this is a lie, and a big one.
Because there are more than a few holes in this philosophy. What happens when you get the recognition? What does it do to us as people? What about the model who is so beautiful and loved on the outside, but who is an absolute train wreck of eating disorders and drugs on the inside? What about the frontman for the band who falls into debauchery once he finds success? What about the pastor who gives into corruption once his church finds financial blessing? What about Britney? What about MJ?
I could list a ton of examples, but you don’t need me to. Because you have seen it with your own eyes often enough: The recognition we seek will only leads to our destruction when we make it our treasure. Fame leads to pride. Success leads to more temptation. Glory leads to corruption. It seems to me like we weren’t made for these things, that we were constructed to find peace in something else ...
Didn’t someone we know tell us that meaning is found in exactly the opposite approach? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that God chose the things that are not to shame the things that are? Doesn’t it say that God is with the lowly things, the have-nots? Doesn’t it say over and over again that meaning is found in service, and that true peace is found in taking a backseat to those you love?
Yes, it does.
Consider this: Meaning is not found in the acceptance of other people. And you are not special because of what others say about you. In fact, what others think or say about you does not alter your value in any way, shape, or form. You are not valuable because of how many Facebook friends you have or because your band packs out a venue, or because people read your blogs.
Your value is not based on opinion.
And conversely, you are not worthless if you are not recognized on the streets. You have value, really and truly, because of who you are, not because of who knows you. Or who you know. You don’t need to be someone else to be great. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone, because no one is like you.
And finally, consider what you are running after. There is no peace found at the end of that road. In fact, there are just more landmines, fake friends, and hands trying to pull you down.
It is for this reason that God cares much more about our character than our success.
Because fame is infamy.
Andrew Schwab is the lead singer and main lyricist for the band Project 86, and author of several books.